While the debate over WorldTour pros competing in under-23 races at the World Championships rages on, Friday's men's road race would serve among the final flourishes for a number of the 177 starters before heading to the WorldTour themselves.
Race winner Filippo Baroncini was among them, the Italian heading to Trek-Segafredo next season, as was the fifth-place finisher, Great Britain's Lewis Askey. The 20-year-old will make the step up from Groupama-FDJ's development squad to the main team next year, joining fellow Briton Jake Stewart, who did the same for 2021.
Askey has already competed in several races as part of the senior squad, in line with the UCI rules allowing teams to give development squad riders experience at a higher level before turning pro, with Scheldeprijs and Tro-Bro Léon on his calendar this year. Speaking after Friday's race, he said that he's excited to head to the WorldTour in 2022.
"I'm really excited to be part of the WorldTour team and I feel at home with them already," said Askey. "Hopefully me and Jake can do some good things next year.
"It doesn't feel as amazing or as big a step as I thought it was because I have already raced a lot with the guys a lot last year and I get on with everyone there, so it just feels like sort of integrating riding with the same guys. Yeah, I'm really excited to see what we can do in some big races next year."
Askey, who hails from Cannock in Staffordshire, has enjoyed a consistent 2021 campaign, with his Worlds result the seventh top-five placing of the year, including third and fourth places on stages of the Tour de l'Avenir.
He was in contention for a medal in Leuven, leading the charge in the sprint seconds behind solo winner Baroncini. At 300 metres to go, Askey was on the front, heading up the chase group as they sprinted to the line, but he was passed before the line, first by Italy's Michele Gazzoli and Dutchman Olav Kooij, before Eritrea's Biniam Girmay shot past them all for second.
Fifth wasn't the result he and Great Britain had come to Belgium for, Askey said, adding that, while he was disappointed with the outcome, he was pleased with how the race had gone in general.
"We came here for the win so pleased isn't really the word. It's fifth at the World Championships but at the end of the day we came here to win, and we didn't come away with that," Askey said. " I think if we're going to be pleased then it's because of how the boys rode because they rode really well. I don't think there's much more we could've done in that situation.
"Me and Sam [Watson] weren't feeling amazing amazing but at the end of a race like that, you're never going to. We both did a sprint for ourselves, both starting at different points in the bunch so if it was better to be at the front or start further back, we had someone there.
"In the end, it was – I didn't really know what happened at the front but there were splits and I had to go really, really early and commit to the line because the medals were going away. In the end I gave a really good lead out to the guys in my wheel but that's racing – you can't always have it as you want it."
In a crash-marred race, Askey was among the many casualties, falling early on and suffering problems with both his saddle and gearing as a result. He said, though, that the race largely went to plan after that early mishap.
"That's why you have to be at the front even from the start, and I was trying to be a bit too relaxed trying to save energy and slid a bit further back and then you end up wasting a bit more energy because you get caught behind crashes and you have to do big digs.
"Maybe I expended a bit too much energy there, but as soon as I realised that I made sure to get right to the front with the boys and it was a really good race after that.
"Obviously, we knew that watching the juniors race it was going to be a crit towards the front. Weirdly, as soon as it got down to it, it wasn't super hard. On the last lap I was a bit gutted that I lost a bit of speed going into the steep climb. I was expecting it to go, and I was ready for it to go and I was feeling good then I got caught behind people going backwards so I was a little bit gutted that I didn't go there."
Fifth place in the books, Askey will now be looking ahead to the rest of the year and his move to Groupama-FDJ next season. Having combined road, mountain bike and cyclo-cross in his career so far, he'll continue to do so going forward, another multi-disciplinary addition to the pro peloton. He's making a discipline switch for next week, in fact.
"I'm racing some mountain bike on Sunday with the aim to get selected for the Commonwealth Games [in Birmingham – Ed.] next year which is right outside my house pretty much. That'd be really cool if I could do that," he said. "I've got the Ronde de l'Isard, Paris-Tours, and then the National Championships. Then I'll do three weeks of 'cross ending with the European Championships, so I'll be pretty busy, but I'll make sure I have a good off-season after that."
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content on Cyclingnews and takes on live race text coverage throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Tro-Bro Léon, Strade Bianche, and the Vuelta a España.
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