Posted by Editoress on 09/29/19
The 2019 Road World Championships ended in dramatic fashion on Sunday in Harrogate, England, for the Elite men's road race, with the weather crushing all the favourites, and 23 year old Mads Pedersen of Denmark emerging in the end as the new world champion. The six Canadian riders were victims of the weather, with none finishing; indeed, only 46 of 197 starters finished.
Rain and wind has impacted racing all week, with the exception of the Elite women's road race on Sunday. Roughly one hour and 40 minutes before the start of the men's 285 kilometre race, the UCI sent out an email stating that 50 kilometres were being removed due to flooding, and that two additional laps would be added to the circuit at the end, for a total of 261 kilometres. Besides the reduction in kilometres, the section cut out included two of the three main climbs - Buttertubs and Grinton Moor. This clearly impacted the strategy of the teams, but it turned out to be less significant than the weather - 10 degrees Celcius, driving rain and constant, cold wind, making the effective temperature in the mid single digits. Hypothermia became a real concern and led to many abandonments.
Less than 25 kilometres into the race a group of 11 riders broke clear of the huddled field, including Canada's Hugo Houle. In addition to Houle, there were some heavy hitters, including Grand Tour winners Nairo Quintana (Colombia), Richard Carapaz (Colombia) and Primoz Roglic (Slovenia), plus Jan Polanc (Slovenia), Magnus Cort (Denmark), Petr Vakoc (Czech Republic), Silvan Dillier (Switzerland), Maciej Bodnar (Poland), Jonas Koch (Germany) and Alex Howes (USA).
The group worked well together to build a gap of over four and a half minutes, while behind time trial champion Rohan Dennis (Australia) was almost singlehandedly keeping them in check. As the race approached the circuit, the peloton began to chase more seriously, and the gap was below two minutes as they started the second lap, with the break caught in the next lap.
Belgium suffered a blow as Philippe Gilbert crashed on the first lap, and both he and Remco Evenepoel, who drop back to help him, never regained the bunch. Defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Spain) pulled out, as did Ireland's hopes, Dan Martin and Sam Bennett. Evald Boasson Hagen (Norway), Geraint Thomas (Great Britain), Quintana, Rui Oliveira (Portugal), Daryl Impey (South Africa) ... the list goes on.
However, some riders continued to be aggressive, and the start of the final move began with an attack by Lawson Craddock (USA), who was joined by Stefan Kung (Switzerland). Pedersen then bridged, as did Gianni Moscon (Italy), then, with less than three laps to go, Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) went across with Matteo Trentin (Italy) as Craddock was dropped. The gap began to go up dramatically as van der Poel, Trentin and Kung powered the lead group, reaching nearly a minute as they started the last lap, having dropped Moscon.
Van der Poel looked to be the obvious favourite, and appeared to be strong until, suddenly, he cracked dramatically, slowing almost to a standstill. He was passed by Moscon, the pack and almost every rider, eventually coming in nearly 11 minutes down, having lost almost a minute per kilometre.
The podium looked set, but then Peter Sagan (Slovakia) exploded off the front of the peloton with four kilometres to go and began chasing down the leaders. While he did claw back some 15 seconds, it was too little, too late, and he had to settle for fifth behind Moscon.
At the front, as the trio hit the climb at 500 metres to go, Trentin was the favourite, and when he attacked with 300 metres to go, it looked like he had won. But then Pedersen rallied, Trentin faded, and the young Dane became world champion.
For the Canadians, Houle, along with the rest of the break, was done once they were caught after spending over 100 kilometres off the front. Guillaume Boivin was still affected by injuries suffered in a crash at the Quebec WorldTour race two weeks earlier, while Antoine Duchesne, James Piccoli and Ben Perry succumbed to the wet and cold, as did so many others. Mike Woods, the team leader, looked to be in good shape with the chase group until two laps to go, when he suddenly dropped off the back on a climb, a victim of hypothermia.
"A disappointing day," admitted Woods, "I think I took my jacket off too early. I'm really focussed on Lombardia this year, so my weight is low and it really affected my in the final kilometres. I got super cold; I was with the front group and capable of finishing the race, but not capable with the way my body temperature went."
Houle, who spent almost half the race off the front, said "it was not the plan [to go in the break]; I was expecting to stay close to Mike. But, it was a really, really fast start and there was a gap at the front with six of us, so I knew I needed to follow the group. It was all really strong guys, but I think we scared the bunch a bit, so they never let us get a bigger gap. We we got caught I did two laps with the bunch but it was just too fast for me at that point. You never know, with weather like this, if you can stay away. The weather was a huge factor, the road was slippery and you get cold after so long out there. It was already a really hard race on this circuit, and the weather made it a lot harder. That's why only 46 guys finished."
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