27 September 2018

Evenepoel Adds Junior Road Race Gold To Time Trial Title after Stigger Triumphs for Host Nation Austria

Another dominating performance by Remco Evenepoel in the 2018 Road World Championships on Thursday saw the Belgian solo to Junior Men’s Road Race gold just days after taking the Time Trial title, whilst Laura Stigger captured host nation Austria’s first medal of the Championships with victory in the Women’s Junior Road Race.

Evenepoel started off his virtuoso performance on the demanding Innsbruck course by coming back from a mid-race crash, then forming a break of three almost as and when he wanted some 40 kilometres from the line.

The Belgian then took off alone on the course’s final climb to finish more than a minute clear of his closest rival, Germany’s Marius Mayrhoffer, with Alessandro Fancellu (Italy)  out-duelling Alexandre Balmer (Switzerland) for bronze.

Evenepoel, though, looked to be in a class of his own, and even before the race began was the standout favourite.

As if  the European Road-Race and Time Trial victories in his category earlier this season, as well a spate of other wins, had not already made the Belgian the man to watch  in Thursday’s road race, Tuesday’s triumph in  the Junior Men’s Time Trial  ensured the 18-year-old was the reference point for all the other 158 starters.

Riding with race number 13, Evenepoel seemed to have hit bad luck indeed when he fell heavily in a mass tangle in the first third of the 131.8 kilometre event. But despite a delay in a necessary change of equipment from the team car, the Belgian leader then all but dragged his own waiting team-mates back to the bunch, rather than benefiting from their help - a good sign indeed.

“I had a bad moment there, I lost almost two minutes, but I managed to get back without too many difficulties,” Evenepoel later related. “My team-mates did a great job upping the pace,  there was an American rider who attacked, and I went behind him and then got away.”

Briefly accompanied by Karel Vacek (Czech Republic), who then cramped and faded away,  and Mayrhoffer, the German was able to stay in Evenepoel’s wake for longer. But as the Belgian said later, “I knew I could drop him  on the climb, I went at my own tempo, I was quite happy with that.” And Evenepoel duly did so, dropping Mayrhoffer half way up the final ascent, easing down the descent and soloing home through Innsbruck to victory.

Coming into the final kilometres, Evenepoel began a lengthy series of celebrations, culminating with dismounting after crossing the line, and, as he had done in his first win of the season at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, lifting his bike in the air.

“I wanted to win alone, that was my goal and I did it,” Evenepoel confirmed later, after becoming the first Men’s Junior to capture both the World Championships Time Trial and Road Race titles in the same year at his level.

Earlier in the day, host nation Austria claimed its first 2018 Road World Championship medal as Laura Stigger scooped gold  in the Junior Women’s Road Race.

Stigger proved the fastest in a four-way battle for victory in front of Innsbruck’s Hofburg palace, leading out the sprint and outpowering France’s Marie le Net by just over half a wheel. Canada’s reigning Junior National Time Trial Champion Simone Boilard claimed the bronze, ahead of Italy’s Barbara Malcotti.

“It’s incredible, so many people watching me and cheering me on, my thanks to them for that,” Stigger, who turned 18 just two days ago and, said afterwards, “They helped me go to the limit, and I had to give it everything, my legs were burning.”

Stigger was already a double World Champion before today - but in mountain biking, winning the Junior Cross-Country event both in the Mountain Bike World Championships a few weeks back in Lenzerheide, Switzerland and the year before, too. Thursday was only the second  road race she has ever raced, with optimum results.

“I knew the route well  because I live about 50 kilometres but  I’m from mountain biking, and when I started the race today I never thought I could become the [Road] World Champion,” she reflected later.

For all Stigger’s caution at the start  in the small town of Rattenberg of the 71 kilometre course, Stigger nonetheless showed she knew how to get in the right break when she formed part of a 25 rider group that came together, thanks to pressure from the Russian team,  over one tough early climb.

When the large leading break’s advantage rose to nearly a minute by the time the 25 reached the  final, 23 kilometre Olympic circuit, it was clear that the race winner was amongst their number.

Ukrainian Olga  Kulynych was the first to make a sustained attack, 20 kilometres from the line on the lengthy Igls climb, but Italy and Russia, present in force in the leading break, quickly reeled the move back in. Iuliia Galimullina of Russia then made her attempt to shred the break, but it was Stigger, attacking around three kilometres from the summit, who managed to open up a lasting gap on the front.

Italy’s Malcotti and Canadian Boilard were the only two riders able to get across, and although Stigger tried to shake off her companions again before the summit, the trio reformed and crossed the summit with around 30 seconds advantage.

Exploiting her local knowledge, Stigger managed to open up a small gap on the fast, straightforward descent back down to Innsbruck and the finish. However, Malcotti refused to lose contact, and Boilard then rejoined the two race leaders, whilst France’s le Net, thanks to a fine lone descent, finally brought the leading break up to four as the course eased through the city centre.

With two more Italian racers, Camilla Alessio and Vittoria Guazzini, and another Frenchwoman, Jade Wiel in hot pursuit, the quartet were on the brink of failing to reach the line ahead of their rivals.

But despite the pressure, Stigger never panicked, and a long drive to the finish, surging up past le Net’s left, netted Austria a gold medal and their first podium finish of the 2018 Road World Championships.

The Road World Championships continue on Friday with the U-23 Men’s Road Race, a very hilly course with nearly 3,000 metres of vertical climbing and over 179.9 kilometres.