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by Dave Everett
September 22, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
Michael Matthews and John Degenkolb are among the hot favourites for the elite men’s road race at the Road World Champions in Richmond this Sunday. Both have developed in recent years to become among the best riders in the world and, interestingly, both finished on the podium in the U23 men’s road race at the 2010 Road World Championships in Geelong.
In fact, as Dave Everett writes, a look back at that particular race shows many of the sport’s current stars played a starring role in that race.
Cast your mind back to 2010, and, in particular, to the Road World Championships held in Geelong. Thor Hushovd won the men’s road race, Italian sprint sensation Giorgia Bronzini won the first of her two consecutive women’s road race titles and the Australian crowd got a taste of pro racing away from the Tour Down Under.
But it’s not just the elite results that are now worth looking back on and dissecting. The peloton and especially the top five of the U23 field from that year is well worth looking back on. Half a decade down the line the results sheet is now a who’s-who of big names. Kwiatkowski, Degenkolb, Phinney, Matthews, Landa, DéMare, Dowsett, Dumoulin….they were all there and some didn’t even rank so well.
It’s not every year that the U23 Worlds throw up such a bunch of athletes that, later in their careers, come to the forefront of the professional rankings. Some riders live on that early-found success for a few seasons then struggle to find their feet at a professional level. Others stagnate, never getting any better, and then there are the ones that just disappear, never to be heard of again.
Before we delve into the top five, it’s worth noting a few of the other names on the results sheet. Just outside the top-ten in 11th was Luke Rowe, who joined Sky in 2012 and has just signed a new three-year contract. Though not a man who’s won copious amounts of races he is clearly a solid building-block in Sky’s Classics and Grand Tour line-ups.
His eighth place at this year’s Paris-Roubaix showed what he is capable of. With Geraint Thomas taking a step back from the Classics in 2016 it could be a year where Sky allows Rowe to step up to the mark and take a leadership role at some of the cobbled classics.
Current Astana rider, but soon-to-be Rowe’s teammate at Sky, Mikel Landa, finished 18th in the race at Geelong. Landa shot into the spotlight at this year’s Giro d’Italia after winning back-to-back stages in the third week. He went on to take third overall.
Recently Landa has cemented his Grand Tour credentials by taking stage 1 of the Vuelta a España. Sky will no doubt be developing this rider as a new lieutenant for Chris Froome now that Richie Porte has left.
Another standout name is that of Tinkoff-Saxo rider Rafal Majka. Most recently securing an impressive third overall at this year’s Vuelta, and having completed eight Grand Tours, Majka has become an invaluable part of Oleg Tinkov’s squad.
At last year’s Tour de France Majka walked away with the KOM jersey as well as two stage wins. Those results were far from a fluke as Majka claimed yet another stage win at this year’s Tour. He could very well be the man to step into Alberto Contador’s shoes once the Spaniard retires at the end of 2016.
Other names of note from the 2010 U23 Worlds Road Race include Juan Jose Lobato (ninth), Ramunas Navardauskas (14th), Tom-Jelte Slagter (35th), Carlos Betancur (38th), Tony Gallopin (50th) and many more.
But now on to the top five … or top four, depending on how you look at it.
Fifth: Arnaud Demare
Demare had only just turned 19 at the Worlds in 2010 so was one of the youngest on the start line. But posting a top five result saw the Frenchman sign an early contract with Marc Madiot’s FDJ team for the 2011 season. Demare has stuck with that team ever since and is contracted until the end of 2016.
The following year Demare donned the U23 road race rainbow jersey himself, taking the win in Copenhagen. Demare is FDJ’s sprinter of choice and more so this year after Nacer Bouhanni left for Cofidis at the end of 2014. His results since turning pro have seen him take multiple wins which, until this season, were increasing year on year.
Though not quite in the same league as Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel (when he’s on form), Peter Sagan or Mark Cavendish, Demare is one of a slew of sprinters that, on his day and when his team gets it right, is able to overcome the big boys of the sprinting world.
Demare has had a pretty quiet season this year when it comes to results, only taking two stage wins in the Tour of Belgium. But 2014 was a much better season for the Frenchman, taking multiple stage wins plus overall GC wins at the Four Days of Dunkirk and Tour of Picardie. Was the inter-team rivalry with Bouhanni a blessing in disguise or is he just having an off year?
Equal-third: Guillaume Boivin
The Canadian hasn’t reached the same heights in the pro peloton as his fellow equal-third finisher from the Geelong Worlds (see below), but when you’re compared to a rider that’s been dubbed one of the most promising cyclists of several generations, it’s probably a little unfair on the Canadian.
Boivin’s third place at the 2010 Worlds is the biggest achievement in his cycling career but that is not to say he hasn’t achieved other notable results. After three years with the Canadian-based Spidertech team from 2010 through to 2012 he made the jump to the WorldTour with the Cannondale team. Here he was clearly on domestique duties but performed as a strong team rider especially when it came to team time trials.
Oddly he also looks to be a rider that goes well in the Brittany region of France, with two wins at the Mi-août Bretonne and a third place finish to his teammate’s win in the 2012 Tro-Bro Leon, a race that is quickly becoming a fan favourite due to its amazing, unique and tough circuit.
Come the end of the 2014 season and with the merger between the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team and the Garmin-Sharp team, Boivin became one of the many that lost their place in the final line up for the 2015 joint team venture. A drop down to the Pro Continental level and a signing with the strong American outfit Optum has seen him rack up some notable wins, including the Canadian national road race title. It clearly hasn’t done him any harm taking a step back from the World Tour.
Equal-third: Taylor Phinney
Joining Guillaume Boivin on the third step in Geelong was a rider many had tipped as an outright favourite for that particular race.
Phinney needs little introduction. With over a year out of the sport due to a shocking crash in the 2014 US national road race, he’s a rider that everyone still expects monumental things from.
His first race back was the Tour of Utah in which Phinney come close to taking the first stage. It didn’t take him long to find his winning ways, taking stage one of the US Pro Challenge a few weeks later. Even with just 20 days of racing in his legs this year (plus a Thereabouts trip) Taylor is part of the US National squad for this year’s Worlds road race and time trial. He’ll know the course well enough, as even last year he was checking it out with fellow Americans.
He may very well be a bit of a dark horse going into the race and eyes are sure to be on him.
Second: John Degenkolb
Degenkolb is another rider that needs zero introduction, not least because of his tremendous 2015 season. He may not have won as many races as the previous two seasons but the German has made up for it with quality rather than quantity.
The season started well with not one but two monumental Classics wins. Kicking off the European season in style he bagged Milan-San Remo and then followed that up a few weeks later with a win on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. With teammate Marcel Kittel out of the picture for most of this year Degenkolb has taken leadership in many more races, including the Tour de France.
Even though he didn’t have a win at the Grand Boucle he did secure two-second places. Following the Tour he has prepared for the Worlds via the Vuelta where he racked up four-second places and a win. You get the feeling that his season has been built around hitting peak performance at the start of the year (mission well and truly accomplished) and the end of the season.
The course in Richmond suits Degenkolb and his strengths style to a T. On top of all this he has matured into a rider that can actually grow a decent and well-groomed moustache.
First: Michael Matthews
Michael Matthews was a suitable winner for the Australian-held Worlds. ‘Bling’, as he quickly became known, sprinted to success in Geelong and soon signed a contract with Dutch pro team Rabobank. After two years there he moved to Orica-GreenEdge in 2013 where he currently rides and will do so until the end of 2016 at least.
Looking at Matthews’ results since the 2010 Worlds is pretty interesting. He has clearly been well-managed and developed since turning pro, gradually taking some big wins and donning some of the most iconic leaders jersey in the process.
His first taste of a leader’s jersey was at the 2014 Giro d’Italia when he donned the Maglia Rosa on stage 3 after being part of the winning team for the opening team time trial then finishing high enough in the following sprint to gain vital seconds to keep the jersey in the Orica-GreenEdge camp. He held on to this for five days and also took a stage win on stage 6 while wearing pink.
His progress as a sprinter at Orica-GreenEdge is now well established and he has clearly cemented his role in the team even though he’ll be sharing duties with Caleb Ewan in the coming seasons. A stage win at Paris-Nice plus the points jersey and a stage win at the Giro are this year’s high notes but it looks as though he’s been planning for more.
If rumours are to be believed he’s built his season around taking the rainbow stripes in Richmond. Recent results seem to support this endeavour, with a win on stage two at the Tour of Alberta and the points jersey, and a second place at the GP Cyclist de Quebec.
Will we see Mathews add a seniors rainbow jersey to his U23 rainbow jersey? And will this year’s U23 men’s road race produce a podium as strong as we saw in Geelong in 2010?