Julian Alaphilippe (France) stormed to the men’s elite road world title at the UCI Road World Championships after a well-calculated attack and a dramatic finish on the Imola motor racing circuit. The Frenchman attacked on the final climb of the race of the Cima Gallisterna with 12km to go and established a slim advantage over a world-class chase group, and despite a frantic chase the Frenchman held on to win.
In the sprint for second, Wout Van Aert (Belgium) had far too much power for Marc Hirschi (Switzerland), while Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) was forced to settle for fourth by the narrowest of margins.
“For this moment it’s really hard to say something,” Alaphilippe said in a post-race interview. “I want to say thank you to all my teammates who really believe in me today. Everybody did a great job. It was a dream of my career. Sometimes, I was so close, and I was never on the podium. I came here with a lot of ambition and it’s just a dream day for me.”
As predicted, the race came down to the Cima Gallisterna with the final climb of the race seeing a group of 25 riders tackle the lower slopes together. With a numerical advantage, Belgium positioned Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet on the front, with the veteran rider setting a pace so strong that few could match him. It was Tour de France revelation Hirschi who broke the Belgian stranglehold first – with 12.9km to go – with Van Aert quickly on his wheel and a group of around eight riders, including Alaphilippe, moving clear. When Hirschi pulled to one side, Kwiatkowski unleashed a second attack, and this time only a handful of rivals could maintain contact with, Van Aert, Hirschi, Primoz Roglič, Jakob Fuglsang, Alaphilippe and still in the fold.
In a scene similar to a Milan-San Remo finish, Alaphilippe stuck to Kwiatkowski’s wheel before jumping clear with the summit in sight. Fuglsang was possibly the strongest rider left behind at that point but he was caught towards the back of the group. On the long descent, the Frenchman established a slim eight-second lead over Fuglsang, Van Aert, Roglic, Hirschi and Kwiatkowski as the suffering chasers battled to remain in contention. The final kilometres looked like torture for the Frenchman as he fought off each acceleration from behind, responding whenever his lead dipped under ten seconds, but even when he entered the motor racing circuit for the final time he could scan back to see his chasers in hot pursuit. It was too close to call until finally, as the gradient eased into a slight downhill, Alaphilippe could savour his first road world title, and France’s first since Laurent Brochard in 1997.
Michael Matthews (Australia) brought home the next group on the road in seventh place.
How it unfolded
After the elite women’s road race on Saturday, it was time for the men’s peloton to tackle the Imola circuit to decide the outcome of the final race of this shortened World Championships. Unlike in the women’s race, there were attacks from the gun with a seven-rider move of Jonas Koch (Germany), Torstein Traeen (Norway), Marco Friedrich (Austria), Damiil Fomynkh (Kazakhstan), Yukiya Arashiro (Japan), Eduard Grosu (Romania) and Ulises Castillo (Mexico) forming in the opening kilometers.
The race would tackle nine laps of the circuit with the Mazzolano and the Cima Gallisterna climbs set to define the outcome. The break established a healthy lead in the opening two laps with their advantage bobbing around the six-minute mark. On the fourth lap, with 155km to go, the gap remained at 5:50 with the Danes, and the Swiss tapping out a steady tempo at the front of the peloton.
With 136km to go Friedrich was dropped, with Grosu following suit soon after on the Gallisterna with 128km to go. At the 108km to go mark, Castillo caved on the Gallisterna with Poland doing a lot of work on the front of the peloton as cracks started to show in the main field, as up ahead, Koch and Traeen moved clear of the rest of the break, with just two riders surviving from the original seven.
With 90km to go and the gap down to 3’19, the Swiss and German teams increased the pace as the main field made its way to the foot of the Mazzolano some 12 kilometers later. Slovenia, Switzerland, Denmark, and Belgium fought for the best position near the front of the peloton.
The pace eased as the climb began but any form of a truce only lasted until the approach to the Gallisterna with 70km to go with the same teams, plus France, controlling the pace. The French team managed to reduce the break’s advantage to less than 30 seconds halfway up the climb with Alaphilippe, Roglič, and Tim Wellens all well positioned near the front of affairs.
The French squad strung the peloton out and accelerated over the top of the climb, ending Koch’s and Traeen’s day at the front of the race with 69km to go. Alaphilippe’s men kept the pressure on as the peloton returned to the racing circuit with 60km to go but behind them sat a raft of rivals benefiting from their work. The French stuck to their guns, however, until Nans Peters, who had contributed to almost all of the French efforts was replaced at the front of the race with 56km to go by the Belgians, as Pogačar decided to switch bikes as the race exited the Imola track.
Belgium had the numbers to control the race at the start of the penultimate lap but Australia, Denmark, and Norway all looked to play their hand with 53km remaining with little action from Italy until that point. On the penultimate ascent of the Mazzolano the Great Britain team moved up as riders like Tom Dumoulin and Marc Soler began to slip towards the back of the bunch.
Tiesj Benoot set a brisk pace on the ascent as Belgium flexed their muscles once more with six riders at the head of the peloton, and roughly 60 riders still in contention with 48km to go. Italy’s presence was finally felt on the slopes of the Gallisterna with Pogačar also moved to the front by his teammates before the Tour de France winner powered clear with 42km remaining. The panic in the bunch was clear, before Benoot retuned to limit the peloton’s losses.
Pogačar fought tooth and nail for a ten-second lead as he crested the top with a reduced group of 30 riders forming at the top of the descent. The Tour winner entered the Imola track with 15 seconds over the Belgian-lead peloton and the flat circuit saw Pogačar extend his gap to 25 seconds as the bell for the final lap rang out.
Belgium were joined by Spain with 25km to go, with another cameo from the French, but Pogačar’s advantage remained intact as he reached the base of the Mazzolano for the final time. The peloton made no impression on Pogačar’s lead on the early slopes but Spain finally began to eat into the advantage before Tom Dumoulin attacked with 22km to and quickly brought himself onto his Tour rival’s wheel. Belgium one more set a tempo with Martin (France) bringing the pair to heel with 21km to go.
The catch sparked an immediate reaction with Caruso accelerating with Van Aert and Carapaz on his wheel.
Nibali, Van Aert Landa and Uran formed a dangerous quartet with France in hot pursuit before the race once more reformed at the base of the descent. Pogačar turned from attacker to defender as he marked several moves but with 15.8km a group of six created a small gap with Van Avermaet on the right side but his team leader briefly caught out.
As Belgium closed down the break Guillaume Martin moved clear, forcing the Belgian’s into action once more, but once organized, they brought the race onto the final climb.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Julian Alaphilppe (France)||6:38:34|
|2||Wout Van Aert (Belgium)||0:00:24|
|3||Marc Hirschi (Switzerland)|
|4||Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)|
|5||Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark)|
|6||Primoz Roglic (Slovenia)|
|7||Michael Matthews (Australia)||0:00:53|
|8||Alejandro Valverde (Spain)|
|9||Max Schachmann (Germany)|
|10||Damiano Caruso (Italy)|