HEUSDEN-ZOLDER, Belgium—Strong winds and pouring rain greeted the racers and fans Saturday morning for the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships for the first race of the weekend, the Junior Men's competition.
Supporter flags whipped about and the rain continued to fall as the crowds built for the day's early racing. Organizers anticipated over 70,000 fans for these World Championships and a good portion of that has already made it for Saturday's early races.
As the rain came down, the Junior Men stood on the grid and Americans Gage Hecht and Spencer Petrov were at the head of affairs and on the front row as the officials pulled the tape aside and gave final instructions.
As the starting lights turned green Petrov was swarmed, seemingly missing a pedal, as a French trio took to the front to set a blistering early pace. The group, lead by France's Tanguy Turgis, himself a contender for the gold medal, threw the opening salvos drawing out a small band of 11 riders that quickly separated from the rest of the field.
Pre-race favorites Dutchman Jens Dekker and Belgian Jape Jaspers were in the lead pack as was Mitch Groot of The Netherlands, a dark horse podium threat, and Swiss rider Kevin Kuhn.
On the second pass of the pits on the opening lap Dekker took to the front with only Michael Crispin of France responding, and the two would quickly open a slim lead on the other racers. Shortly after, heading off the course's upper portion and down a fast, slick descent to a left hand turn lined with inflatable crowd barriers, Kuhn, who was in the chase, hit the deck with Groot crashing into him. While Kuhn recovered quickly, it was Groot who took the brunt of the affair and seemed to take a pedal strike to his face as riders and bikes tumbled about.
At the end of the opening lap the race for the medals was set. The reigning European Champion and World Cup winner Jens Dekker was riding clear and rode the first circuit in 8:16 with Crispin, his French teammate Thomas Bonnet and Jaspers all chasing.
Jaspers, who many picked to take the title, seemed to be struggling as Dekker continued his push towards the World Championship title. Heading to the course's high side over an off-camber, uphill left-hand turn leading to a tight switchback, Dekker showed his confidence as he easily rode the apparently faster low line while those in his wake went high and stayed single file.
While the course was wet from the continuos rain, bikes weren't getting packed with mud given the venue's sandy ground and racers dealt mostly with quite slick, rather than heavy conditions.
As the lap cards ticked by, the race mostly stayed lined out with growing gaps for the front runners. Through the second lap it was Dekker leading Crispin and a small group containing Bonnet, Italian Jakob Dorigoni, Frenchmen Matthieu Legrand and Turgis with Jaspers on the back foot.
For the Americans, they seemed to be on the move after 2 passes of the finish after a slow start, with Petrov in 12th, Hecht meters off his wheel in 15th and their other teammates scattered across the top 30.
Status quo was the name of the game for the medal spots with Dekker leading Crispin by 17 seconds and Bonnet by 39 seconds with 2 to go. Dorigoni, Legrand and Jaspers, who was just hanging on, were battling for 4th and they were starting to get company from behind, including British rider Thomas Pidcock who had torn through the field from a 32nd position after 1 lap.
By the bell lap Dekker was clear by 25 seconds. After the race he said that he had his mechanics give him a bike with true mud tires just to play it safe for the final minutes of the race. Aside from the late-race change, “normal tires were ok for a track that was very slippery,” he said.
Crispin and Bonnet continued their solo efforts in second and third, but Dekker was gone. Also gone was Jaspers who had slid to sixth with Dorigoni and Legrand putting him into difficulty, but themselves having to deal with Pidcock who was on the attack.
As the finale came into view Dekker was able to cap a remarkable season with a rainbow jersey. European Champion, World Cup winner and now 2016 Cyclocross World Champion. He had time to celebrate the achievement, punching the air and smiling.
French teammates Crispin and Bonnet took silver and bronze after an impressive show of teamwork early in the race from the French squad that blew the field apart almost from the gun.
In his post-race interview, the new World Champion said it was a hard race. “I didn’t have my best day of the year, that was last week.” If his second best day is the World Championship, that's a still pretty good day.
The Americans had a decent day, with Gage Hecht moving up after a slow start and finishing 12th. Eric Brunner was close by in 17th, Cameron Beard was 23rd, Denzel Stephenson was 30th and Michael Owens, who we spoke with after, was 46th.
We also spoke with Spencer Petrov after the race, and he explained his day. "I had a pretty good start but got caught behind some crashes. I was top 20 then I moved into the top 10," said Petrov, adding "then my back from an accident I had [gave out]. I just had fun. The back went out and I lost the power, but I never gave up.”
Denzel Stephenson added his own take. "I liked the mud. I like the technical stuff so it was really fun," before adding "It’s finally over. It’s been a long season and we’re ready to go rest,” when asked how it feels to wrap up the World Championships.
Other notable finishers included British riders Pidcock who had an amazing ride to 5th, Daniel Tullet who was 21st, Ben Turner in 27th and William Gasconye in 42nd. David Conroy of Ireland was 48th while Canadians Gunner Holmgren, Brody Sanderson and Quinton Disera who were 57th, 52nd and 62nd. Australians Ben Walkerden and Noah Barrows were 56th and 58th, respectively.
There's a photo gallery from the Junior Men's race below the results.
You can catch a replay of the Junior Men's race here. And be sure to check out reports from the U23 Women's and Elite Women's races as well as Sunday's U23 Men's and Elite Men's reports.
Gage Hecht Post-Race Interview:
Michael Owens Post-Race Interview:
2016 Zolder Cyclocross World Championship - Junior Men's Results
|5||40||GBR19990730||PIDCOCK Thomas||GREAT BRITAIN||+01:22|
|8||46||ESP19990411||FEIJOO ALBERTE Ivan||SPAIN||+01:34|
|12||17||USA19980218||HECHT Gage||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+01:53|
|14||56||CZE19990618||GAVENDA Jan||CZECH REPUBLIC||+02:10|
|17||19||USA19981201||BRUNNER Eric||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+02:17|
|21||41||GBR19990703||TULETT Daniel||GREAT BRITAIN||+02:24|
|23||20||USA19980801||BEARD Cameron||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+02:32|
|25||18||USA19980909||PETROV Spencer||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+02:39|
|26||47||ESP19990310||CULLELL ESTAPE Jofre||SPAIN||+02:41|
|27||43||GBR19990528||TURNER Ben||GREAT BRITAIN||+02:41|
|30||21||USA19990218||STEPHENSON Denzel||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+03:00|
|35||3||DEN19980429||ANDRESEN Andreas Lund||DENMARK||+03:26|
|37||55||CZE19981009||SIRUCEK Vaclav||CZECH REPUBLIC||+03:30|
|41||58||CZE19990209||HONZAK David||CZECH REPUBLIC||+03:57|
|42||42||GBR19980321||GASCOYNE William||GREAT BRITAIN||+03:59|
|46||22||USA19981209||OWENS Michael||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+04:17|
|49||59||CZE19981008||JARY David||CZECH REPUBLIC||+04:32|
|54||57||CZE19980120||NOVAK Jan||CZECH REPUBLIC||+05:41|
|39||GBR19990403||DONOVAN Mark||GREAT BRITAIN||DNF4|