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A long-range attack, a solo move, and a top-ten finish highlighted Adrien Costa’s first run at the under-23 Tour of Flanders. Costa won’t turn 19 until August, and considers himself a climber, but that didn’t stop him hitting out alone against riders four years his senior.
“I went right after two [laps] to go, about 40km out. We went up the climb and it was pretty hard, strung out, with a big crosswind,” Costa said after the race. “We came out on this plateau after the climb, I was feeling good, I was moving up, so I decided to just keep it going. It wasn’t a super hard attack, I put my head down and I thought maybe there was a chance, because it’s a super technical course.”
Costa, one of the youngest riders on the Axeon Hagens Berman team, made his move on a false flat just after the first pass of the Wolvenberg, 43km from the finish of the 166km race. He gained separation quickly and rode alone for most of the next circuit, nearly 25km, before two other riders joined him. Three more bridged shortly after, and two more came across in the final meters.
The two-time silver medalist at the junior world’s time trial rode with his front group into the finale, but the long solo effort caught up with him in the sprint. He finished seventh, just behind teammate Krists Neilands, who had bridged with one other in the finale.
The race was won by Slovenian David Per, 21, riding for Adria Mobil.
Oddly, this year’s U23 Flanders was missing the feature Flanders is known for: the region’s steep, cobbled climbs. Instead, all the climbs were paved, and the U23s only had to contend with downhill and flat cobble sectors. Even so, the route just outside Oudenaarde took in a number of steep climbs used in the elite Flanders, including the Wolvenberg, Berendries, and the Valkenberg.
Axeon teammate Logan Owen, a budding cyclocross star, won the group sprint for 11th.
Costa has proven himself in time trials and stage races, and they’re still the venues he prefers. He won the Tour du Pays Var in 2014 and 2014, and the Tour de l’Abitibi, a major junior stage race, in 2015. Though still searching for his place in the peloton, he doesn’t see himself as a future classics rider. Nonetheless, the races in Belgium and the Netherlands, where Axeon heads next week for the ZLM Tour, “are always really good leaning experiences,” he said.
“I hope I don’t show up to a climbing race and just get dropped,” Costa said, batting back the suggestion that he focus on classics-style races.
“I’m just racing these races as hard as I can, trying to do my best,” he said. “For me, it’s encouraging to be able to do well in races that don’t necessarily suit me. I hope that when I get to hillier races, and races with more time trials, I get to show that that’s what I’m actually best at.”