Road

In the class of 1990, cycling’s future looks bright

At worlds, Kwiatkowski, 24, leads the way for a young cohort that is talented and promising

MILAN (VN) — Pole Michal Kwiatkowski led in a wave of young riders at the world championship road race Sunday. Behind the 24-year-old, three others from the class of 1990 finished in the top 15.

“I want to stay the same guy,” Kwiatkowski said after his win. “I hope this rainbow jersey does not change my life.”

The rainbow win completed a successful year for team Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s rider. He won the Volta ao Algarve overall, the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana at the Challenge Mallorca, Strade Bianche, the Tour de Romandie prologue time trial, and a stage in the Tour of Britain. He also placed second overall in Britain, second overall in the País Vasco, and top five in the three Ardennes classics.

“[He] really grew up on our team,” team general manager Patrick Lefevere said in a press release. “We always believed in him. The first time I met him was 2008, and immediately he impressed me with his character and his talent. It was strong, but also intelligent racing [at the worlds].”

“Kwiatkowski took the risk on the descent and jumped to the riders,” Australia’s director, Brad McGee told VeloNews. “It was make or break and he had the muscles to back it up.

“He hasn’t come from nowhere, he’s had many big give victories this year. There’s plenty of room at the top of cycling for these young riders.”

McGee’s team took the silver medal with Simon Gerrans, but also saw 24-year-old Michael Matthews place 14th in his best ever performance at the elite worlds after winning the under-23 title in 2010. Like Kwiatkowski, Matthews shined this season with Orica-GreenEdge, winning a stage in the Giro d’Italia, where he wore the leader’s jersey, and accomplishing the same feat at the Vuelta a España.

“It’s my first elite worlds where I’ve been in the finish,” Matthews said. “It’s a really good experience for me to be there in the final of this caliber of race.”

Australia’s aim was to protect Gerrans, who went with Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert and Spain’s Alejandro Valverde on the last climb. Matthews waited behind, ready in case the race ended in a sprint.

“I didn’t find the rain too bad,” Matthews added. “The climbs didn’t really faze me, the Vuelta a España and Tour of Poland prepared me well. It was just the acceleration from the pure climbers on the final kicker [that] sort of hurt a little bit.”

It hurt, but Matthews should gain from the experience as he heads into 2015. He placed 14th in the bunch sprint won by Norway’s Alexander Kristoff for eighth place. France’s Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) and Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) — the other two riders born in 1990 — were in the top 15, placed 10th and 13th, respectively.

“Colbrelli has never raced the elite worlds,” Italy’s head coach, Davide Cassani said. “The worlds are going to serve these riders [well].”

The class of 1990 also includes talented riders like Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing), who could not start due to a broken leg suffered in May at the U.S. national championships.

Other cyclists from the class of 1990, or even 1991 and 1992, shined in the worlds, including France’s Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano), Dane Michael Valgren Andersen (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Italian Fabio Aru (Astana). The only disappointment was the rider often touted as cycling’s next superstar, Slovak Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

Sagan won the green jersey for the third time this year at the Tour de France and signed a multi-million dollar contract with Tinkoff-Saxo, but appeared to suffer in the second half of the season. He stayed in the main group with Matthews, but given his star status, followers expected more.

“Peter just didn’t have the legs to go with the best riders at the worlds,” said Cannondale sports director and Sagan’s helper at the worlds, Stefano Zanatta. “He’s an exceptional rider, so you hope for the best, but based on the races beforehand, we sort of knew he wasn’t in shape.”