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ST WENDEL, GERMANY – It was a proud day for France in the Junior Cyclocross World Championships, as 17 year-old Clément Venturini took a commanding solo win ahead of compatriots and twin brothers Loic and Fabien Doubey. Americans Andrew Dillman and Jeff Bahnson finished in 21st and 25th, respectively, while Yannick Eckmann, who races for Germany but lives in Boulder, Colorado, finished just behind in 26th.
On a bright, sunny day the world’s Juniors lined up at the start of a hard-frozen course. Earlier, officials had made the decision to take a bulldozer to the frozen ruts, smoothing out the deep grooves left by days of racers testing out the course.
But it was not ruts that proved to be the most dangerous element of the course today, as riders hit a tricky, steep uphill off-camber just after the barriers early in the lap for the first time and found the frozen ground to be as slippery as an iced-over pond. Dozens upon dozens of racers went down, falling over each other, with riders getting caught in the fence as they slid helplessly into the massive crowd. This section would prove difficult for the entirety of the race.
Out of the wreckage a long train of riders began to emerge, spearheaded by a small number of riders – Venturini, Diether and UCI top-ranked Laurens Sweeck (Belgium), Yorben van Titchel (Belgium), Jakub Skala (Czech Republic), Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium), Fabian Lienhard (Switzerland) and Vojtech Nipl (Czech Republic). The slick course continued to claim riders, with racers at times losing their wheels beneath them on the slightest turn.
The second time over the off-camber climb wasn’t any cleaner at the front despite less rider traffic, as a crash caused Venturini, Nipl, Lienhard and Laurens Sweeck to get briefly tangled up and allowed the chasers to narrow the early gap.
It was near the end of the second lap that Venturini and Diether Sweeck accelerated out of the lead pack and began to form a gap over the rest. An aggressive acceleration by Sweeck quickly lengthened the gap over all but Venturini, who hung tough and then launched a counter-attack of his own. The Frenchman continued to drive the pace and Sweeck faded back to the chasers, apparently having flatted, leaving Venturini on his own for the rest of the race.
Although he kept the pace high for the remainder of the race, Venturini made things interesting when he came down hard as he slipped around a tight corner late in the fourth lap, but he recovered quickly without losing much time. As he got up and rolling again, he whacked at his left shift lever to realign it and got back up to his race-leading pace. Venturini quickly established a gap that extended out to over 20 seconds over his teammates Loic and Fabien Doubey, and Yorben van Titchelt and Laurens Sweeck of Belgium.
“lt’s a dream today, especially after only coming in 18th at the national championships where I was riding so badly,” said Venturini. “I even thought about giving up. But then I just carried on to see how well I could do. After placing sixth in the general classification I knew I was qualified to race worlds and figured let’s see what I can do. But today I can hardly believe that I’ve won the rainbow jersey. It’s just a dream.”
It looked like it would be a four-way battle for the two remaining podium spots when, with just under two laps to go, van Titchelt, who had been actively animating the race, couldn’t make it over the off-camber climb cleanly and collapsed in a heap. The Belgian rider would eventually fall all the way back to 14th by the time he crossed the line. Sweeck too would fade, leaving the Doubey twins to set off on their own and swap pulls in pursuit of the leader.
Eckmann and Skala were active in the chase early on before a crash would cost them both several positions. Skala would eventually recover to claw his way back past Sweeck late in the race to claim fourth, but Eckmann’s day would only get worse, and he’d fade out of the top 20.
As the course continued to cause problems, Americans Bahnson and Dillman fought themselves into the top 20, with Dillman at one point as far up as 12th position. On the blistering fast course, however, minor mistakes were costly, and a slip by Dillman dropped him back in a hurry. Both riders finished just outside the top 20.
“The first couple of laps I was up around 15th,” said Bahnson. “Off the line I had a pretty bad start, but I kind of saved it for that gradual climb and just railed it like it was a second start. So I got by a bunch of people.”
“Then I was back and forth with Drew [Dillman] a little bit, and that was cool,” he continued. “But I couldn’t hold that pace for the whole race and fell back. I was hoping for mud like it was [in pre-rides on Thursday] and was kind of bummed with the course because it was like a frozen crit almost.”
“Yesterday there were ruts and some descents were really sketchy, so I’m glad they cleared those out. There were some spots where the sun was hitting and it was getting kind of slick, so a lot of people were going down. I’m very happy, it went a lot better than last year.”
On the final lap, Venturini had some further drama as he fell on the sketchy off-camber, sliding into the orange nylon course fencing and getting his bike caught. He lost several seconds untangling himself, with the help of a fan in a goofy tall felt novelty hat, but Venturini had established enough of a lead, and after a nervous look back over his shoulder, he was back on his bike with an extra large does on adrenaline and on his way to a solo finish without further difficulty. The two Doubey brothers raced up the stairs side by side and shortly thereafter crossed the line together, with Loic jubilantly patting Fabien on the back in congratulations – a very different picture than we saw between the Szczepaniak brothers in the U23 race last year.
When asked about entering the finishing lap with his twin brother, Fabien, Loic responded, “On the last downhill stretch, I told my brother – you can go through for second place since we were basically riding as a team. Today was the first time we have ridden together all season and it’s a wonderful feeling to both be on the podium. But also we shouldn’t forget Quentin [Jauregui] or Kévin [Bouvard]. We are riding together as a team and its great for them too – it’s magnificent for all of us!”
“We planned to ride as a team today so when my teammate went off the front I made sure I kept up with him from behind , but made sure my brother was behind me going through to the end,” added Fabien.
“I found out by a guy on the side of the track that my teammates are behind me and thought how great it was that all three of us can finish together today,” said Venturini.
The breakout ride of the day has to go to Japan’s Toki Sawada, who spent most of the race in 13th place, and crossed the line in 16th. Think Barry Wicks has anything to do with that?
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|4||4||SKALA Jakub||CZECH REPUBLIC||+00:36|
|9||2||NIPL Vojtech||CZECH REPUBLIC||+01:18|
|14||21||VAN TICHELT Yorben||BELGIUM||+01:41|
|17||41||LASTRA MARTINEZ Jonathan||SPAIN||+02:35|
|19||50||CLARKSON Jack||GREAT BRITAIN||+02:54|
|21||45||DILLMAN Andrew||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+03:05|
|22||46||ROBINSON Hugo||GREAT BRITAIN||+03:06|
|24||9||DE MAN Jaap||NETHERLANDS||+03:18|
|25||43||BAHNSON Jeffrey||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+03:20|
|29||3||MEDEK Tomas||CZECH REPUBLIC||+03:54|
|30||6||SVOBODA Tomas||CZECH REPUBLIC||+03:55|
|31||62||OLSEN Emil Arvid||DENMARK||+04:03|
|32||42||ALTUR BORONAT Marcos||SPAIN||+04:11|
|33||47||GRIVELL-MELLOR Luke||GREAT BRITAIN||+04:19|
|34||49||SLATER Alistair||GREAT BRITAIN||+04:20|
|40||5||BOHATA Tomas||CZECH REPUBLIC||+05:00|
|47||48||MOSES Joseph||GREAT BRITAIN||-1LAP|
|50||44||FOX Bjorn||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||-2LAP|