World champion Remco Evenepoel's incredible solo effort in Wollongong

World champion Remco Evenepoel’s incredible solo effort in Wollongong

Road Cycling World Cup : In the Elite Men Road Race at the 2022 World Championships, Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel won gold in a commanding solo performance, followed by France’s Christophe Laporte in second and Australia’s Michael Matthews in third.

With a performance that was both dominant and clinically efficient, the 22-year-old won by himself, with almost two minutes of separation from the rest of the field.

Remco Evenepoel took Belgium back to the World Championships after 10 years by beating his most dogged pursuer Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan) with 25 kilometers to go.

Evenepoel’s recent triumph caps off an incredibly successful year in which he became the first Belgian to win a Grand Tour in 44 years at the Vuelta a Espaa in September and the winner of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the spring.

Winning the rainbow in Wollongong at such a young age bodes very well for the career of a rider who is already being called one of the current greats of the sport.

Evenepoel, who won the junior and under-20 world titles in 2018, summed up his third rainbow jersey and 37th professional triumph by saying, “another level.”

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Three more hours of racing at a significantly higher intensity. It’s incredible to have such a great ending to such a lengthy season. I went along with Alexey, but I immediately realized that I needed some time to myself.

I know I’ve won all I could this year, but next year’s [same] event is in August, making my reign as World Champion one of the shortest in history. I doubt I’ll have another year like this one:

Here’s How It All Went Down

The peloton set out from Dharawal Country in Helensburgh more than six hours earlier under clear bright skies, bringing back the characteristic Australian weather that had been missing from the Championships for the last several days.

Rien Schuurhuis, a cyclist from the Vatican City, was nestled in behind a vehicle in the front row beside UCI President David Lappartient and Australian Governor General David Hurley to watch the 266-kilometer race. In contrast to the large teams that dominated the front of the women’s race yesterday, a large number of individual riders from different countries occupied the first few positions in today’s race.

Lithuania, the Swiss, and Slovakia all made unsuccessful efforts to initiate the day’s opening break right away. Mathieu van der Poel could be seen huddled towards the tail end of the buzzed group. It was beginning to trickle through that the pre-race favorite from the Netherlands had spent the most of the night in police prison after an argument at the team hotel in Sydney, and he was visibly shaken by the news.

At the same time, a break occurred quite early in the competition, with the major countries determining the makeup of the field as they blocked the way. Twelve cyclists, including Slovenia’s Jaka Pimozic, Switzerland’s Simon Pellaud, America’s Scott McGill, Canada’s Pier-Andre Cote, New Zealand’s James Fouche, the Czech Republic’s Michael Kukrle, Latvia’s Emils. Liepins, Slovakia’s Juraj Sagan, Mongolia’s Bilguunjargal Erdenebat, Israel’s Guy Sagiv, and Switzerland’s Nicolas Sessler, escaped (Brazil). At the other end of things, Van der Poel pulled the plug as the first DNF of the race as he crossed the finish line to begin the Mt. Keira circuit at the back of the group.

On the lower slopes of the climb up Mt. Kiera, large crowds welcomed the cyclists, but as the throng thinned, Pavel Sivakov (France) pushed the pace. At the back of the pack, the Australians and the Dutch had already marked him. The breakaway’s advantage was cut by the strong French tactics at the summit of the hill, but the damage was done to the peloton.

French forward Romain Bardet made a move that prompted Wout van Aert to close in on the play after similar plays by teammates Sivakov and Bruno Amirail. However, what was happening outside of the TV cameras’ view was proving to be considerably more dramatic.

Big names like Michael Matthews (Australia), Evenepoel (South Africa), Alberto Bettiol (Italy), Biniam Girmay (Eritrea), and Peter Sagan (Slovakia) were taken off guard by the decision, as was the French leader Julian Alaphilippe.

There were no racing radios in sight, but the leading group seemed to be asking pointed questions of one another to figure out who had missed the move and who would be responsible for making sure the action on Mt. Keira didn’t go to waste.

Van Aert and Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia) led the pack into the city circuit for the first of 12 circuits with a two-minute advantage over the favorites who had been caught out. As the drama unfolded behind them, the initial breakaway remained steadfast at the front of the race.

Eventually, Pogacar was tasked with bringing back Sivakov, Pieter Serry (Belgium), Samuele Battistella (Italy), and the Australian combination Ben O’Connor and Luke Plapp on the Mt Pleasant segment of the city circuit after they had cut off the front of the second group. However, his efforts were fruitless, and the five riders quickly raced off.

Peaceful (before and after) the storm

After a chaotic beginning, the race eventually calmed down.

With ten circuits remaining, the main peloton crossed the line seven minutes behind the leading group of eleven, which was joined by the five chasers as Nico Denz (Germany) toiled away on his own in an effort to also connect up with the leaders.

O’Connor began splitting the escape on Mt. Pleasant with the riders to feel the agony, including his colleague Plapp, as the advantage shrank with 77 kilometers to go. As a result of O’Connor and Battisella’s action, the number of people in the group was reduced from nine to eight.

Quentin Pacher, with Stewart glued to his rear wheel, and the peloton stretched out in a long line behind, renewed the attack for France in the peloton. This caused an important breakaway, with 19 riders, including Evenepoel, Bardet, Australia’s Jai Hindley, and Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko, going their own ways.

The decisive fights

Evenepoel, two domestiques Pieter Serry, and Quinten Hermans, all from Belgium, were in the front group of 19 riders when they made the escape. This group was exceedingly hazardous. With 58 kilometers to go, a group of 25 riders made an unexpected 1-30 attack on a group that was divided over whether or not to pursue.

Other competitors like Hindley, Lutsenko, and Sivakov had previously shown to be dangerous, while Australia, Italy, and France were all strongly represented with three riders each (albeit not their leaders Matthews, Bettiol, or Alaphilippe). Belgians were the ones to keep an eye on nonetheless.

Evenepoel’s unbridled excitement for attacking on the climb initially upset the group, but after they reached the top, the gap stabilized at almost two minutes and his Belgian colleague Serry set a hard but not overfast pace to make sure it remained away.

The break slowed down as they waited for Evenepoel to make a move, and Serry’s withdrawal with 42 kilometers to go cast some question on whether or not Evenepoel was serious about making a move. The rest of the pack saw the race slipping away and responded by picking up the pace, led by Tadej Pogacar and Fred Wright (Great Britain).

Unfortunately, their efforts were fruitless. Instead, Evenepoel made a scorching assault with 34km to go, and Lutsenko, who had tested the waters alone soon previously, immediately latched on behind. This was the decisive moment in a fascinating strategic struggle.

But whatever hope Lutsenko had of keeping the Belgian as a partner soon evaporated. Twenty-five kilometers from the finish, on the ascent of Mount Pleasant, everything became too much for the Kazakh, and Evenepoel drove away alone to claim victory.

Evenepoel seemed to be clenching his teeth visibly as he ascended, and Lutsenko was retreating from him. Tripled his lead on the most dangerous group of four chasers on Mount Pleasant, extending his advantage to a full minute, and the Belgian’s fight for the rainbow began in earnest.

Wout van Aert attempted a short attack, and Pogacar tried his best to reanimate the race. Kevin Geniets of Luxembourg in the main group may have waved his arms frantically, but other than that, the battle was already won.

World champion Remco Evenepoel

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By the final bell, Evenepoel held a 45-second lead over Lutsenko and a more than minute lead over Pascal Eenkhorn of the Netherlands, Mattias Skjelmose of Denmark, Lorenzo Rota of Italy, and Mauro Schmidt of Switzerland. Evenepoel put his renowned time trial abilities to good use as the kilometers rolled past, apparently easily increasing the distance.

The Belgian team car gave him some words of support as it came up behind him, but it seemed like he didn’t need them since he was on the verge of an incredible victory. Then, as Evenepoel crossed the finish line, he did so with his arms raised, signaling the end of the game.

At the last five kilometers, the peloton closed up on Lutsenko and the ensuing frantic small group sprint was a foregone conclusion. Nonetheless, one of the most dominant displays in the top men’s road race in years kept 2022 World Championships at the forefront of everyone’s mind. At the young age of 22, Evenepoel became the first rider to win both the Grand Tour and the World Championships in the same season since Greg LeMond. His triumph marked the beginning of a new era in Belgian cycling, as well as his own.

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