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Bergen - Norway - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Peter SAGAN (Slowakia / Team Bora - Hansgrohe) - Alexander KRISTOFF (Norway / Team Katusha - Alpecin) - pictured during the roadrace 2017 World Road Championship mens elite cyclingrace on September 23, 2017 in Bergen, Norway - photo Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2017

WORLDS’17 Men’s Road Race: Peter The Great Great Great!

World Men’s Road Race Report: Peter Sagan snatched victory from Alexander Kristoff in a wonderful finish to a fairly turgid World Championship race. The TV pictures disappeared with around 5km left to go but when they came back on, Sagan was sat in the top five and although he let Alexander Kristoff open up the sprint, the Slovakian timed his charge perfectly and silenced the marvelous home support.

Three in a row for Peter Sagan

Sagan has now won three World Championships in a row, what course needs to be created which won’t let him win? The race started with a flat trip into Bergen and a ten man break went clear. They quickly gained a ten minute lead but Belgium didn’t want it to get out of hand and they closed the gap to below five minutes. It continued to close and it was back together with four laps to go. Another group, of higher quality, went clear but they never gained more than a minute and with two laps to go it was all back together again. On the final ascent of Salmon Hill Julian Alaphilippe punched clear and was caught by Gianni Moscon, it looked like this duo were going to decide the race but then the pictures stopped. We had no idea what happened and when they came back on inside the final kilometer, the duo had been caught and it was going to be a bunch sprint. Matteo Trentin (Italy) led out the sprint but he went from too far and Kristoff came off his wheel to a roar from the crowd. The Norwegian was being cheered home but Sagan is a killer and he came off the wheel to snatch his hat-trick of World Championship jerseys. A stunning record.

The curtain will fall on the World Championships with a 267.5km jaunt around Bergen. The action will start in the town of Rong, north west of the finish and there will be a 40km parade before the 11 finishing laps, which feature 12 ascents of the 1.5km, 6.4%, Salmon Hill climb. The rest of the finishing circuit is flat-ish, and at 19.1km there’s enough time to recover in-between efforts.

There are a number of key differences between the Doha world championships and this one – the weather for starters, it’s arm and leg warmer weather in Bergen, and the crowds, thousands of rabid crowds had descended on the course to create a brilliant atmosphere.

Alexey Vermeulen was part of the early break

The Rong Way
As is usually the way, the early break went with ease and almost immediately we had ten men up the road; Willem Jakobus Smit (South Africa), Alexey Vermeulen (USA), Matti Manninen (Finland), Kim Magnusson (Sweden), Andrey Amador (Costa Rica), Conor Dunne and Sean McKenna (Ireland), Elchin Azadov (Azerbaijan), Eugert Zhupa (Albania) and Salaheddine Mraouni (Morocco).

After 30km, the gap had expanded out towards ten minutes as the peloton were happy to enjoy the stunning scenery behind. As they hit the final circuits, Belgium had thrown Julien Vermote to the front to keep the break in check.

Belgium put Vermote to work

With ten laps to go, the focussed riding on the front had reduced the gap to less than seven minutes. Vermote had been joined by the Czech Republic team who were also making sure they didn’t let the break take up too much slack.

Michael Matthews (Australia) had been seen as a key man for the World Championships, after his Tour de France performance, but he was dealt an early blow when team mate Mat Hayman crashed and was forced to abandon. One man down as the pace and the temperature heated up in the main peloton. They’d riding for almost 100km but weren’t yet halfway and the gap was now barely five minutes.

Big crowd in Bergen

Decision Time
Julien Vermote was still doing the pace making but he was now just chasing nine leaders as Manninen was dropped on yet another ascent of Salmon Hill. The Azerbaijani rider, Azadov, was also struggling but for now he was just about clinging on.

Eugert Zhupa was another early struggler and although he was distanced on yet another climb of Salmon Hill, he made contact again on the descent. Soon though it was game over for both Zhupa and Azadov who fell out the break and left just seven in the lead. There was more action as the 100km to go barrier approached, Maxim Belkov (Russia) attacked alone and soon went passed the two distanced riders. The Russian was riding strongly and he quickly passed Mraouni as he continued picking his way through the bones of the break. The break themselves were being drawn further and further back into the fold as more countries joined the pace making efforts.

Mraouni hadn’t given up and he was now giving Belkov a turn as the Russian continued his pursuit. He was now just one minute back but that was essentially half way as the peloton continued to speed up. Now led by the Netherlands who had moved up en masse. With 90km left, the urgency and heart-rates had shot up. The peloton were flat-out and the gap to break was less than a minute. The real racing was about to begin.

Nearly the end of the road for the break

It wasn’t quite time for all the break to call it a day, Smit had felt the peloton’s breath on his back and pushed clear on the climb. He was still forging clear as the rapid chase had closed the door on the break’s chances. With 80km left, it was game over and the winner would now definitely not come from the break. There was plenty of movement at the front of the race as the Polish team, for Michal Kwaitkowksi, took up the mantle. Although Vermote had done almost all of the work to this point, no other team had made the front of the race their own.

Just four laps to go – four laps for the race to catch fire
After a number of shadow boxing attacks, Warren Barguil (France) was the next to push clear on the climb. He sparked a response but it was back together again until Marco Haller (Austria) pushed on ahead of a strung out peloton. The Austrian was briefly alone but he was then joined by Tim Wellens (Belgium) as they crested the top of the climb with 75km to go. It would be a long way for the duo to go but they were joined by six others: Alessandro De Marchi (Italy), Jarlinson Pantano (Columbia), David De La Cruz (Spain), Jack Haig (Australia), Lars Boom (Netherlands), and Odd Christian Eiking (Norway). The lead was just 30 seconds, but the quality was enough to force France and Poland to take note and lead the chase.

Nils Politt (Germany) had a go

Slovakia and Peter Sagan also weren’t featured but they were still hanging around near the defending champion as the gap kept going towards a minute. The leaders were working well together and they were forcing the hand of the French and Polish teams who were slogging away behind – they were keeping the gap just under 30 seconds but they weren’t yet eating away at it. They were being chased by a lone rider, Nils Politt (Germany) who was keen to force the hand of the chasers. He never got close enough to catch the break and with two laps to go he was caught.

Two Laps to Go
The main field had been whittled away but there hadn’t been a dynamite moment yet. The British team were hoping to provide that and Tao Geoghegan Hart (United Kingdom) was pushing along. He drew the ire of Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) who pushed clear and was immediately chased by the French. It came to nothing but Dumoulin went again, he wasn’t allowed to go clear but he was towing the pack up to the peloton. He was also having an impact on the back of the peloton as it fractured and broke. The break were within the sights of the peloton on the penultimate ascent of the climb but they had just about kept a gap and had extended it as they came down the descent. It wasn’t to be though and 5km prior to the start of the final lap, it was all back together. The race was in desperate need of an injection of pace but there was a lot of teams content to wait until the final lap and the final ascent of Salmon Hill.

World TT champ Tom Dumoulin went on the attack

With 20km left to ride, the peloton had been reduced but there was still plenty of contenders as the race hit the sixth hour. The Netherlands led the peloton onto the early rise of the lap but they were overtaken by Germany. Sebastian Langeveld (Netherlands) hit the front and he was chased by Paul Martens (Germany). The duo built up a lead of 100m but they were being chased by Tiesj Benoot (Belgium) as they ground towards the key climb of the race. The chase worked and it was all back together once again with 13km left to race. Tony Gallopin (France) was next to push clear but he was being closely watched by the Italian team who were now leading the peloton. No one team had taken ownership of the peloton and there were still plenty of riders who fancied their chances. The Swiss team led the chase as the hit the front of the final climb, whilst behind a crash had taken down three Belgium riders. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) was pushing clear but he was only laying the table for Julian Alaphilippe (France) who was now alone at the front. As he came over the top of the climb he was joined by Gianni Moscon (Italy), the duo were alone in front being hunted by a mixture of Soren Kragh Andersen (Denmark), Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium), Ilnur Zakarin (Russia) and an ever increasing group. Their gap was ten seconds but the chasing group were significantly larger, and, at the moment working harder. The chasing group weren’t taking advantage of their size and Vasili Kiryenka (Belarus) and Lukas Postlberger (Austria) went clear to chase Moscon and Alaphilippe. Alaphilippe had looked strong and all of a sudden he was ahead by himself with just 3km left to ride, Postlberger had gone pop and he left just Kiryenka and Alaphilippe on fire in the front. And then the TV pictures broke…

Not a good day for Belgium or Norwegian TV

There was 2km left to ride, but we had no idea who was leading, who was chasing and what was happening. It appeared as though Alaphilippe was still in the lead being chased alone by Moscon. The static camera was set at 1km left to ride and when we saw them come through, it wasn’t Alaphilippe in the lead, it was the Danish jersey and the yellow helmet of Magnus Cort Nielsen but he was swallowed up and Alexander Kristoff (Norway) was delivered to the front, the crowd went wild – what joy to see the World Championships in a country that cares about cycling.

It was close, but…

But the big Norwegian was dying and Peter Sagan (Slovakia) was waiting to pounce. Sagan took the lead but Kristoff came back, but the line came too soon for the resurgent Norwegian. Sagan took his third World Championship win in a row to reach cycling immortality. Michael Matthews (Australia) was the best of the rest but it was a two man battle up in the front. The TV coverage might have been shambolic, but the final lap was a glorious show of cycling. And, as always, Sagan appeared at the front.

The 2017 men’s podium – Kristoff, Sagan and Matthews

Men’s World Road Race Result:
1. Peter Sagan (Slovakia) in 6:28:11
2. Alexander Kristoff (Norway)
3. Michael Matthews (Australia)
4. Matteo Trentin (Italy)
5. Ben Swift (Great Britain)
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium)
7. Michael Albasini (Switzerland)
8. Fernando Gaviria Rendon (Colombia)
9. Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan)
10. Julian Alaphilippe (France)
11. Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)
12. Soren Kragh Andersen (Denmark)
13. Tony Gallopin (France)
14. Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic)
15. Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus)
16. Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Russian Federation)
17. Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)
18. Sergei Chernetski (Russian Federation)
19. Rui Costa (Portugal)
20. Simon Geschke (Germany)
21. Michael Valgren Andersen (Denmark)
22. Lukas Postlberger (Austria)
23. Ilnur Zakarin (Russian Federation)
24. Niki Terpstra (Netherlands)
25. Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands).

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