LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) won his second Junior Men’s World Championships by dominating the race, much as he did in Koksijde last year. His almost flawless ride allowed him to take a bike length’s advantage at the first corner and turn it into a minute of clear Kentucky sunshine by the flag. Teammate Martijn Budding (Netherlands) secured Silver through a relatively calm and untroubled ride, in stark contrast to the race’s most acrimonious and interesting battle between eventual Bronze medalist Adam Toupalik (Czech Republic), home favorite Logan Owen (USA), and the Belgians Nicolas Cleppe and Yannick Peeters.
The drama began before the race even began, as Owen – perhaps pumped with the cheers pounding around him – jumped off the start line on the final red, rather than the green. Realizing his mistake, Owen stopped and put his foot down, but there was no false start called and the rest of the field swarmed around him, turning Owen’s first row call up into a fourth row start as van der Poel rocketed away.
Conditions on the course dictated a natural speed limit around the first few corners, preventing Budding and other chaser to close Van der Poel’s early gap. Owen’s trouble continued as a German rider made contact in a corner, knocking Owen to the ground and sending him over twenty riders back. A chink in Van der Poel’s armor appeared for the briefest of moments in the first lap, after he slipped his front wheel three corners before the barriers, but this wasn’t nearly enough to bring Budding into contention. With 14 seconds of advantage after the first lap, the result was hardly in doubt.
“It was not really a surprise,” said van der Poel of his second World title. “I did it all season. I felt good from the beginning. The snow was good for me. The first world championship is always more special. Last year I needed to give it all in the last round. This one is special too. Next year, when I ride for the U23 it will become more clear where I stand. I think that I can expect a lot. I’ve been comparing lap times and I see that I am able to follow them. But the circumstances are always different. We shall see where it goes.”
Meanwhile, Owen struggled to move up through the ranks. “I had a bad start, I had to move up, but in the first corner a German kid hit into me and we both went down, and I had to sit there to get my bike back into place so I had to come all the way back up.”
With Budding seemingly accepting of Silver, and the Dutch coach using the internationally recognized ‘chill out’ arm wave from the pits, attention turned to the battle for third place. Cleppe and Peeters traded turns, with Grap (Switzerland) and Toupalik fighting a rear guard action some 15 seconds back at the end of the second lap. Logan Owen continued working his way up to seventh.
Owen’s body language spoke of utter effort, with his shoulders rocking and head ducking near constantly. Two thirds of the way through the bell lap he caught the Belgians, choosing a spot between the two after the concrete steps.
“It was so motivating. I think if I didn’t have the crowd here, I couldn’t have come back from 20-something to being with a third place group,” Owen said. “Having that crowd was so helpful. I wasn’t running on power, it was pure motivation to get back and do everything that I could.”
Van der Poel’s high-relief orange kit kept steadily on during the fourth lap, and Budding stayed safely in second while the battle for third truly heated up. Owen made a move at the start of the concrete steps, forcing Peeters off his line. Owen dropped his chain shortly after, losing his advantage. He dropped three seconds back from his group, and Toupalik used this opportunity to push things forward. By the barriers Owen had lost six seconds.
“The chain problems started with one and a half to go, and I had to get off and unwrap it, and that’s when the Belgians and the Czech kid got about ten seconds on me. I pulled it back in one lap, got right back up there … if I had another lap I think things might have been different.”
Toupalik waited till the bell lap to make his most decisive move, again at the bottom of the concrete steps. He trapped a running Peeters against the course’s edge, causing him to lose his footing in the snow. Toupalik forged an advantage from this, his heavy footed and high risk riding in stark contrast to the almost serene Dutchmen. “For me it is the biggest result, and I am very satisfied,” said Toupalik.
“I’m very happy,” said Budding, of his silver medal. “My goal was for a podium, and I make it.”
Post-race, Owen told Cyclocross Magazine that he was disappointed to not make it onto the podium, but was proud of how well he did given his crash in the start and a dropped chain late in the race that took away his chance for third.
“I dropped my chain, and I had to stop and put it back on, and it wrapped around,” he said. “It just kind of sucks when all of that happens. Once I was in that group, I just felt so strong. It was just a lot about luck and it just wasn’t my day today. I felt like I was one of the strongest guys out there today. My training was perfect, my bikes felt great … but I had to come from so far back just to get to where I was. It could have been better.”
Disappointed, he continued. “I feel like I let a lot of people down … but I did everything I could to be as fast as I could and I dealt with what I had. But it was a little too much for me to overcome.”
Fellow American racer Curtis White told us, “It was really good. My first lap was all right. My start could have been better, could have been worse. I started moving up, by the second lap I was 15th, and I was picking guys off one by one and getting into groups. I wanted top 10, but that’s close.”