Pawel Szczepaniak became the first Polish rider to win a cyclo-cross World title as he triumphed in the under 23 World Cyclo-cross Championship race on Saturday afternoon in Tabor, Czech Republic. On a special day for Poland and his family, Szczepaniak's brother, Kacper, finished second, ahead of Arnoud Jouffroy of France.
"I am very happy to win the first World title for Poland. We were very strong today," said Szczepaniak immediately after his win.
From the moment he assumed the lead on the second lap of the race, Szczepaniak's hold on the rainbow jersey never really looked in doubt. Though he shared a lap at the front with his brother and their compatriot Marek Konwa, Pawel's relentless pace saw him finish a clear winner.
"Today I was very good, I was always riding on the attack," said Szczepaniak, as he explained his tactics. "I always try to start the World Championships in optimal form. I was second at the European championships [in November], but I always try to have a form peak [for the Worlds]."
Crossing the line 20 seconds after his brother, Kacper Szczepaniak added to a record-setting day for the Polish as he took possession of a World Championship silver medal. The younger of the siblings was succinct in his assessment of the race outcome. "I'm happy with second place and for my brother's win," he said.
Only a second further back, Arnoud Jouffroy grabbed the final position on the podium after a strong performance in the final two laps of the race. It was a gratifying result for the Frenchman, who overcame a series of obstacles to grab bronze.
"The Polish guys started off very quickly. I managed to come back one time but then I made a couple of mistakes that put me behind. I was riding in fifth position with Tom [Meeusen] and we lost sight of the leaders," he said of the first half of the race. "After switching bikes there were still 2.5 laps to go. I realized I had enough strength and time left for the final part of the race to battle for third place."
For many, the biggest surprise of the race was Tom Meeusen's failure to medal. The Belgian had carried a heavy burden of expectation into the race and indicated that a season of success may have put paid to his chances today. "As a Belgian you have to be strong in every race whereas those guys can peak towards two to three races," he said afterwards.
Race winner Szczepaniak admitted that the focus on Meeusen had put him at an advantage. "Meeusen probably won about fifteen races so I was an outsider; that suits me better," he said.
Regardless of the attention heaped on him prior to the race, Meeusen paid respect to the strength of the Polish team throughout the race. "Fourth is the most unfortunate place to finish but more wasn't possible... maybe third," he said. "When trying to get back to the Poles in front I hit the red zone. Then I had shifting problems and had to switch bikes. The Polish guys rode as a block. They rode strongly today, I couldn't do anything to come back to them."
Dutchman wins dash to first corner
With a course softened by the junior race in the morning, a 59 rider field lined up for the under 23 event. Taking full advantage of his favourable grid position, it was Micki van Empel (Netherlands) who was the quickest out of the gate and grabbed hole-shot into the first corner.
Behind him, Marek Konwa (Poland) led a field that quickly stretched out into single file. Despite his strong start, within three corners Van Empel had relinquished his position to Konwa and Tom Meeusen (Belgium) as immediate gaps began to form at the first hurdles. After a rapid first lap, Konwa and Italy's Cristian Cominelli led Meeusen, Arnoud Jouffroy (France) and Jim Aernouts (Belgium) as the first five over the line.
Poles take control
Though early days, the second of seven laps would go a long way in shaping the final outcome of the race. Pawel Szczepaniak replaced Aernouts in the first five, before Kacper Szczepaniak followed his elder brother in an effort to hook up with teammate, Konwa.
By the end of the lap, the Polish trio had assumed the race lead and stretched to a five second lap over Jouffroy, with Meeusen a further three seconds back. Already, the gap to the remainder of the field had begun to blow out, with van Empel and Italy's Elia Silvestri forming the next pair to cross the line.
As the Poles continued to work in harmony, a spirited effort from Jouffroy brought him almost back on terms with the leaders' mid-way through the third lap. Behind the Frenchman, Meeusen was clearly in no mood to break his momentum as he defied the technique of his colleagues to bunny-hop the hurdles.
Jouffroy never quite closed the gap to leaders, as Pawel Szczepaniak left his compatriots to take a six second lead at the start/finish line. Kacper Szczepaniak and Konwa were followed nine seconds later by Jouffroy, with Meeusen two seconds further back.
The fourth lap saw the Polish trio break up as Meeusen traded places with Jouffroy in the procession. For the next two laps the race appeared to settle with each of the first five riders assuming their own position on the course. Pawel Szczepaniak led over brother Kacper, with Konwa, Meeusen and Jouffroy spread across 40 seconds worth of time gaps.
As all the riders began to show the effects of the event's frenetic pace, Konwa was the first to falter as he tripped on his ascent of the stairs on the penultimate lap. Surprisingly, it was Jouffroy who was next to appear at the base of the steps - Meeusen falling victim to his earlier efforts to pull back the leaders. Jouffroy took maximum advantage of Konwa's stumble as he drove past the Pole to deny any chance of a red-and-white podium sweep.
As he swept carefully through the final few corners Pawel Szczepaniak afforded himself the luxury of a fist pump, grabbing a Polish flag from the crowd en route to the line 20 seconds clear of his brother. A resurgent Jouffroy had left his run a little late, but finished third, one second further back. Meeusen, too, was able to push past Konwa, but was disappointed with his fourth place finish.
Despite the success of his compatriots, Marek Konwa was inconsolable after finishing fifth. The race's early leader, Konwa was devastated not to have joined his teammates on the podium. "With three laps to go I crashed and hurt my knee," an emotional Konwa told Cyclingnews at the finish.
Relegated to the second half of the field in the early laps, the US contingent were always faced with an uphill battle. Zach McDonald and Danny Summerhill the best placed of the non-Europeans in 28th and 29th, respectively.
"The World Championships it has always been hit or miss for me. It took a while before my legs got going and then I started picking up riders," said Summerhill, who will return to States shortly after an extended stint in Europe. "I'm definitely missing family and friends, but I'll see them all again soon. I'm in much better spirits than last year."
|1||Pawel Szczepaniak (Poland)||0:55:37|
|2||Kacper Szczepaniak (Poland)||0:00:20|
|3||Arnaud Jouffroy (France)||0:00:21|
|4||Tom Meeusen (Belgium)||0:00:46|
|5||Marek Konwa (Poland)||0:00:56|
|6||Arnaud Grand (Switzerland)||0:00:58|
|7||Robert Gavenda (Slovakia)||0:01:00|
|8||Sascha Weber (Germany)||0:01:09|
|9||Tijmen Eising (Netherlands)||0:01:20|
|10||Elia Silvestri (Italy)||0:01:27|
|11||Matteo Trentin (Italy)||0:01:33|
|12||Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands)|
|13||Kenneth Van Compernolle (Belgium)||0:01:39|
|14||Vincent Baestaens (Belgium)||0:01:45|
|15||Jiri Polnicky (Czech Republic)||0:01:53|
|16||Micki Van Empel (Netherlands)||0:02:08|
|17||Lubomir Petrus (Czech Republic)||0:02:09|
|18||Marcel Meisen (Germany)||0:02:10|
|19||David Lozano Riba (Spain)||0:02:17|
|20||Corne Van Kessel (Netherlands)||0:02:43|
|21||Matthias Rupp (Switzerland)||0:02:47|
|22||Cristian Cominelli (Italy)||0:02:52|
|23||Jan Nesvadba (Czech Republic)|
|24||Matthieu Boulo (France)||0:03:01|
|25||Valentin Scherz (Switzerland)||0:03:05|
|26||Jim Aernouts (Belgium)||0:03:12|
|27||Bryan Falaschi (Italy)||0:03:39|
|28||Zach Mc Donald (United States Of America)||0:03:40|
|29||Daniel Summerhill (United States Of America)||0:03:47|
|30||Mattias Nilsson (Sweden)||0:03:50|
|31||Ole Quast (Germany)||0:03:52|
|32||Karel Hnik (Czech Republic)|
|33||Joeri Adams (Belgium)|
|34||Dave Hackworthy (United States Of America)||0:04:20|
|35||David Menger (Czech Republic)||0:04:32|
|36||Yu Takenouchi (Japan)||0:04:37|
|37||Pit Schlechter (Luxembourg)||0:04:44|
|38||Jerome Townsend (United States Of America)||0:04:56|
|39||Michael Schweizer (Germany)||0:05:03|
|40||Marek Canecky (Slovakia)||0:05:29|
|41||Irwin Gras (France)||0:06:11|
|42||Kenneth Hansen (Denmark)||0:06:14|
|43||Matej Medved (Slovakia)||0:06:21|
|44||Luke Keough (United States Of America)||0:06:27|
|45||Khangarid Naran (Mongolia)||0:06:44|
|46||Mitchell Huenders (Netherlands)||0:06:45|
|47||Jonas Schau Guddal (Denmark)||0:06:50|
|48||Melvin Rulliere (France)||0:07:19|
|49||Daniel Ruiz Echeandia (Spain)||0:07:25|
|50||Hikaru Kosaka (Japan)||0:08:11|
|51||David Puskas (Hungary)||0:08:25|
|52||Fabian Danner (Germany)||0:08:29|
|53||Myagmarsuren Baasankhuu (Mongolia)||0:08:34|
|54||Jared Stafford (Canada)|
|55||Inigo Gomez Elorriaga (Spain)|
|56||Jan Denuwelaere (Belgium)|
|57||Andrey Ryzhkov (Kazakhstan)|