A young rider’s performance that's full of panache and emotion remains one of the most inspiring sights cycling can conjure up, and it was hard not to stop and appreciate Kevin Ledanois (France) success as he came into the press conference after winning the rainbow jersey at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond.
He had just come from the podium celebrations, where along with teammate and bronze medallist, Anthony Turgis (France), the pair had belted out their national anthem with gusto and verve. Next came the drooping of the Tricolour over the press conference table and nod of acknowledgment to the French in the crowd.
Ledanois, a 22-year-old who rides at Pro Continental level, is the latest in a line of hugely talented young French riders and his ride on Friday made him the third French rider since 2009 to win the men's U23 category after Romain Sicard in 2009 and Arnaud Démare 2011.
For Ledanois, who made his pro debut at the Arctic Race of Norway last year, this was also about revenge. He admitted that 12 months ago he had thrown the race away with an attack that came too early but in Richmond his move was perfectly executed and perfectly timed. There was a measure of good fortune involved with a crash taking out several riders just after he had moved clear on the final ascent of Libby Hill, but Ledanois deserved the rub of the green before finally holding off a late surge from Simone Consonni (Italy).
"What we wanted to do was speed up before the last climb. Then we saw that cobbles were wet because of the rain. A Belgian rider crashed and actually Anthony was the protected rider and I wanted to bring him into the best possible position before the final climb, but an Australian rider behind me wasn't able to bridge the gap so I just kept on with my rhythm and I was able to hold on until the finish," he said in his press conference.
Consonni admitted that he had lacked confidence in the finish and should have sprinted earlier but Ledanois, although clearly fading, held on.
"I looked behind and I saw that he had launched his sprint but I was still feeling good and my legs still had something left. It was still very tough and there was a moment of doubt with 150 meters to go but I gave it everything. I knew that I couldn't stop, not even for one second."
Up until the final lap of the race the French had ridden with their heads. They stayed out of the wind in the opening laps and only really came towards the front in the closing stages when Great Britain, Italy and smattering of other nations looked to position their leaders.
"We were advised and what we noticed was that the riders in the first positions at the first climb, they had the same positions coming into the finishing line. That's very, very important on that circuit. The rain was a bit of a surprise on the last lap but we knew it was possible."
On the eve of the race France held their press conference in downtown Richmond and the team spoke about seizing opportunities and the momentum they have built over the last few years with recent success in both the men's and women's fields.
Tony Gallopin, who races on Sunday, told Cyclingnews that the French squad has evolved in the last few years and moved from hopeful, plucky losers to genuine contenders in every race they enter. It's 10 years since they won a medal in the men's elite race but if Friday's display is anything to go by the French could end the championships as one of the most dominant forces. They already won a medal with Jerome Coppel in the men's time trial, after all.
"The last two years we've had great results, this is true and we had a win in Liège this year and we there in the European Championships," Turgis said as he sat besides his teammate and new world champion.
"We know that we have a lot of potential for now and for the future and we're able to achieve big things. We still know that we have to work a lot to achieve great results."
"When we race together we really compliment each other. It's a pity that during the season we are in different teams but when we wear national colours we prove what we're able to do."
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