It is one thing to start a road race as favourite and quite another to overcome the attendant pressure and back it up with a win as convincing as the one that Romain Sicard (France) pulled off in the Under 23 World Championship road race on Saturday.
Supported by a strong French team, Sicard, the recent winner of the Tour de L'Avenir, played a patient game, waiting until the penultimate lap to make his move, and taking a win he described as a "dream" and "unbelievable".
"It's unbelievable to be sitting here with the rainbow jersey," said Sicard. "It's not often you get the chance to win it in your career. I played a little bit of a bluff. There were still a lot of riders in the final (lap), and I could tell people were really suffering.
"I made a big attack on the last lap and just poured it on all the way to the finish," said the new world champion. "I felt strong at the key moments in the race, and now I am very happy."
Sicard had appeared at the front earlier in the race, but only briefly. That was in stark contrast to his teammates, who were tasked with marking the most dangerous moves. They proved France a constant presence at the front, whether chasing down attacks or infiltrating them.
The Italians and Australians - with time trial World Champion Jack Bobridge particularly active - were also key animators throughout, though both nations left empty-handed. The first Italian - and one of the pre-race favourites, Damiano Caruso - only managed 10th, while the top Australian, Mark O'Brien, was 25th.
The French strategy was clearly designed to ensure that Sicard arrived at the decisive point as fresh and ready as possible, and it was obvious, when that moment came late in the race, that his team's confidence was entirely justified.
Joining Holland's Michel Kreder, who jumped clear early on the penultimate lap, Sicard's timing was also impeccable. The only brief dilemma for him and the French came over the next two kilometres, when a teammate, Nicolas Edet, escaped the chase group to launch his own pursuit of the leading duo. On the one hand, Sicard could wait for Edet and, with two men in the front three, dramatically increase the odds of a French win.
On the other, with a still-large group behind - 50-strong as they started that penultimate lap, but virtually halved by the pressure caused by a string of attacks, including Sicard and Kreder's - that would be a gamble. Sicard, in any case, didn't seem to need extra assistance.
With Kreder, he pressed on as his teammate Edet faded, until, on the same climb that started the final lap, the pre-race favourite dropped his Dutch companion, riding alone for the final 10km to win by 27 seconds ahead of two riders who'd escaped on the final climb to the finish.
It seemed that Sicard's winning move, on the steepest part of of Acqua Fresca, climbing out of the town of Mendrisio, was more a case of Kreder being dropped than the Frenchman attacking, though Sicard suggested not. "I could see Kreder was suffering a bit," he said, "so I decided to attack."
Kreder bravely held on to second place for most of the final lap, but the Duthcman paid for his efforts on Novazzano, the second of the two climbs on the 13.8km circuit, where he was caught and dropped. He eventually finished 33rd.
Behind the triumphant Sicard, one of the chasing pair that formed on that final climb was, inevitably, a Colombian, Carlos Alberto Betancur, who out-sprinted Egor Silin (Russia) for silver. It was inevitable because the Colombians had been even more visible than the French throughout the race - "adding the salt to the soup" as one observer put it later.
Rather than play the patient game, the South Americans were on the attack all day, in what proved to be a more than respectable defence of Fabio Andrés Duarte's world title, achieved with his victory in Varese 12 months ago.
"We came here very prepared," said Betancur. "We wanted to play an important role, and to defend the gold medal won by Duarte. During the whole race, our strategy was to be very proactive."
There was also a courageous late-race effort behind Betancur and Silin by Peter Kennaugh of Great Britain, who launched a one-man counter-attack on the final climb, holding on for fourth to emulate his countryman Ben Swift's performance in Varese, Italy, last year. It completes a trio of strong British performances in the Under 23 race, after Jonny Bellis's bronze medal in Stuttgart in 2007.
"I stuck to the plan," said Kennaugh, a lively presence on the final lap. "Being young, it's sometimes quite hard to hold back in races. You just want to attack all the time, so we've been working on staying patient. It's all about discipline. That's what I did today. [But] I lost a lot of energy on the first climb on the last lap to get across."
Sicard, a 21-year old from the Basque village of Hasparren in the southwest of France, will turn professional with Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2010, doing so on the back of victories in arguably the two biggest races for Under 23 riders: the Tour de L'Avenir and now the world title race.
"It was a very difficult race," said Sicard. "But it's the racer that makes the race, not the course. The real race started in the second half, and the last lap was very tough. But I want to thank my teammates, who helped me a lot." It was a performance - both individually and collectively - that suggests a bright future for French cycling.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Romain Sicard (France)||4:41:54|
|2||Betancur Gomez Carlos Alberto (Colombia)||0:00:27|
|3||Egor Silin (Russian Federation)|
|4||Peter Kennaugh (Great Britain)||0:00:49|
|5||Jérôme Baugnies (Belgium)||0:00:54|
|6||Marko Kump (Slovenia)|
|7||Yevgeniy Nepomnyachshiy (Kazakhstan)|
|8||Sarmiento Tunarrosa Jose Cayetano (Colombia)|
|9||Matthias Brandle (Austria)||0:01:00|
|10||Damiano Caruso (Italy)||0:01:33|
|11||Alexandre Geniez (France)||0:01:38|
|12||Christer Rake (Norway)|
|13||Castroviejo Nicolas Jonathan (Spain)||0:01:40|
|14||Sander Maasing (Estonia)|
|15||Nicolas Schnyder (Switzerland)|
|16||Arnaud Courteille (France)|
|17||Nicolas Edet (France)|
|18||Adrian Honkisz (Poland)|
|19||Peter Stetina (United States Of America)|
|20||Dominik Nerz (Germany)|
|21||Anatoliy Kashtan (Ukraine)|
|22||Kanstantsin Klimiankou (Belarus)|
|23||Ben Gastauer (Luxembourg)|
|24||Sep Vanmarcke (Belgium)|
|25||Mark O`Brien (Australia)|
|26||Darwin Atapuma Hurtado (Colombia)|
|27||Mirco Saggiorato (Switzerland)|
|28||José Alarcon (Venezuela)|
|29||Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (South Africa)|
|30||Mathias Lisson (Denmark)|
|31||Gianluca Brambilla (Italy)|
|32||Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Colombia)||0:01:44|
|33||Michel Kreder (Netherlands)||0:01:49|
|34||Romain Zingle (Belgium)||0:02:15|
|35||Joel Zangerle (Luxembourg)||0:02:22|
|36||Arthur Vichot (France)|
|37||Alex Meenhorst (New Zealand)||0:05:21|
|38||Leopold Konig (Czech Republic)|
|39||Daniele Ratto (Italy)|
|40||Thibaut Pinot (France)||0:07:23|
|41||Alexandre Shushemoin (Kazakhstan)||0:08:06|
|42||Blaz Furdi (Slovenia)||0:08:31|
|43||Artem Topchanyuk (Ukraine)||0:08:48|
|44||Oleksandr Polivoda (Ukraine)|
|45||Martin Mahdar (Slovakia)||0:09:00|
|46||Nazar Jumabekov (Kazakhstan)|
|47||Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spain)|
|48||Silver Ao (Estonia)||0:09:04|
|49||Rafael Andriato (Brazil)||0:09:08|
|50||Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eritrea)||0:09:29|
|51||Carlos Alexandre Manarelli (Brazil)||0:09:32|
|52||Andrei Krasilnikau (Belarus)|
|52||Siarhei Papok (Belarus)|
|54||Viesturs Luksevics (Latvia)|
|55||Siarhei Novikau (Belarus)|
|56||Stefan Denifl (Austria)|
|57||Alexander Prishpetniy (Russian Federation)|
|57||Pit Schlechter (Luxembourg)|
|59||Sondre Gjerdevik Sörtveit (Norway)|
|60||Jan Tratnik (Slovenia)|
|61||Jahn Frederik Grue (Norway)|
|62||David Veilleux (Canada)|
|63||Andrey Solomennikov (Russian Federation)|
|64||Luke Rowe (Great Britain)|
|65||Vojtech Hacecky (Czech Republic)|
|66||Romain Beney (Switzerland)|
|67||Oleg Berdos (Republic of Moldova)|
|68||John Degenkolb (Germany)||0:09:37|
|69||Petr Ignatenko (Russian Federation)||0:16:48|
|70||Egidijus Juodvalkis (Lithuania)|
|71||Ryohei Komori (Japan)||0:18:14|
|72||Pedro Merino Criado (Spain)|
|DNF||Dennis Van Winden (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Leigh Howard (Australia)|
|DNF||Steven Kruijswijk (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Jens Keukeleire (Belgium)|
|DNF||Angelo Pagani (Italy)|
|DNF||Diego Ulissi (Italy)|
|DNF||Jelle Wallays (Belgium)|
|DNF||Jack Bobridge (Australia)|
|DNF||Michael Matthews (Australia)|
|DNF||Juan Villegas (Colombia)|
|DNF||Thimothy Roe (Australia)|
|DNF||Niki Ostergaard (Denmark)|
|DNF||Higinio Fernandez Suarez (Spain)|
|DNF||Blaz Jarc (Slovenia)|
|DNF||Jakub Novak (Slovakia)|
|DNF||Kamil Zielinski (Poland)|
|DNF||Kenji Itami (Japan)|
|DNF||Sylwester Janiszewski (Poland)|
|DNF||Nik Burjek (Slovenia)|
|DNF||Yoshimitsu Hiratsuka (Japan)|
|DNF||Martin Reimer (Germany)|
|DNF||Gregory Obando Brenes (Costa Rica)|
|DNF||Nelson Oliveira (Portugal)|
|DNF||Alex Howes (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Colombia)|
|DNF||Martijn Keizer (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Tejay Van Garderen (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Nico Keinath (Germany)|
|DNF||Sergej Fuchs (Germany)|
|DNF||Kris Boeckmans (Belgium)|
|DNF||Troels Ronning Vinther (Denmark)|
|DNF||Peter Sagan (Slovakia)|
|DNF||Martin Schöffmann (Austria)|
|DNF||Daniel Schorn (Austria)|
|DNF||Fabricio Quiros (Costa Rica)|
|DNF||Andrey Klyuev (Russian Federation)|
|DNF||Mcevoy Jonathan (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Rafael Valls Ferri (Spain)|
|DNF||Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)|
|DNF||Vegard Stake Laengen (Norway)|
|DNF||Jure Zagar (Slovenia)|
|DNF||Rasmus Guldhammer (Denmark)|
|DNF||Chris Barton (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Ramon Sinkeldam (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Ablay Shugaipov (Kazakhstan)|
|DNF||Alfredo Cruz Bernaldez (Mexico)|
|DNF||Guillaume Boivin (Canada)|
|DNF||David Boily (Canada)|
|DNF||Patrick Gretsch (Germany)|
|DNF||Dementev Yehor (Ukraine)|
|DNF||Clinton Robert Avery (New Zealand)|
|DNF||Christian Schneeberger (Switzerland)|
|DNF||Alexander Kristoff (Norway)|
|DNF||Jacobus Venter (South Africa)|
|DNF||Gabor Kasa (Serbia)|
|DNF||Mark Christian (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Phuchong Sai-Udomsin (Thailand)|
|DNF||Mustafa Sayar (Turkey)|
|DNF||Niv Libner (Israel)|
|DNF||Armando Aguilar (Mexico)|
|DNF||Ugur Marmara (Turkey)|
|DNF||Ran Margaliot (Israel)|
|DNF||Olamaei Mahdi (Islamic Republic of Iran)|
|DNF||Erick Rowsell (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Gideoni Monteiro (Brazil)|
|DNF||Eyup Karagobek (Turkey)|
|DNF||Silver Schultz (Estonia)|
|DNF||Sam Bewley (New Zealand)|
|DNF||Patrik Tybor (Slovakia)|
|DNF||Christopher Juul Jensen (Denmark)|
|DNF||Ricky Eno Jorgensen (Denmark)|
|DNF||Edgaras Kovaliovas (Lithuania)|
|DNF||Kirk Carlsen (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Riccardo Zoidl (Austria)|
|DNF||Jonathan Fumeaux (Switzerland)|
|DNF||Patrik Stenberg (Sweden)|
|DNF||Ryan Anderson (Canada)|
|DNF||Juraj Sagan (Slovakia)|
|DNF||Evaldas Siskevicius (Lithuania)|
|DNF||Jakub Novak (Czech Republic)|
|DNF||Sebastian Balck (Sweden)|
|DNF||Jonathan Monsalve (Venezuela)|
|DNF||Balazs Simon (Hungary)|
|DNF||Burry Stander (South Africa)|
|DNF||Gert Joeaar (Estonia)|
|DNF||Jaroslaw Marycz (Poland)|
|DNF||Allan Morales (Costa Rica)|
|DNF||Mirac Kal (Turkey)|
|DNF||Jakub Kratochvila (Czech Republic)|
|DNF||Natthapon Jeebthaworn (Thailand)|
|DNF||Zoltan Vigh (Hungary)|
|DNF||Khakharman Merey (Kazakhstan)|
|DNF||Turakit Boonratanathanakorn (Thailand)|
|DNF||Krisztian Lovassy (Hungary)|
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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.
He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi
His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.
Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.
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