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A number of riders were airing out a jump on course during warm-ups for the world cyclocross championships to the delight of the fans. Jan Christen of Switzerland was catching air and kicking his rear wheel out during the men’s junior race en route to winning gold.
After a seesaw battle at the front, a group of three coalesced to battle for the podium positions. Aaron Dockx of Belgium was second and Nathan Smith of Great Britain was third.
American A.J. August, who led the race briefly in the second lap, came in fifth behind Corentin Lequet of France.
“It was amazing,” Christen said. “I wasn’t 100% sure that I could win the sprint. But I went all in and I did it. I enjoyed every lap, I had so much fun.”
Dockx, however, was sure he was the strongest, and was not having as much fun on the podium. He was distraught and crying at the finish.
“In the whole race, I was in the wheels,” Dockx said. “I felt myself to be the strongest, and I trusted my sprint. But Jan was ultimately the fastest in the end.”
How the race played out
Nathan Smith of Great Britain showed his intentions and potential immediately, getting the holeshot off the line, with Belgium’s Aaron Dockx right on the wheel. In the starting melee a few riders went down, including American Marcis Shelton.
The first section of the 3.1km course features a twisty downhill, before the one climb of the course, on which the front reshuffled a bit and Jan Christen of Switzerland took the front.
Those three riders — Smith, Dockx, and Christen would come to dominate the race.
On the second lap, Dockx took the lead into the twisty downhill and David Haverdings of Holland crashed when he lost his front wheel in a righthand corner, slowing up Christen and American Jack Spranger.
With some riders able to take advantage on the wide course, American Andrew August powered into the lead, with Dockx slotting craftily into second.
Smith wasn’t content to sit in, though, and he came over the top and stretched out the field. Soon a group of four was formed with Smith, August, Dockx and Corentin Lequet of France. The quartet sprinted up the stairs and then bombed down the hill, with Smith getting some air over a rise at the bottom to the cheers of the crowd.
On the third of six laps, seven riders caught the leading four.
As had happened in the preceding races, a tricky 180-turn just over the top of a sharp peak caused difficulty in the junior men’s race. On the third lap, as Belgians took the front, Spranger got jammed up as riders came to crawl, and he tipped back over into the fencing. Ahead, Dockx attacked and opened a gap to Smith, who in turn had a few seconds on the desperate chase group behind.
On lap four, Smith had latched onto the speeding Dockx, then went over the top to set the pace, winding through a tree-heavy section of Centennial Park. Christen soon clawed back onto terms with the leaders, while Lequet dangled just behind.
The largely dry, wide course had very few ruts, and the turns and hills were the only real limiters to speed.
Onto the massive staircase, Christen kept the power on, then turned on the style to do a little tailwhip on the jump at the bottom of the hill. Dockx stayed glued to his wheel, with Smith the only other rider able to follow.
In the final lap, Christen jumped to attack in the finishing straight but popped out of his pedal. He saved it but lost the momentum. Into the winding downhill tree section, Dockx took the lead and opened a few bike lengths that Christen closed before the climb.
In the closing kilometer, Christen again attacked his rivals — this time staying in his pedals — but Dockx and then Smith were back on him.
With three bends to go to the wide-open finishing straight, no one wanted to take the front and lead out the sprint, and the race came nearly to a standstill.
Finally, Docx blinked, and he opened the sprint. Christen came around to win, with Smith in third.
Behind, Lequet outsprinted August for fourth.
2022 UCI World Cyclocross Championship Junior Men’s Results
- Jan Christen (SWI), 43:11
- Aaron Dockx (BEL), at :01
- Nathan Smith (GBR), at :01
- Corent Lequet (FRA), at :20
- Andrew August (USA), at :20
- Viktor Vandenerghe (BEL), at :33
- Nuyens Wies (BEL), at :35
- Ian Ackert (CAN), at :39
- David Haverdings (NED), at :41
- Daniel Nielsen (Denmark), at :49