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Ups and Downs at the UCI Cycling World Championships

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

I think it’s fair to say that Mathieu van der Poel came out of the UCI World Championships with mixed feelings. There was the brilliant success in the Elite Men’s Road Race on August 2 in which he overcame a late crash to take an impressive victory, well ahead of Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar. Ten days later, there was his disastrous crash, just 3 minutes into the race, on the opening loop of the Mountain Bike Cross-country Olympics race, from which he could not recover.

“I’m not feeling very well at the moment,” the Dutch all-rounder told NOS. “I fell on the same side as I fell on the road race. My front wheel slipped on a relatively easy part of the track. It’s my own fault. I can’t say much about it either, other than being angry with myself. It’s just a shame that I had such a nice period on the bike end so stupidly.”

It could be that the very difficult and taxing road race ten days earlier had taken some sharpness out of him. It certainly had that effect on van Aert and Pogačar. The Belgian did not look his usual rapid self nine days after the road race when he finished fifth in the ITT, 1:37.23 behind winner Remco Evenepoel, while the Slovenian two-time Tour de France winner finished a distant 21st, at 3:05.88. “I cannot be satisfied with the result today,” Pogačar told Eurosport. “but on Sunday, I left it all on the road.”

Filippo Ganna finished second in the ITT, 12.28 adrift, with the 19-year-old Welshman Joshua Tarling coming in third, at 48.20. Evenepoel won the ITT despite his participation in the road race but he realized at one point in that event that the route, with its many twists and turns, did not suit him and wisely took the foot off the gas, to save himself for the time trial. He finished a distant 25th, 10:10 behind van der Poel. Many riders did not like that course, particularly the second part of the race, which was run through the centre of Glasgow. But it turned out to be extremely selective and gave us a podium that had the three best riders in the world. The women rode the same Glasgow route, though only six laps of that 14.3-km section, compared to the 11 laps the men had to ride.

The MTB cross-country championship race in which van der Poel crashed was won by a different multi-discipline rider, Tom Pidcock, who did not ride in the road race. Peter Sagan, who is leaving road to pursue MTB, will need to work on his mountain bike skills. He finished 63rd, 7:14 behind Pidcock.

For Lotte Kopecky, on the other hand, these were landmark world championships. She won two gold medals on the track as well as one bronze, and on the final day of the event, she became the 2023 Elite Women’s Road Race World Champion in a race that was even more exciting than the men’s. The decisive move came just 5 km from the finish line, on the penultimate of the many short, steep climbs on the course, when she broke away from Denmark’s Cecilie Ludwig. What was truly impressive about Kopecky’s performance is that her grand slam of world championships came less than two weeks after the completion of the Tour de France Femmes with Zwift, in which she won the Škoda Green Jersey and finished second in the GC.

“It’s been an amazing year,” a tearful Kopecky told Eurosport after the road race. Indeed it has; I don’t believe that any cyclist, male or female, has had a more successful year than the 27-year-old Belgian. “This was a dream that came true,” she went on to say. “I really hope to enjoy riding in the rainbow stripes [of the world championship jersey] next year. Becoming a three-time world champion is just too crazy for words.” Kopecky’s SD Worx teammate Demi Vollering finished second by nipping Ludwig in a sprint to the finish line.

The women’s U23 road race world championship race was run together with that of the Elite women, and was won by Blanka Vas of Hungary who was delighted with the gold medal but said after the race, “I don’t have the feeling I won because I didn’t cross the finish line first.” She was, in fact, the eleventh rider to cross the line, 4:34 behind the winner. She went on to say that she wished that the U23 women might have their own race, as do the Elite women and the Juniors, those 18 and younger. Apparently, that is planned for 2025.

It was also a very successful competition for Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. The 31-year-old Frenchwoman dominated the Women’s Elite MTB Cross-country competition, winning gold in both the Short Track and Olympic events. giving her a total of seven MTB world championships in her career.

The first-ever multi-discipline cycling world championship was a veritable three-ring circus of the sport of cycling, offering medals in 13 categories, including road, track, para-cycling track and road, MTB downhill, cross-country and cross-country marathon and BMX. Next year’s world championships are scheduled to be held on September 21-29 in the Swiss city and canton of Zurich, and they will not be quite so sumptuous as they will again be limited to road and para-cycling road medal races.