Halvorsen sprints to U-23 men’s title for Norway in 2016 UCI Road World Championships
Kristoffer Halvorsen, 20, of Norway has claimed the first road race title of the 2016 UCI Road World Championships after capturing a hard-fought bunch sprint win in the men’s U-23 event.
Halvorsen was the fastest by just over a wheel’s breadth as the bunch blasted across the finish line on Doha’s Pearl Island, beating Germany’s Pascal Ackermann into silver. Italy’s Jakub Mareczko was another half wheel or so back, ahead of Phil Bauhuas of Germany in fourth whilst Amund Grondahl (Norway) rounded out the top five.
The presence of two riders apiece in the top five clearly reflected Norway and Germany’s clear domination of the race finale. The spotlight was the brightest on Halvorsen. Although just 20 years old, he had already won the Tour de L’Avenir’s stage three this season. He also netted the GP d’Isbergues and two stages of the Olympia’s Tour in September - all confirmation of solid form for the UCI Road World Championships in October.
“It was a very hard sprint but the team did an amazing job and I got on the wheel of the German rider, so it was perfect. They were so good today, this was a team win,” Halvorsen said of his team-mates after winning the 48 rider bunch sprint.
“I’m just so happy. The course was perfect for me, it was flat with lot of corners, it was a big goal for me this year. It’s incredible. My dream now is to win the Elite world title too.”
Halvorsen is Norway’s second U-23 road race winner in three years after Sven Erik Bystrom in 2014, who in turn followed compatriot Kurt-Asle Arvesen’s gold in the same event back in 1997.
For the 166km event to be decided by final bunch sprint had been widely predicted but for a long while it looked like anything but a certainty. A nine-man break, formed after 100 kilometres, worked well together until the closing kilometres, gaining a gap of up to three minutes. By the last of the ten 15.2 km laps of the twisting Pearl circuit, though, the gap shrank to just 22 seconds. As the breakaway slowly disintegrated, USA rider Greg Daneil was the last rider to throw in the towel, after Norway and Germany had collaborated to bring back the final survivor from the break with 10 kilometres to go.
The race continued at a ferociously high pace on the flat, technical course around The Pearl as the sprinters' teams made certain that their men would not lose their chance in the finish. Britain, France and Spain also collaborated to ensure that none of the brief moves that followed when the break was caught could not get more than a few bike lengths. However, France’s fine collective effort was shattered when a crash took place in the last 500 metres and two of their riders went down.
Seconds later, on a boulevard’s slightly rising curve to the right to the finishing gantry, Germany began their move early. Then in the last 200 metres Halvorsen came through alongside Ackermann, and managed to get past the German almost at the last possible moment.
“The pressure was high because of the work the team did for me all day, but I think that was a good thing,” Halvorsen said, “The team did a great job, so it was perfect to be the first over the finish line.”
Questions about Norway’s former Elite Men’s UCI World Champion and top Classics racer Thor Hushovd were almost inevitable, with Halvorsen saying: “He was my idol and I would like to be good like him in the future.” Obviously the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen will be a big target in eleven months’ time.
In turn, Ackermann acknowleged that although he and his team-mates had worked hard, the small teams made it difficult to be certain of a top result. “I got the perfect lead-out,” he said, “but it was a bit too far for me and the strongest rider won today.”
Finallly bronze medallsit Mareczko argued that [Italian team-mate Simone] "Consonni helped me stay in front in the final kilometres and I did my sprint from the best position.” However, he conceded that Norway had the superior firepower in the finale - and had ended up netting the biggest prize.
After Thursday’s thrilling finale, racing continues on Friday with the Junior Men and Junior Women’s road races, held over 135.3 kilometres and 75 kilometres respectively.