Come to Yorkshire, they said. Well they came in their thousands on Sunday for the finale of the Road World Championships and despite the horrid conditions that led to the men’s road race being re-routed, remained in buoyant mood throughout what was a very soggy day in North Yorkshire.
Almost 200 riders from 42 nations set out from Leeds on Sunday morning, but there was just rider one who took home the rainbow jersey having won what turned out to be one of the most brutish world championship races in recent memory here in Harrogate: Mads Pedersen of Denmark.
Matteo Trentin of Italy was runner-up while Stefan Küng took the bronze.
Heavy overnight downpours forced race organisers to take out 23.5km out of what had been scheduled to be the longest men’s road race in the history of the championships while two key climbs – Buttertubs and Grinton Moor – were removed following a consultation with local mountain rescue teams. Few would claim the adjustments made this tough race, the kind you would expect during the early spring classics, any easier.
With the rain battering down, an 11-man break featuring three grand tour winners – Richard Carapaz (Ecuador), Nairo Quintana (Colombia) and Primoz Roglic (Slovenia) – went off up the road almost straight from the flag, gaining over 4min 30sec on the peloton. The group, however, was caught on the first of the nine laps of the Harrogate finishing circuit.
As each lap passed by the team pits near the finish line, so too did the size of the ever-reducing peloton. Just days after regaining his world time trial title, Rohan Dennis appeared happy enough to get off, the Australian smiling and laughing with team staff. For Philippe Gilbert, though, his withdrawal was a tearful one.
The Belgian, who arrived as one of the pre-race favourites, suffered a nasty fall during the first lap after a touch of wheel led to the classics hardman crashing into the barriers. With his team leader in trouble, the 19-year-old Remco Evenepoel showed a maturity beyond his years as he comforted the old master, remaining calm amid the chaos. Alas, the pair shortly abandoned.
With the passing of each lap, so too did the reduction in size of the peloton.
Most of the pre-race favourites – riders such as Mathieu van der Poel (Holland), Julian Alaphilippe (France), Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) – remained in the leading group. Lawson Craddock (US) and Stefan Küng (Switzerland) sensed it was now or never. The pair attacked, though were shortly reined beck in by Mads Pedersen (Denmark) before Mike Teunissen (Holland) and Gianni Moscon (Italy) bridged over.
Van der Poel was the next to power over, showing why the Dutchman was one of the most feared riders going into the race. Matteo Trentin of Italy went with him. With 20km remaining Moscow was dropped, but somehow fought his way back into the leading group. Van der Poel, for the first time this season, showed that he, too, is human and cracked. There was a collective gasp within the mixed zone.
Moscow was dropped for a second time with 6km to go. Like Van der Poel, he dropped like a stone.
With just three riders remaining, all that was left to decide was the podium order.
Trentin opened up his sprint around 200 metres from the finishing line, a move that he will perhaps regret. Pedersen took his wheel before jumping the Italian to take the title while Küng rolled over in third.
Tao Geoghan Hart was the highest placed Briton, finishing in 2min 20sec behind Pedersen in 26th spor.