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Niels Albert had just one question heading into the world cyclocross championships in Treviso, Italy, this year: Whether to jump into the elite category or ride his final year as an under-23. He now says he made the right choice.
“I’m glad I did what I did,” said the 21-year-old Belgian. “I had considered making the jump, but now I can add this to the junior title (he won in 2004) and set my eyes on getting the third one.”
The 21-year-old Belgian entered Saturday’s world title event brimming with confidence, underscored by the fact that he attacked just seconds after the start of the 50-minute U23 race. Albert hovered near the front of the field for the 150-meter uphill charge to the first turn, then punched it and never once looked back.
Within two laps – barring a crash or mechanical – it became apparent that the day’s most hotly contested race would be for second. Indeed, Aurelien Duval of France and Italian Cristian Cominelli had to put in a dramatic come-from-behind effort to catch and pass the two men seemingly destined for the final steps on the podium.
Alone at the front
For Albert, however, the day began and ended as a solo effort. Within 500 meters of the start, Albert’s lead was solid, with a 100-meter advantage over the chasing duo of Jonathan Lopez (France) and Czech rider Lukas Kloucek.
Off on his own, Albert had a clear shot on the slopes of the 26-percent slope that caused traffic jams and frustration for many in the juniors’ race earlier in the day. With no one to interfere with his line, Albert could probably have become the first competitor of the day to ride the entire climb. He, however, opted not to risk it.
“I had done it in practice, but there is always the chance you could lose more time than by simply running it,” he said.
By the end of lap one, Albert held a 10-second lead over Kloucek and Lopez, with the Frenchman leading the charge. Indeed, despite the quick surface and the clear benefits to be enjoyed by working together, the Czech rider appeared content to sit on Lopez’s wheel, perhaps in hopes of outsprinting him for second.
But behind the chasing pair, a group of six riders, including Duval and Cominelli were putting on a big chase. Lap by lap, as Albert extended his lead over Lopez and Kloucek, their advantage over their pursuers was shrinking.
By the halfway mark, Alberts, who had put in a huge effort early in the race, was beginning to ease up. The second chase group, however, did not, and with less than two laps to go, Lopez and Kloucek were caught. Duval took full advantage of the moment and attacked hard, getting a gap before the rest of the group could really react.
Up front, Albert rode an easy 7:25 over the final lap and had plenty of time to relish his win. Indeed, he even jumped off his bike, held it above his head and walked across the line. Duval, meanwhile, fought to hold his advantage and finished 38 seconds behind the winner and 12 seconds ahead of Cominelli, whose finish ensured that the host country earned at least one medal in this edition of the world’s.
“It means a lot to me, to win a medal in front of my countrymen,” Cominelli said. “Of course, gold would have been great, but for me, this is as special as winning.”
American U23 riders had a frustrating day, with James Driscoll the distinction as top North American finisher, at 3:46 back in 34th place.
Italian fans pin their hopes on the chances of Enrico Franzoi in Sunday afternoon’s elite men’s race, while Americans hope for a repeat or improvement on Jonathan Page’s silver-medal ride at last year’s world’s. That race begins at 2 p.m. local time, while the women’s event begins at 11 a.m. Check in with VeloNews.com throughout the weekend for race reports.
1. Niels Albert (Belgium) 0:51:11.66
2. Aurelien Duval (France), at 0:38
3. Cristian Cominelli (Italy), at 0:46
4. Jonathan Lopez (France), at 0:47
5. Clément Bourgoin (France), at 0:48
6. Lukas Kloucek (Czech Republic), at 0:53
7. Fabio Ursi (Italy), at 1:05
8. Guillaume Perrot (France), at 1:31
9. Paul Voss (Germany), at 1:39
10. Ramon Sinkeldam (Netherlands), at 1:39
11. Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands), at 1:39
12. Jempy Drucker (Luxembourg), at 1:46
13. Julien Pion (France), at 1:52
14. Pawel Szczepaniak (Poland), at 1:55
15. Ondrej Bambula (Czech Republic), at 1:55
16. Philipp Walsleben (Germany), at 1:57
17. René Lang (Switzerland), at 1:58
18. Tom Meeusen (Belgium), at 1:58
19. Quentin Bertholet (Belgium), at 2:01
20. Ian Field (Great Britain), at 2:19
21. Matteo Trentin (Italy), at 2:38
22. Mitchell Huenders (Netherlands), at 2:42
23. Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spain), at 2:45
24. Yannick Tiedt (Germany), at 2:46
25. Wim Leemans (Belgium), at 2:53
26. Alessandro Calderan (Italy), at 2:58
27. Robert Gavenda (Slovakia), at 3:17
28. Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland), at 3:18
29. Ivar Hartogs (Netherlands), at 3:29
30. Marcel Meisen (Germany), at 3:32
31. Sylwester Janiszewski (Poland), at 3:39
32. David Lozano Riba (Spain), at 3:40
33. Marco Ponta (Italy), at 3:41
34. James Driscoll (USA), at 3:46
35. Joeri Adams (Belgium), at 3:51
36. Yu Takenouchi (Japan), at 3:52
37. Mattias Nilsson (Sweden), at 3:54
38. Ole Quast (Germany), at 3:56
39. Jiri Polnicky (Czech Republic), at 4:00
40. Boy Van Poppel (Netherlands), at 4:05
41. Martin Haring (Slovakia), at 4:07
42. Brian Robinson (Canada), at 4:18
43. Nicholas Weighall (USA), at 4:35
44. Chance Noble (USA), at 4:55
45. Carson Miller (USA), at 5:44
46. Nico Brüngger (Switzerland), at 5:57
47. David Menger (Czech Republic), at 6:06
48. Mark Thwaites (Great Britain), at 6:18
49. Mauro Gonzalez Fontan (Spain), at 7:15
50. Kyle Douglas (Canada), at 7:27
51. Guillaume Dessibourg (Switzerland), at 8:01
52. Lucian Logigan (Romania), at -1LAP
53. Tomasz Repinski (Poland), at -1LAP
54. Yudai Izawa (Japan), at -1LAP
55. Shaun Adamson (Canada), at -1LAP
56. Yegor Dementyev (Ukraine), at -1LAP
DNF. Andriy Khripta (Ukraine)
DNF. Anton Pustovit (Ukraine)
DNF. Ian Manning (Canada)
DNF. Ihor Lisohor (Ukraine)