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Arnaud Jouffroy lined up as the odds-on favorite on Saturday at the world junior cyclocross championship in Treviso, Italy. He didn’t disappoint, but he had to fight to live up to expectations.
Based largely on the strength of his sixth-place finish at world’s last year, the fact that the five men who finished ahead of him had graduated to the U23 category, and his stellar results all season, the 17-year-old Frenchman was the pick of many in a sport often dominated by Belgians.
At the end, Jouffroy battled for the rainbow jersey with Slovak Peter Sagan and Czech Lubomir Petrus, winning by just one second in his last major ‘cross race as a junior. Sixteen-year-old American Luke Keough, riding in only his second European race, met his goal of a top-10 finish, finishing 10th at 1:12.
On a course designed by former world champion Adri Van der Poel, riders knew that position was key, particularly after a slight uphill start and a twisting ride through soft, grassy meadows. At the 1km mark, the course takes a hard right turn and immediately throws riders into a steep, slick 26-percent climb that no one managed to ride on Saturday. In past ‘cross events at the Lago le Bandie sports center near Treviso, the hill proved decisive, most recently at a 2006 World Cup race in which the first three riders who crested the climb on the first lap went on to win the day.
But Jouffroy had little luck fighting for position on the first lap, reaching the first corner in 21st position, hitting a crowd-control barrier at one point and entering the key climb mired in traffic and clearly out of contention for the win.
“But I kept thinking that this was my last world championships as a junior,” Jouffroy said. “I wanted to do my best and I knew that I was the strongest rider out there.”
At the crest of the climb, Jouffroy poured it on through the flats leading into the pit area, passing nearly a dozen riders before the course wound its way through another stretch of meadow and putting contenders on the wide, grassy steps of a gradual run-up. Jouffroy continued to pass competitors and managed to finish his first lap of the day in third place, trailing Petrus and Polish rider Marek Konwa.
“At that point, I knew I had a chance,” Jouffroy recalled. “I worked to catch the two ahead of me.”
With Sagan trailing, Jouffroy joined up with Petrus just as Konwa suffered a mechanical and was forced into the pits. The remaining two rode at the front for the bulk of the remaining four laps, trading the lead and keeping close tabs on one-another. Jouffroy was clearly the stronger of the two, putting distance on the Czech rider on the run-up and on the slopes of the steep grade.
But on the penultimate lap, just as Jouffroy gapped Petrus, Sagan joined the Czech and the two set off after the hard-charging Frenchman. Jouffroy seemed set to nail the world title, but his two pursuers made up ground and Sagan moved ahead on the final trip through the second stretch of meadow.
“I thought I had him,” said Sagan. “But I hit that muddy turn wrong and had to jump off my bike to avoid crashing.”
Jouffroy took full advantage of the bobble and drove past the struggling Slovak.
“I kept thinking about the jersey,” he said.
It was a sprint to the line, though, with Jouffroy certain of his victory only with about 10 meters remaining. Finally confident, the Frenchman threw his arms skyward and celebrated what he hopes is just the first of several wins for his country this weekend.
“I wanted to win this one to show that cyclocross is not just a sport dominated by Belgians,” he said. “The French here are serious contenders for the podium and I wanted to win for my country.”
A future contender?
Slightly more than a minute after Jouffroy took the rainbow jersey, American Keough rode through in 10th place.
“That was my goal,” Keough said. “I came here hoping to finish in the top 10 and there’s no way I can be disappointed with that. This is only the second European race I’ve ever done.”
The U.S. national champion’s first exposure to racing in Europe came at last week’s World Cup in Hooglede-Gits, site of next year’s world’s. The U.S. junior champion said it was a perfect introduction to European racing and one that offers an incentive for next year’s world’s, in which Keough will still be competing in the junior ranks.
“It’s where world’s are in 2009,” he noted. “I’m already thinking about that.”
1. Arnaud Jouffroy (France) 0:40:30.0
2. Peter Sagan (Slovakia), at 0:01
3. Lubomir Petrus (Czech Republic), at 0:04
4. Elia Silvestri (Italy), at 0:54
5. Matthias Rupp (Switzerland), at 0:55
6. Pierre Garson (France), at 1:07
7. Stef Boden (Belgium), at 1:08
8. Sean De Bie (Belgium), at 1:11
9. Jonathan Cessot (France), at 1:11
10. Luke Keough (USA), at 1:12
11. Massimo Coledan (Italy), at 1:18
12. Michael Winterberg (Switzerland), at 1:43
13. Karel Hnik (Czech Republic), at 1:45
14. Marek Konwa (Poland), at 1:47
15. Vincent Dias Dos Santos (Luxembourg), at 1:48
16. Tijmen Eising (Netherlands), at 1:54
17. Arnaud Grand (Switzerland), at 2:01
18. Valentin Scherz (Switzerland), at 2:02
19. Jasper Ockeloen (Netherlands), at 2:10
20. Luca Braidot (Italy), at 2:18
21. Filip Adel (Czech Republic), at 2:20
22. Pit Schlechter (Luxembourg), at 2:26
23. Kacper Szczepaniak (Poland), at 2:32
24. Andrzej Bartkiewicz (Poland), at 2:34
25. Fabio Aru (Italy), at 2:35
26. Petr Marvan (Czech Republic), at 2:39
27. Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands), at 2:52
28. Michael Schweizer (Germany), at 2:56
29. Max Walsleben (Germany), at 3:00
30. Kevin Smit (Netherlands), at 3:00
31. Matthias Bossuyt (Belgium), at 3:01
32. Gavin Mannion (USA), at 3:09
33. Valentin Hadoux (France), at 3:09
34. Sebastian Batchelor (Great Britain), at 3:14
35. Fernando San Emeterio Gandiaga (Spain), at 3:16
36. Wietse Bosmans (Belgium), at 3:17
37. Kazuya Nakayama (Japan), at 3:18
38. Andrew Williams (Great Britain), at 3:24
39. Toni Bretschneider (Germany), at 3:26
40. Steve Fisher (USA), at 3:38
41. Ramon Domene Reyes (Spain), at 3:38
42. Zach Mc Donald (USA), at 3:40
43. Clement Koretzky (France), at 3:46
44. Igor Merino Cortazar (Spain), at 3:51
45. Jakub Friml (Czech Republic), at 3:59
46. Geert Van Der Horst (Netherlands), at 4:04
47. Josep Nadal Magrinya (Spain), at 4:06
48. Simon Geets (Belgium), at 4:06
49. David Larson (Canada), at 4:18
50. Kamil Gradek (Poland), at 4:32
51. Hamish Creber (Great Britain), at 4:46
52. Anthony Grand (Switzerland), at 5:11
53. Eric Emsky (USA), at 5:49
54. Alex Paton (Great Britain), at 5:53
55. I?igo Gomez Elorriaga (Spain), at 5:58
56. Max Michely (Luxembourg), at 6:19
57. Patrik Stenberg (Sweden), at 6:25
58. Bartosz Rajkowski (Poland), at 6:58
59. Domenico maria Salviani (Italy), at 8:57
60. Masatsugu Takamiya (Japan), at -1LAP
61. Viktor Prozirai (Ukraine), at -1LAP
DNF. Josef Rauber (Germany)