Denmark's Michael Valgren finished the elite men's road race at the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, on Sunday as somewhat of an unsung hero, taking an admirable seventh place, but having lit up the race with his attack on the day's penultimate climb.
He attacked just after his compatriot Kasper Asgreen and Norway's Vegard Stake Laengen were caught by what was left of the bunch, with the duo having spent most of the day at the front of the race as part of an ever-decreasing breakaway group.
Valgren's breakneck descent and subsequent scramble up the final Höll climb saw him pull out a lead of 30 seconds, and for a split second it looked as though it might have been enough.
However, the gradient took its toll, and the 26-year-old Dane was hauled in by the race favourites, passed by the eventual podium finishers Alejandro Valverde (Spain), Romain Bardet (France) and Canada's Michael Woods, as well as Italy's Gianni Moscon.
Despite having been caught inside the last 10km, Valgren had lit the blue touch paper, which saw the race truly come alive, and was still able to dig deep enough to get over the climb and descend into central Innsbruck not far off the pace.
With the first three finishers clear, the Netherlands' Tom Dumoulin in hot pursuit, and with Moscon not far behind him, Valgren looked set for a sixth-place finish, but was passed just on the line by the Czech Republic's Roman Kreuziger.
"I'm really happy. I needed to have two minutes' advantage on that last, terrible climb to have been able to stay away," Valgren told Denmark's TV Midt-Vest.
"I could have finished sixth, but it doesn't really matter," he said, after being passed on the finish line by Kreuziger, 43 seconds down on new world champion Valverde. "I couldn't have made it into the top five anyway.
"I tried to make a race of it, and I tried to win, so I'm happy with how I did," Valgren said. "I knew that it was going to be hard, and I just didn't have the legs in the end.
"I ran out of energy and both my legs were cramping. I don't weigh 65kg like some of the others do, and that's what made the difference."
Valgren was also full of praise for his Danish teammate Emil Vinjebo, who rides for Danish Continental team ColoQuick.
"I have to give a huge, huge thank you to Emil," Valgren said. "He was with me all day, and, as a rider on a Continental team, he made a huge step up, riding like an old pro.
"He gave me bottles so that I didn't have to try to take any in the feed zones, and that was amazing."
Valgren's efforts cap off a breakthrough season for the Astana rider, who this season won both the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Amstel Gold Race. Next season he moves to Dimension Data, having signed a two-year contract with the African team.
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