28 September 2018

Hirschi solos to UCI Road World Championships gold for Switzerland in U-23 Men’s Road-Race

A strong collective performance by Switzerland  in a hard-fought U-23 Men’s Road-Race on Friday culminated in a gold medal for solo breakaway Marc Hirschi, whilst Belgium’s Bjorg Lambrecht then out-duelled Finland’s Jaakko Hanninen (Finland) for the bronze.

With Swiss riders present in every key move in the very hilly 179.9 kilometre race, Hirschi finally pulled clear alone, making  a well-timed attack to shake off Lambrecht and Hanninen on the final descent into Innsbruck.

The 20-year-old reigning European Road Race Champion then soloed to the finish line in front of the Hofburg Imperial  palace for Switzerland’s first medal of the 2018 UCI Road World Championships.

"The team did such a great job from the beginning - we were always in the right group and just playing with the others,"  Hirschi said afterwards.

"We knew as a team we were here for the win or a medal, and to get the gold medal, it’s amazing, it's crazy.”

179 riders started the U-23 Elite Men’s Road Race in the town of Kufstein on yet another 2018 UCI Road World Championships event run off in sunshine and dry weather, with four ascents of the daunting Igls climb on the final Olympic circuit the main challenge of the event.

With three laps to go, the main bunch were still together as they crossed the finish line, but not for long. A concerted move by Switzerland on the sweeping, fast, descent of the Igls, roughly 50 kilometres from the line, suddenly both punched a hole in that fragile unity and brought the race to life, too.

Hirschi was one of four Swiss riders in a group of seven to move ahead, thanks to that move, a huge strategic advantage that forced their rivals onto the backfoot for the rest of the race.

“That was a crucial point, it was not planned like this but we know we can descend well,” Hirschi said afterwards. “We thought the descent was too easy to make any gaps, but with four riders ahead, it was a good situation for us.”

Switzerland began to fire riders up the road from the break as Hirschi, reeled in by a Belgian-led chase group, recounted.

“Patrick [Muller] went for the first attack, Gino [Mader] was in the second attack and I was in the peloton because I knew I could maybe win the sprint from the peloton or a small group. The plan went perfect and it was amazing,” Hirschi later recounted.

On the penultimate ascent of the Ilgs,  the Belgian team managed to pull in all the seven bar Muller and the Ukraine’s Mark Padun, with Eddie Dunbar (Ireland) and Mader trying a lengthy and ultimately futile counter-attack.

The race’s lead two dozen riders briefly regrouped thanks to the Belgians efforts, spearheaded by Lambrecht, as they tackled the Igls ascent one last time. But the leaders barely had time to catch their breath before Lambrecht made a driving acceleration to go clear in what proved to be the winning move, with yet another Swiss rider, in this case Hirschi, as well as Hanninin,  on his wheel.

The leading trio of Hanninen, Hirschi and Lambrecht had a small gap on Padun, who rode a remarkably strong lone race, at the summit before one final plunge back into Innsbruck, but their uneasy alliance soon broke open as Hirschi went clear - again, as he had already done in the earlier seven-man break, on the long descent.

This time, however, Hirschi was alone, and with an advantage hovering around 10 seconds through the city centre, the Swiss rider stayed alone and ahead all the way to the finish, and a hard-earned gold medal.

The 2018 UCI Road World Championships continue on Saturday with the Elite Women’s Road Race, a very hilly 156.2 kilometre course with over 2,400 metres of vertical climbing.