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2008 Cyclo-cross World Championships - CM
Treviso, Italy, January 26-27, 2008
Race 2 - January 26: U23 Men
Third time lucky for Albert
By Brecht Decaluwé and Gregor Brown in Treviso
It took Niels Albert two minutes before he had a gap on the bunch, and after that the Belgian was never seen again. Walking over the finish line with his bike in the air, the 21 year-old finally has the title he's been chasing for three years and the jersey he wanted so badly.
The French squad played a tactical race for the other podium spots with Aurelien Duval managing to jump away in the final lap for silver - the second French medal in Treviso thus far. Local rider Cristian Cominelli sent the Italian crowds mad when he sprinted past Jonathan Lopez for bronze and the first Italian medal of these Cyclo-cross World Championships.
"I'm very happy that I finally won the title because that's why I stayed in the U23 category. Now, I hope that I can repeat this in the elite race one of these years," Albert described his desire for a world championship title in every category – pulling off the 'Simu-trick' – a feat that has only been accomplished by the great Czech Radomir Simunek. "To win the world title in this setting – on a fantastic course, in a country with a great cycling history – is great."
The Belgian didn't provide much entertainment to the spectators who love to see a tight race, although he felt he showed some patience in Treviso. "Deliberately I didn't start too fast and positioned myself in third place right after the start. Thijs Van Amerongen pulled very hard on the first section's slopes, but when he lost his speed I took over at full speed for some reason. From then on I didn't look back.
"I wasn't afraid to ride on my own for so long because I did it as well with the elite guys," continued Albert, fellow Baal citizen of elite-ace Sven Nys. Albert won the Superprestige round in Gieten this year in great style; ending the winning-streak from Nys in this top level cyclo-cross series.
Knowing that Albert is already a rider capable of beating the best elite riders it was expected that he would pull off a one-man show in Treviso. Nevertheless, the new World Champion didn't want to say that he definitely would win the title. "I didn't want to claim it beforehand because I could only lose," the Palmans rider continued. "This morning I felt that it would be very hard for the others to beat me with the legs I had."
Aurelien Duval was very happy with his result although he wondered what the race could've been like if he had not had the bad start. "Somehow I got out of my pedal and in the following descent I punctured my front tyre; I never saw Niels Albert," Duval sighed.
The former moto-cross rider came back very strongly and eventually finished on the podium. "I didn't panic and tried to find a good rhythm and steadily moved up. When I joined Clément Bourgoin in the main chasing group I asked him to ride a steady pace so we could battle it out tactically for the two podium spots that were left," the man from Sedan said. "I was on an off of my bike quicker than [Lukas] Kloucek, and continued full on to the finish; eventually I had a nice gap at the finish line."
The man in third position was the Italian hero of the day. When Cristian Cominelli crossed the finish line, his third place was celebrated as if an Italian had won the World Championships. "This is the most beautiful day in my career," Cominelli smiled.
"Before the race I hoped for a top 10 result, but to finish on the podium was beyond my wildest dreams." The Italian rode only three World Cups this season and that's why he had a second row starting position. "During the first lap, I crashed, hurt my left leg and my chain came off," he explained.
Despite riding in the second half of the bunch, the Italian didn't give up and things turned into his favour. "I started to pick up a lot of guys and I went for it. I thought about Elia Silvestri [who finished 4th in the junior race] and gave all I had to avoid another fourth place," Cominelli smiled.
The Italian press jumped on its latest discovery and found out that the 19 year-old from Brescia a huge talent in the making. He's riding for the Bianchi-Gewiss team that is guided by the legendary Felice Gimondi and has won a lot of junior road races despite being officially too young to ride in that category.
"Right now, I will focus on cyclo-cross and mountain bike until the Olympic Games in London 2012," Cominelli said of his plans for the future; our Italian source predicted he would quickly be convinced to focus on the road in cycling-crazy Italy though, as there would be a lot of interest from some road teams.
The fast parcours certainly were not as suited to a rider like Ian Field, who has a background in mountain bike racing. "I am a mountain biker, so I have not got too much speed. ... I was hoping for better because I got 16th last year, and I was hoping for top 15 or top 10," stated Great Britain's Field, 20th. "However, you can't take into account crashes. It is the kind of course where, even if you are stronger than someone, if a rider gets on to your wheel it is very hard to drop them."
"I did not have it, plain and simple," said USA Collegiate Champion Jamey Driscoll, who finished 34th. "I came out of my pedals at the start, which did not help. ... I did not have the same form that I had over Christmas [in Belgium], and it showed. On the first lap, I could tell my legs did not have it, but I gave it hell anyway." The 21 year-old's mom and girlfriend made the trip over from Vermont to Italy lend support.
"The course was great, fun, fast and hilly. I did as well as I expected, in the 30s or 40s," said Canada's Brian Robinson, who finished 42nd. "The Italian fans were awesome. I hope to come back again next year in the under 23 riders."
How it unfolded
The under 23 riders got away only a little smoother than the juniors, although some riders got stuck and German rider Ole Quast was the biggest victim. Niels Albert immediately hammered on the pedals and strung the bunch out after the first couple of corners. Aurelien Duval, Julien Taramarcaz and Paul Voss had a bad start and were boxed in midway through the bunch.
Albert quickly created a small gap and looked keen on a solo ride around the La Bandie lake in Treviso. After only one lap it was clear there wouldn't be much of a race, with the first chasers already more than five seconds in arrears.
During the second lap, Lukas Kloucek and Jonathan Lopez were riding together behind Albert, with the main chasing group further back containing a big Dutch contingent of Thijs Van Amerongen, Boy Van Poppel and Ramon Sinkeldam. Jempy Drucker, Guillaume Perrot and Philipp Walsleben featured in the group as well. Duval was making the best of his race and was coming back strongly.
After three laps Albert was twenty seconds ahead of Lopez and Kloucek. Ten seconds behind them Van Poppel led the main chasing group where Duval had bridged up and Walsleben dropped away.
Halfway through, with four laps to go, Albert had 30 seconds on the first chasers, continuing to develop a high tempo and in total control of the race.
With three laps to go Lopez and Kloucek were fighting for the remaining medals, 33 seconds behind Albert who was continuing to extend his lead. Lopez did most of the work in this first chasing group, while compatriot Duval attacked the group behind.
Going into the penultimate lap, Lopez and Kloucek were 40 seconds behind Albert, with the main chasing group still 10 seconds further back. Cristian Cominelli was thriving on the support of the home crowds and jumped away. Only Duval could follow the Italian and together they joined the first chasers.
From then on the French riders tried to play it tactically; Duval was spotted blocking Cominelli in a corner. The speed then dropped away as nobody wanted to show their cards just yet, and another French rider Clément Bourgoin was able to latch on.
Albert was still leading comfortably, but the battle for silver and bronze was 50 seconds behind him. Kloucek led most of the final lap with Cominelli on his wheel. Halfway through Kloucek was marked by Duval, while Bourgoin was suffering at the back. Duval saw his chance on a steep but rideable section, and the French champion jumped away.
Albert was already celebrating in the final stretches of the beautiful course, stepping off his bike and throwing it in the air as he walked over the finish line. Duval finished second at 39 seconds and Cominelli gave Italy its first medal by sprinting past Lopez to third place.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net
Images by Gregor Brown/Cyclingnews
Images by Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews
1 Niels Albert (Belgium) 51.11 2 Aurelien Duval (France) 0.38 3 Cristian Cominelli (Italy) 0.46 4 Jonathan Lopez (France) 0.47 5 Clément Bourgoin (France) 0.48 6 Lukas Kloucek (Czech Republic) 0.53 7 Fabio Ursi (Italy) 1.05 8 Guillaume Perrot (France) 1.31 9 Paul Voss (Germany) 1.39 10 Ramon Sinkeldam (Netherlands) 11 Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands) 12 Jempy Drucker (Luxembourg) 1.46 13 Julien Pion (France) 1.52 14 Pawel Szczepaniak (Poland) 1.55 15 Ondrej Bambula (Czech Republic) 16 Philipp Walsleben (Germany) 1.57 17 René Lang (Switzerland) 1.58 18 Tom Meeusen (Belgium) 19 Quentin Bertholet (Belgium) 2.01 20 Ian Field (Great Britain) 2.19 21 Matteo Trentin (Italy) 2.38 22 Mitchell Huenders (Netherlands) 2.42 23 Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spain) 2.45 24 Yannick Tiedt (Germany) 2.46 25 Wim Leemans (Belgium) 2.53 26 Alessandro Calderan (Italy) 2.58 27 Robert Gavenda (Slovakia) 3.17 28 Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland) 3.18 29 Ivar Hartogs (Netherlands) 3.29 30 Marcel Meisen (Germany) 3.32 31 Sylwester Janiszewski (Poland) 3.39 32 David Lozano Riba (Spain) 3.40 33 Marco Ponta (Italy) 3.41 34 James Driscoll (United States Of America) 3.46 35 Joeri Adams (Belgium) 3.51 36 Yu Takenouchi (Japan) 3.52 37 Mattias Nilsson (Sweden) 3.54 38 Ole Quast (Germany) 3.56 39 Jiri Polnicky (Czech Republic) 4.00 40 Boy Van Poppel (Netherlands) 4.05 41 Martin Haring (Slovakia) 4.07 42 Brian Robinson (Canada) 4.18 43 Nicholas Weighall (United States Of America) 4.35 44 Chance Noble (United States Of America) 4.55 45 Carson Miller (United States Of America) 5.44 46 Nico Brüngger (Switzerland) 5.57 47 David Menger (Czech Republic) 6.06 48 Mark Thwaites (Great Britain) 6.18 49 Mauro Gonzalez Fontan (Spain) 7.15 50 Kyle Douglas (Canada) 7.27 51 Guillaume Dessibourg (Switzerland) 8.01 One lap behind 52 Tomasz Repinski (Poland) 53 Yudai Izawa (Japan) 54 Shaun Adamson (Canada) 55 Lucian Logigan (Romania) 56 Yegor Dementyev (Ukraine) DNF Anton Pustovit (Ukraine) DNF Andriy Khripta (Ukraine) DNF Kyva Roman (Ukraine) DNF Ian Manning (Canada) DNF Ihor Lisohor (Ukraine) DNF Marius Petrache (Romania)