Cozza leads young American squad at worlds

Steven Cozza was the top US rider at the elite men's UCI Road World Championships in Varese, Italy,...

Steven Cozza was the top US rider at the elite men's UCI Road World Championships in Varese, Italy, on Sunday. In the elite men's road race, he finished 23rd, 1'40 behind winner Alessandro Ballan of Italy. The 23 year-old Cozza was racing his first elite worlds and he equalled the performance of George Hincapie, the best American finisher at the worlds last year.

Cozza was joined in the race by fellow Americans Tyler Farrar, Lucas Euser, David Zabriskie and Brent Bookwalter. For Bookwalter and Euser it was also their debut at the elite world championships. And for the entire team, with the exception of Zabriskie, the 260-kilometer race was the longest of their riders' careers.

"The longest race I've ever done was 230 kilometers three years ago," said Cozza. "Honestly, my goal was just to finish the race today. But as the race went on, I started feeling better and better and I kept making all the splits. I was just trying to follow (two-time world champion Paolo) Bettini's wheel."

Team Director Noel Dejonckheere, who also directed all five of Sunday's competitors as U23 athletes on USA Cycling's European-based National Development Team, was encouraged by the young riders' performance.

"Overall, I'm really satisfied with the team today," said Dejonckheere. "Zabriskie was really here focusing on the time trial and Brent was added to the team at the last minute and is just getting over being sick, so to do this well while only having three young guys at full strength is impressive. I think they did much better than even they thought they would."

With many of the United States top European or domestic pros either declining invitations to participate or injured, the door was open for several young riders to get a crack at what was likely their first of many elite world championships.

"For a small team to race that well over 260 kilometers against veteran teams at full strength like the Spanish and Italians shows that they're only two or three years away from really contending," Dejonckheere said. "We'll keep moving forward and see what happens."

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