Paprstka takes junior `cross title in Tabor

Czech rider Tomaš Paprstka held off Julian Alaphilippe of France to win the world junior cyclocross title in Tabor, the Czech Republic, on Saturday. Dutchman Emiel Dolfs rounded out the top three.

Tomaš Paprstka delivered a surprise gold for host country Czech Republic as the 2010 cyclo-cross world championships clicked into gear Saturday with the junior men’s race on a treacherous icy and snowy course in Tabor.

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Paprstka rode a near-perfect race in front of the home crowd. | Click for Graham Watson Gallery

Cody Kaiser led the five-man U.S. team with 33rd at 3:05 off Paprstka’s winning pace on the five-lap race on a frozen Tabor course that saw scores of crashes, including decisive falls by the favored Dutch in the middle part of the race. (Click for full results and Graham Watson Gallery)

Paprstka was the surprise winner against the heavily favored Dutch team led by David van der Poel, son of former cyclo-cross world champion and Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Adrie van der Poel.

The younger Van der Poel crashed twice while riding in second with two laps to go, opening the door for the persistent Paprstka.

“I was surprised to find myself in the lead after the third lap. I picked up the pace and got a small gap and started to believe I could win,” Paprstka said. “In the end, I was trying to keep my position at the front. My coach said whoever was on the pavement in the lead was going to win, so that’s why I wanted to stay there.”

With the Dutch having their problems, including a crash by Gert-Jan Bosman while leading on the third lap, Paprstka surged to the front and confidently fended off determined riding by Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.

Alaphilippe shadowed Paprstka and tried in vain to come around him before settling for silver after the hard-nosed Czech rider nipped him in a two-up sprint on the final 175-meter section of pavement.

“I am surprised and happy to be on the podium,” he said. “There were three Dutch riders, and they were very strong. I was trying to attack on the final lap, but my legs were so sore so I decided to stay behind to try to beat him in the sprint.”

Dutch rider Emiel Dolfsma crossed the line for third at nine seconds off the pace to claim bronze and save the Netherlands’ honor.

Dolfsma wasn’t even selected for the deep Dutch team – which also included the son of former Tour de France green jersey-winner Jean Claude van Poppel — but victory in the overall World Cup series by Van der Poel gave the Dutch an extra spot for the worlds.

“We had a lot of candidates for victory, so we expected more today,” Dolfsma said. “On the last lap, I was close to closing the gap, but my front wheel slipped on the last descent and lost my rhythm. To be honest, I was stone dead.”

Riders woke up Saturday morning to find the 3.1km loop glistening with ice after overnight temperatures plunged below freezing. The sun popped out at the gun and conditions improved slightly, but packed snow and ice made for extremely difficult race conditions.

The loop presented it a tough challenge, especially after the UCI ruled that riders could not use studded tires because it would provide an unfair advantage to riders who didn’t have them.

Riders were slipping and sliding everywhere despite efforts by race organizers to pour sand on the most dangerous sections of the course to provide better traction.

“I crashed like seven times,” said American Skyler Trujillo, 53rd at 6:27 back. “I usually like racing on snow because I am from Colorado, but today was very icy out there. I just couldn’t get going.”

The final descent over a fly-over bridge onto a narrow, steep drop plunging into a sharp right-hander with 400 meters to go proved most troubling. Scores of riders crashed on the descent and approach to the corner.

“It started out being all frozen, but about halfway through it started to thaw out. Everything going downhill was pretty treacherous,” Kaiser said. “I crashed coming off that fly-over. I slid out and lost some positions. I changed bikes right after the fall to make sure I had a good bike.”