Sven Erik Bystrom wins men’s U23 world championship road race

by Matt de Neef


Norway’s Sven Erik Bystrom has been crowned the 2014 U23 men’s road race world champion in Ponferrada, Spain on Friday after attacking on the final climb of the race and holding on for a solo victory. Australia’s Caleb Ewan led home the bunch to finish second while Bystrom’s compatriot Kristoffer Skjerping rounded out the podium.

The 182km race comprised 10 laps of an 18.2km circuit in and around Ponferrada, the course defined by a roughly 5km climb in the first half followed by a 1km climb in the second half of the course. The day’s first breakaway formed in the opening kilometre with Sebastian Schonberger (Austria), Rasim Reis (Turkey) and Eduard Michael Grosu (Romania) setting off together. Reis was dropped in the first lap but with Tural Isgandarov (Azerbaidjan) coming across, the group stayed three-strong.

The trio got a lead of as much as 1:10 before that was whittled away by some aggressive riding in the peloton on the second climb of lap 1. A chase group of roughly 20 riders swept up the three leaders on the opening climb of lap 2, with the peloton catching on shortly after.

Schonberger attacked again a short time later and was joined by Adil Barbari (Algeria) and Roman Kustadinchev (Russia). With the Australian-led peloton seemingly content with the make-up of the lead trio, the leaders were given some latitude and the gap was allowed to grow to 1:08 after two laps and 2:10 by the end of lap 3. It was out to 3:16 with four laps completed as the Australian squad was joined at the front by the riders of Poland.

The action resumed on lap 5 when four riders broke clear of the peloton: Arakdiusz Owsian (Poland), Pierre-Roger Latour (France), Sindre Skjoestad Lunke (Norway) and Lennard Hofstede (Netherlands). They were joined by Dylan Teuns (Belgium) but the move was ill-fated, getting absorbed by the peloton soon after. Another group of four tried to get clear but was swept up as well. Meanwhile in the lead group, Barbari was dropped, leaving just Schonberger and Kustadinchev in the race lead.

Australian pair Caleb Ewan and Jack Haig drifted off the back of the peloton on the main climb of lap 5, with some suggestions the pair had cracked. But the following lap they had rejoined their Australian teammates near the front of the peloton, suggesting a mechanical incident was the more likely explanation.

With half the race completed at the end of lap 5, the two leaders held an advantage of 2:08. After a series of attacks Jose Luis Rodriguez (Chile) got clear solo, but behind him a group of six riders was coming across: Amanuel Gebrezgabihier (Eritrea), Willem Jakobus Smit (South Africa), Tilegen Maidos (Kazakhstan), Ruben Zepuntke (Germany), Lennard Hofstede and Kenneth Van Rooy (Belgium). Rodriguez was caught by the chasers as lap 6 ended, the seven riders crossing the line 1:25 behind the two leaders. The peloton, still led by Australia, began lap 7 2:14 behind the two leaders.

Rodriguez was dropped on the first climb of lap 7, as the chase group of seven started to disintegrate under the pace of Ruben Zepunkte. France’s Pierre-Roger Latour attacked from the peloton, picking up the remnants of the chase group on his way through. At the top of the main climb of lap 7 Zepunkte, Hofstede and Maidos joined the two leaders of the race, Schonberger and Kustadinchev, making a group of five at the head of affairs.

On the second climb of lap 7 Maidos was dropped from the leading group of five, before joining a rampaging Latour ahead of the descent towards the end of the lap. Meanwhile a chain of Australian riders continued to patrol the peloton.

With seven laps completed Zepunkte, Hofstede, Schonberger and Kustadinchev led by just 18 seconds over the chasing duo of Maidos and Latour while the peloton was 1:10 behind.

Maidos and Latour soon made contact with the leaders, as the peloton closed in to just 46 seconds behind the leaders. South Africa’s Louis Meintjes sensed the impending catch and attacked solo, bridging to the four leaders then continuing on alone, opening up a lead. The four riders behind were joined by Stefan Küng (Switzerland), Piotr Brozyna (Poland), Ignacio Prado (Mexico) and Hernando Bohorquez Sanchez (Colombia), leaving eight riders chasing Meintjes and the peloton behind them.

In the closing stages of lap 8 Stefan Küng attacked from the chase group but the move didn’t last long — the peloton was just behind the group he’d attacked from, and he was soon caught by a group of 15 riders.

When Meintjes crossed the start/finish line to begin the penultimate lap, he held an advantage of just 16 seconds over the chasing group of 16 riders. The peloton, meanwhile, was just a further 10 seconds behind.

Meintjes was caught by the group of 16 very early in lap 9 as the entire Australian team continued to control the front of the peloton. On the first climb on lap 9 Merhawi Kudus (Eritrea) joined the lead group after bridging across solo, while several riders dropped off leaving just 11 in the group.

Kevin Ledanois (France) attacked solo in the closing stages of lap 9, getting a small gap over Sam Oomen (Netherlands) who chased alone. Behind those two, the rest of the chase group was swallowed up, and then Oomen was caught as well, leaving just Ledanois alone.

Three riders bridged across to the Frenchman on the descent towards the finish line, but Ledanois’ technical skills were strong enough to drop the trio and continue on alone. As lap 9 ended, and the bell rang out to begin the final 18.2km lap, Ledanois held an advantage of just 13 seconds.

With 13km to go in the race, on the main climb of the final lap, Joaquim Silva (Portugal) attacked out of the bunch and was followed by Mikel Iturria Segurola (Spain). Both riders flew past Ledanois as a group of chasers formed up behind.

Australia’s control of the peloton fell apart as riders darted ahead on the climb, with a promising move from Brayan Stiven Ramirez Chacon (Colombia) prompting a further flurry of attacks. The splintered chase group appeared to reform slightly as the road flattened out briefly on the approach to the final climb of the race.

Ramirez’s time in the lead came to a close when a handful of riders attacked out of the bunch, led by Katusha signee Sven Erik Bystrom. Australia’s Robert Power was in second wheel and was followed by a handful of others, including Dylan Teuns.

Bystrom reached the top of the final climb with a small advantage and began the fast descent back into Ponferrada as the peloton swept up the chasers, apart from Fernando Gaviria Rendon (Colombia) who found himself chasing just ahead of the peloton.

But Bystrom had done enough — he came into the finishing straight with enough of an advantage to be able to sit up, look around, and celebrate while the peloton sprinted for second. Australian national road race and criterium champion Caleb Ewan proved fastest in the bunch kick, leading in the rest of the field seven seconds after a jubilant Bystrom.

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