Italy and Denmark scoop UCI World Championships gold medals in Junior road races
Denmark scored the first solo victory of the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Friday’s Junior Men’s road race, whilst in the equivalent women’s event Italy’s Elisa Balsamo triumphed in a bunch sprint.
Balsamo netted a commanding victory when she crossed the line well ahead of Skylar Schneider (USA) and Susanne Anderson (Norway) in a fast and furious mass dash for the line. However, Balsamo quickly moved out of the group and was so far ahead of her rivals she could begin waving her arms in celebration even before she had finished.
The 74.5 kilometre race, consisting of five laps of the 15.2 kilometre circuit, began with a large crash, shattering the 80-strong peloton, which subsequently regrouped. However, the ferociously high pace not only ensured no breaks could then go clear, but also that riders were getting steadily dropped from the back end of the bunch.
First Germany and the USA, then Italy took command of proceedings at the head of the pack, which stretched even further apart under the increase in speed. The Italians made good of their commanding position to dominate in the final dash for the line, to the point that they placed two riders in the top five, Letizia Paternoster in fifth with Balsamo as the clear winner.
A runner-up in the European Championships this summer, Balsamo’s gold was Italy’s first top honour in the 2016 UCI World Championships after Lisa Morzenti’s silver in the Women’s Junior time trial and Jakub Mareczko’s bronze in the Men’s U-23 road race.
“This title isn’t mine, it goes out to all the team, and it’s for all women in Italy,” Balsamo, sixth in last year’s UCI World Championship road race, said after praising her strong leadout from her team-mate Morzent. “It’s well deserved by the Italian team and I hope we do equally well this [Friday] afternoon [in the Men’s Junior road race] and then on Saturday and Sunday too!”
“Winning this was a dream, something all of us wanted to achieve.”
“It was a very unique course, and the Italians did a perfect leadout,” said Schneider, the silver medallist, who took fourth in the Junior Women’s time trial earlier this week. “We came with a very strong team so we came with a lot of confidence. I tried to stay under the radar a little bit and tested my legs a bit in the time trial and really analysed the course. I think that played to my advantage today, especially in the last few kilometres.”
In the Junior Men’s road race, Denmark celebrated the first solo victory of the 2016 UCI Road World Championships after Jakob Egholm outpowered a group of 18 chasers by a narrow but sufficient seven second margin. Second, winning the small bunch sprint, was Germany’s NIklas Markl with Switzerland’s Reto Muller, fourth in the 2015, claiming bronze.
Egholm’s lone triumph came after a group of 20 riders sheered away from the 185-strong starting pack before the third last lap. Egholm’s team-mate Julius Johansen then briefly opened a gap alongside Alexys Brunel (France) and the USA’s Brendan McNulty, earlier in the week crowned Junior time trial UCI World Champion.
With two laps to go the leading trio, whose advantage had never gone above 20 seconds, had been absorbed by the chasers and the leading break reformed. Holding an advantage of nearly a minute on the main pack and all the strongest nations represented, it was clear that one of the 20 riders ahead in the move would take the gold. The question of who, though, was not so easy to decide.
On the last lap of the 135.3 kilometre event, the working alliance amongst the 20 ahead began to break up, but the only move that actually got a definitive gap came when Johansen and Egholm blasted away. Johansen then sat up, with around 7.5 kilometres to go, but the damage had been done by then and Egholm still had a margin of around 12 seconds to defend.
Caught by Brunel behind, Johansen continued to work with the Frenchman in the hope of attaining either silver or bronze, but finally in the last kilometre, the chasing duo were caught by the lead break. Only Egholm remained out front and although his mouth was opening and closing with pain and effort, he managed to fend off the pack for a narrow but impressive solo win.
“I can't believe it. It's too crazy. I wasn't expecting this,” Egholm said later about a race ridden at a red-hot high average speed of 45.526 kmh.
“We were convinced it would be a bunch sprint, but when we went in the breakaway I started to sit in the back of the group and take it as easy as I could.”
Johansen and Egholm then broke away, but “ Sadly he didn't have the power left in the legs to follow me all the way, so I figured why not, just go for it. If I couldn't do it, I couldn't do it. I had nothing to lose.
“It's so unbelievable, it's so crazy I wouldn't have dreamed it. It's something the best in the world do, but I didn't think I was one of the best.”
In the UCI World Championships Nations Ranking, Germany has now opened up an almost unbridgeable advantage of nearly 300 points. Germany now leads with 965 points ahead of the USA with 669 points, whilst the Netherlands are a very distant third with 442 points.
Racing continues on Saturday with the Elite Women’s road race, held over a distance of 134 kilometres.