By Fred Dreier
The final podium of the 2008 world junior cross-country championship looked eerily similar to that from ’08 cyclocross worlds, held in January in Treviso, Italy. Only this time it was Slovakia’s Peter Sagan on the top rung, with Frenchman Arnaud Jouffroy in second — a flip-flop from the teenagers’ positions on the ’cross worlds podium.
Reigning world mountain-bike junior champ Matthias Rupp, third back at ’cross words, was third again at the mountain bike worlds.
The win was sweet revenge for Sagan, who is quickly becoming Slovakia’s biggest cycling star. The 18-year-old from Zilint is also a star on the road, having won a stage of Germany’s Trofeo Karlsburg in May and then finishing a close second at the 2008 junior Paris-Roubaix race in April. His silver at ’cross worlds was just one second away from gold. He also won the European junior cross-country title on May 16 in St. Wendel, Germany.
“I am happy this race is at its end,” said Sagen through an interpreter after his victory. “The trail was very difficult for me.”
It didn’t seem that way to spectators. The powerful Slovakian, who rides with extra wide handlebars and his arms bowed out to the sides, took an early advantage alongside Arnaud on the opening lap. The two did not stay together long, as the heftier Slovakian pulled away midway through lap two.
Rupp, known for his fast starts, never made contact with the two, and watched his world title from 2007 evaporate in a 2:50 time gap.
“I tried to stay with Peter but could not,” Jouffrey admitted after the race.
The young Frenchman also races on the road, but said he hoped to stay with cyclocross and mountain biking in the coming years.
The Slovakian did not name his future. Known for his quiet, slightly introverted personality, Sagen sat quietly at the post-race press conference, instead letting the Slovakian team coach handle his questions.
Perhaps the Slovakian talent prefers to let his legs do the talking.
2008 UCI world mountain bike championships
Val di Sole, Italy
Junior men’s cross-country
1. Peter Sagen (Svk), 1:35:21
2. Arnaud Jouffroy (F), at 1:33
3. Matthias Rupp (Swi), at 2:50
4. Fabian Strecker (G), at 5:33
5. Mirco Widmer (Swi), at 5:41
6. Luca Braidot (I), at 5:42
7. Henk Moorlag (Nl), at 6:06
8. Marcus Schulte-Luenzum, at 6:14
9. Matthias Stirnemann (Swi), at 6:32
10. Marek Konwa (Pl), at 7:00
23. Robbie Squire, at 12:24;
45. Evan Guthrie, at 17:47