This year’s World Championships in Valkenburg are not the first time the UCI’s flagship event has been hosted in the southern Limburg region of the Netherlands. The area has played host on four previous occasions, with 1938 the first occurrence and others in1948, 1979 and 1998.
The last visit came just months after the Festina affair had rocked the sporting world, with the Tour de France brought to its knees.
It meant that the atmosphere in Limburg was a mixture of disillusionment and hope: Hope that the racing would briefly lift the gloom and that doping in cycling would be tackled head on. However within a matter of days the situation worsened when the then UCI vice-president Daniel Baal, left the event, angry how the sport had handled the drugs problem it faced, and because the UCI had cut a month off a number of doping suspensions to facilitate quick returns for Alex Zulle, Laurent Dufaux and Armin Meier.
The mood lifted momentarily when Oscar Camenzind took the rainbow jersey with an aggressive performance.
The Swiss rider was part of an elite group that contained some of the most distinguished riders of the 1990s with Lance Armstrong, Michele Bartoli, Michael Boogerd, Peter van Petegem and Udo Bolts. In torrential weather Camenzind seized his moment on the early slopes of the Bemelerberg on the final lap. In a classic do-or-die move, the Mapei man attacked just as Armstrong completed a long turn on the front. Boogerd punctured, the rest of the break hesitated and Camenzind got away and held on for the win.
Only later would so many of the riders’ careers unravel: Camenzind tested positive for EPO, Bartoli was linked to Puerto and Armstrong received a life-time ban from USADA.
The 1998 worlds also saw the emergence of a number of new faces that would go on to create a new generation of riders. Fabian Cancellara won the junior men’s time trial; Bradley Wiggins was 16th; a chubby faced Thor Hushovd won the U23 time trial and Pippo Pozzato won a silver in the junior road race and a bronze in the time trial. Italy enjoyed a clean sweep in the U23 men's road race with Ivan Basso finished ahead of Rinaldo Nocentini – who is racing this year’s worlds – and Danilo Di Luca.
But for every Cancellara and Hushovd there were riders tipped for success who never made the grade. Mark Scanlon (Ireland) won the junior road race with a perfectly timed sprint and was tipped as the ‘next Sean Kelly’. However years of frustration followed and the Irishman was never able to replicate his junior dominance in the senior ranks.
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