Worlds: Success of WorldTour riders in under-23 road race sparks debate

Gold and silver in men's U23 race go to WorldTour pros

Benoit Cosnefroy's world title win in Bergen and Lennard Kämna's silver medal have again sparked a debate about the UCI rules allowing WorldTour professionals to compete in the under-23 World Championships.

Kämna is still only 21 but joined Team Sunweb for the 2017 season. He rode 16 stages of the Vuelta a España and was also part of Team Sunweb's winning squad in the team time trial. He is a huge talent but has clearly benefitted from riding at a higher level than many of his rivals.

Cosnefroy is also 21 and joined AG2R-La Mondiale on August 1 after also riding with the French WorldTour team as a stagiaire in 2016. He pointed out that he has not ridden any WorldTour races with AG2R-La Mondiale but he recently won the Grand Prix d'Isbergues in Belgium, holding off the peloton, where Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) finished sixth and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was seventh.

Cosnefroy and Kämna respected the UCI rules on participation and are clearly talented for their young age. However the same UCI rules and conflict between age categories and professional definitions mean that Cosnefroy will not race in his under-23 world champion's jersey in 2018, with rainbow stripes not permitted on his trade team jersey sleeves, his victory will get little recognition.

"I've actually only been a professional for a month with AG2R-La Mondiale and have not ridden ay WorldTour races but it's a shame I can't show off this jersey. I just wish that I could have some kind of rainbow bands on my sleeves like Peter Sagan or Philippe Gilbert can," the Frenchman said.

Some nations opt to not select under-23 riders who are part of WorldTour teams or who have competed at the highest level. However that has left nations some facing difficult choices as they try to compete with those that do.

Italy tried to protect its under-23 movement for a number of years but despite anger from several under-23 teams they decided to select Wilier Triestina sprinter Jakub Mareczko in an attempt to win a medal in Qatar in 2016. This year Italy selected Bardiani-CSF rider Vincenzo Albanese and he finished fifth in Bergen.

Few under-23 riders in the WorldTour have opted to ride in Sunday's elite men's road race. It is far harder for them to be competitive and far harder to even gain selection. Mads Pedersen of Denmark is one and former junior world champion Matej Mohoric of Slovenia will also ride the elite race.

Kämna rightly took advantage of the UCI rule allowing him to ride the under-23 road race. He pointed out both sides of the argument.

"It's a difficult question. I personally think it's a good rule that WorldTour can ride in the under-23 World Championships," he said.

"More and more under-23 riders turn pro early these days, so it's good also we can ride these races. I also think its better for the other guys to compete with the very best under-23 even if some of us are in the WorldTour. They can only develop if we have the best under-23 rider as a world champion."

The whole debate is perhaps something for the new UCI president David Lappartient and his new Management Committee to resolve.

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