Cian Uijtdebroeks finished sixth in the junior men's time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Flanders, though it was an incident that occurred in the run-up to the race that could prove to last longer in the memory than his ride on Tuesday.
The 18-year-old's participation in the race was called into question last week after he injured himself confronting a burglar at his home in Wallonia, spraining a muscle behind his knee in the process.
Uijtdebroeks was home alone in Hannut at the time when he heard a noise through his open window and spotted an intruder hiding outside. In rushing downstairs to switch on the burglar alarm, Uijtdebroeks hurt his knee, putting him off the bike for several days – he only completed a full training ride on Saturday, he said in the build-up to the Worlds.
His efforts weren't quite on the same level as ex-Everton footballer Duncan Ferguson, who on two separate occasions sent would-be burglars to hospital after catching them in his home, but one can't blame the Belgian for taking avoiding action a week before the biggest races of his season.
Uijtdebroeks, who will move to the WorldTour with Bora-Hansgrohe next season, said after the 22.3-kilometre test that, while he didn't notice his injury during the time trial, it clearly affected him as he powered from Knokke-Heist to Brugge 41 seconds down on the eventual winner, Denmark's Gustav Wang.
"In the past few days, I've still had problems with my injury, but during the race, you don't feel it because of the focus and the adrenaline," he told the assembled press at the end of a considerable spell in the mixed zone beyond the finish line.
"My power meter showed that I put a little more power on my left leg than on my right leg, which I injured. That means I was still a bit afraid to go flat-out. We'll see if there's a reaction tomorrow, but it shouldn't be that bad."
Uijtdebroeks, who has been dubbed 'the next Evenepoel' by sections of the Belgian press, completely bypassing the traditional 'the next Merckx' jinx bestowed upon Belgian after Belgian over the years, said that the incident and injury certainly disrupted his preparation for the time trial.
He went on to add that the pan-flat parcours wasn't his cup of tea, either, comparing it with the time trial at the recent European Championships in Trento, where he finished second behind teammate – and newly minted Worlds bronze medallist – Alec Segaert.
"For sure, it had a little bit because the preparation wasn't perfect due to that. You think also about that, so it had a little impact. But in the end, also the parcours was not perfect for me. It had an impact too. In the end, I gave everything that I had but it was just not enough to win.
"At the European Championships, I had the advantage that there were a few sections of climbing in the course. It wasn't really uphill, but on every stretch that goes up a bit, I have an advantage due to my weight. On all the flat and downhill sections, I'm at a disadvantage.
"On this course, there was no climbing, so the bigger riders are at an advantage anyway. The winner Gustav Wang is a specialist in aerodynamics, and I still have to work on that, too."
Belgium's last junior world champion – Evenepoel – blew away the competition in Innsbruck three years ago, winning the time trial by 1:24 and the road race by 1:25. It's dominant rides like that – such as his 4:46 win at May's Classique des Alpes Juniores – which have seen Uijtdebroeks hailed as the next big thing.
When asked about the media pressure and rider comparisons that he has already been subjected to, Uijtdebroeks acknowledged them but said that he tried to focus on himself, something he'll continue during the week as he builds up to Friday's road race, where he'll once again rank among the favourites.
"I don't think too much about it but for sure it puts some pressure on a rider because they think that you can win everywhere," he said. "Like they think Remco won the World Championships and everything but if you look at the parcours there it was climbing. If you put today's time trial on a big climb it would be different, so in the end, you cannot see both those things together. For me, I want to become the best rider for myself and I don't look much to other riders.
"On Friday I'm going to give everything I can again, again for my people in Belgium. I'm hoping for a tough race and hope I can make it hard. First, we have to wait and see that my injury doesn't re-occur."
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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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