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Germany’s Philipp Walsleben solos in to the U23 win

Ask Germany’s Philipp Walsleben which cyclocross races he hasn’t won as an Under-23 this season and takes him a bit to answer. “I think it’s three this season,” he answers with some hesitation, “but that’s as an U23 rider. I still have long way to go as an elite.”

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2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: A view of the crowd.

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: A view of the crowd.

Photo: Graham Watson

Ask Germany’s Philipp Walsleben which cyclocross races he hasn’t won as an Under-23 this season and takes him a bit to answer.

“I think it’s three this season,” he answers with some hesitation, “but that’s as an U23 rider. I still have long way to go as an elite.”

If Walsleben has a long way to go as an elite, he certainly arrives in the discipline’s top rank with a more-than-adequate résumé. It has been a good year for the 22-year-old from Potsdam. He’s won the overall U23 World Cup title; he is German national U23 champion, European U23 champion and, on Saturday in Hoogerheide, in the Netherlands, he added a world champion’s rainbow jersey to that collection.

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: Walsleben fighting it out.

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: Walsleben fighting it out.

Photo: Graham Watson

Unlike the day’s first winner — juniors’ champion Tijmen Eising — Walsleben’s win was not one of clear domination from the start, though. Walsleben had to fight for the opportunity not only to create a gap, but then to hold it. When he did successfully gap an elite group of riders at the front of the 50-minute race, Walsleben set about methodically building his lead to the point that “I could finally admit I was going to win this one with a lap to go.”

A tough group

The 56 riders who charged off the line Saturday afternoon had all seen Tijmen’s easy domination of the juniors’ field earlier in the morning. That win came on the heels of a strong start and the 200-meter scramble to the first turn was especially fast in the afternoon’s event.

The speed of the start, the size of the field and the narrow road contributed to a crash at the end of the field, leaving American Bjorn Selander to chase for much of the race.

“It’s tough to fight your way into position when you start at the back of the field,” Selander, who finished 27th, shrugged. “I felt good today, but my luck … that wasn’t so good.”

At the other end of the field, World Cup champion Walsleben lined up in a prime spot in the front row, took full advantage and stayed up front for most of the early action.

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: Selander.

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: Selander.

Photo: Graham Watson

“For four laps I would fight to get some distance on the grass or in the woods only to be pulled back on the asphalt,” he recalled.

At the end of the first of eight laps on the 3.1km course a group of 25 riders crossed the line, with a battle forming up between Walsleben and the French duo of Aurelien Duval and Arnaud Jouffroy, and Poland’s Pawel Szczepaniak.

That group of riders was clearly in command, but for four laps none was able to get a real gap on the field. A long string of 20 to 25 riders managed to rejoin whenever the race reached pavement.

Walsleben attacked on lap three, whittled the field down to just himself and the two Frenchmen, but again, by the time the race reached the asphalt and cobbled sections near the end of the lap, more than 15 riders had rejoined. Walsleben said he was not inclined to work with the two French riders to create a gap.

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: Will Dugan

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: Will Dugan

Photo: Graham Watson

“We don’t communicate that well, anyway,” he said. “I don’t speak French, they don’t speak English, which most of the other riders do.”

But Walsleben didn’t need the help. Early on the fourth lap — soon after the lead group had again swelled to 20 — the German attacked through the grassy section near the pits and soon had a small advantage on a chase group of five.

“At that point I was committed, so I had to go as hard as I could,” Walsleben said.

Over the course of the next lap, Walsleben’s effort began to pay off. He held a six-second advantage over his nearest pursuers and 14 on a larger chase group. A lap later he had extended his advantage to 23 seconds and his five pursuers were swallowed up by the larger chase group of 14.

Italy’s Cristian Cominelli made what appeared to be a successful effort for a podium spot when he launched a blistering attack out of the chase group. Only Belgian Quentin Bertholet managed to hold his wheel.

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: Bertholet and Walsleben battled early.

2009 Cyclocross worlds,U23: Bertholet and Walsleben battled early.

Photo: Graham Watson

The two set about coordinating their pursuit of Walsleben and had narrowed the German’s advantage to just 13 seconds at one point. The German, however was not to be deterred and the two pursuers soon switched to being the pursued as a group of 14 riders chased them through twists and turns of the final laps.

Heartbreak hill

With Walsleben firmly in control up front, Bertholet and Cominelli struggled to hold their advantage on the rest of the chase … and they almost did. At the end of that 200-meter hill, which played such an important role in both races Saturday, to two were caught, just 125 meters from the finish line.

So the 16-man field charged to the line to sort out the remaining two podium spots. Spent from his effort, the Belgian Bertholet gave it his best shot, but was swarmed at the line, with German Christoph Pfingsten outsprinting Poland’s Szczepaniak, who took bronze.

“It was a nice surprise,” said Pfingsten. “I was happy to see Philipp win, but then coming in to take second was just a great way to end the day.”

A tough day for the U.S.

Selander’s frustrating 27th-place finish turned out to be the best the U.S. team produced in the U23 event.

Teammate Danny Summerhill finished 32nd at 2:09, while Nick Keough took 39th at 3:09, Will Dugan came through in 3:41 for 44th place and national champion Nick Weighall finished at 5:08 in 49th.

“I love this course and I felt really good,” said Selander. “It was fast today. It may have been better — at least for me — if there was mud. You can move up in muddy conditions. What we had here today was like a criterium.”

For those hoping for conditions to “improve” for Sunday’s elite men’s and women’s races, the forecast may not be that inspiring.

A Russian cold front moving across northern Europe may produce some snow flurries — there is a 20 percent chance of that on Sunday — but predictions also call for temperatures to remain below freezing, meaning the course in Hoogerheide will remain as hard and as fast as it has these past few days.

Email Charles Pelkey

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Results

1. Philipp Walsleben (GERMANY) in 0:52:48
2. Christoph Pfingsten (GERMANY) at 00:21
3. Pawel Szczepaniak (POLAND) at 00:21
4. Cristian Cominelli (ITALY) at 00:21
5. Sascha Weber (GERMANY) at 00:24
6. Quentin Bertholet (BELGIUM) at 00:25
7. Guillaume Perrot (FRANCE) at 00:29
8. Ramon Sinkeldam (NETHERLANDS) at 00:30
9. Clément Bourgoin (FRANCE) at 00:30
10. Marek Konwa (POLAND) at 00:33
11. Aurelien Duval (FRANCE) at 00:34
12. Matteo Trentin (ITALY) at 00:41
13. Matthieu Boulo (FRANCE) at 00:42
14. Vincent Baestaens (BELGIUM) at 00:43
15. Arnaud Jouffroy (FRANCE) at 00:44
16. Kenneth Van Compernolle (BELGIUM) at 00:45
17. David Fletcher (GREAT BRITAIN) at 00:59
18. Marcel Meisen (GERMANY) at 01:09
19. Mitchell Huenders (NETHERLANDS) at 01:11
20. Robert Gavenda (SLOVAKIA) at 01:20
21. Jiri Polnicky (CZECH REPUBLIC) at 01:20
22. Brand Twan Van Den (NETHERLANDS) at 01:25
23. Ole Quast (GERMANY) at 01:29
24. Micki Van Empel (NETHERLANDS) at 01:33
25. Arnaud Grand (SWITZERLAND) at 01:33
26. Sylwester Janiszewski (POLAND) at 01:35
27. Bjorn Selander (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) at 01:36
28. Marco Ponta (ITALY) at 01:41
29. Tom Meeusen (BELGIUM) at 01:43
30. Boy Van Poppel (NETHERLANDS) at 01:44
31. Jim Aernouts (BELGIUM) at 02:01
32. Daniel Summerhill (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) at 02:09
33. Mattias Nilsson (SWEDEN) at 02:10
34. Alessandro Calderan (ITALY) at 02:21
35. Jonathan Mcevoy (GREAT BRITAIN) at 02:26
36. Yu Takenouchi (JAPAN) at 02:42
37. Ondrej Bambula (CZECH REPUBLIC) at 02:54
38. Julien Taramarcaz (SWITZERLAND) at 03:04
39. Nicholas Keough (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) at 03:09
40. Kacper Szczepaniak (POLAND) at 03:12
41. Pit Schlechter (LUXEMBOURG) at 03:26
42. William Dugan (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) at 03:41
43. Hikaru Kosaka (JAPAN) at 03:42
44. Lukas Prihoda (CZECH REPUBLIC) at 03:55
45. Elia Silvestri (ITALY) at 04:03
46. Tomasz Repinski (POLAND) at 04:05
47. Andrew Thomas (CANADA) at 04:06
48. Mauro Gonzalez Fontan (SPAIN) at 04:06
49. Nicholas Weighall (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) at 05:08
50. Romain Beney (SWITZERLAND) at 05:15
51. Lucian Logigan (ROMANIA) at 05:26
52. Robert Bachraty (SLOVAKIA) at 05:30
53. Brian Robinson (CANADA) at -1LAP
54. Timofey Ivanov (RUSSIAN FEDERATION) at -2LAP
55. Kyle Fry (CANADA) at -2LAP