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The wave of talented young cyclists challenging the old guard establishment’s grip on the sport is expected to be on full display in the men’s World Championship road race Sunday in Yorkshire, England.
Belgian Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), and Slovenian Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) – none over 24 years old – are all in the hunt for the gold medal.
This season, Evenepoel debuted among the professionals directly from the junior ranks. At 19 years old, he won Clásica San Sebastián, becoming the youngest rider to win the famed race. This Wednesday, he took the silver medal behind Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) in the men’s elite time trial, besting some of the world’s best – and much older – TT specialists.
Van der Poel, meanwhile, defied the odds to win the Amstel Gold Race in his debut 29 years after his father won the Dutch classic. And Pogacar took home three stage wins at the Vuelta a España, an impressive result for any rider, let alone a 21-year-old. He also finished third overall behind established stars Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team).
And, though he’s not racing in Yorkshire, let’s not forget Egan Bernal (Ineos). At 22, the Columbian became the youngest Tour de France winner in the sport’s modern era last July.
Now we’ll see what these youngsters can do in the marathon 285-kilometer road race this weekend.
“I’m not writing history, I just want to win,” van der Poel told Dutch media outlet AD, who asked about the unique opportunity of becoming road champion while also still reigning in the cyclocross realm.
“Hopefully, all this talk about being compared to Eddy Merckx and age will fade. I’m 19 years old, but it’s just a number,” Evenepoel said in a media conference, according to Marca. “I understand that the fact that a 19-year-old boy wins is attractive to the media, but I don’t take notice what is said. I do not listen to anyone, I ignore everything. Only what my coach tells me.”
Of course the old guard won’t just give up their places at the front of the peloton. Among the veterans to watch in Yorkshire are defending champion Alejandro Valverde, 39, (Movistar Team), 2012 worlds winner Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), 37, and fellow Belgian Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), 34, who’s seeking his first world title.
“This is one of the last chances,” Van Avermaet told Het Laatste Nieuws. “The Championships in Martigny 2020 is not going to be my thing.
“Now or never? I don’t want to put that pressure on myself. In 2021, the Worlds is in Leuven. But then we are two years down the road. If you are 27, you think, ‘Okay, I can still give it a try.’ That is different when you are 37.”
Valverde just renewed his Movistar team contract through 2021, when he will be 41 years old. And even with the young wave sweeping the sport, he still manages to win, including five times this year while wearing the rainbow jersey.
“I did not think think that I’d be able to do this at this age, to be able to fight to win the Vuelta or the Worlds…” Valverde told El Partidazo de COPE. “It’s impossible to do better than last year in the Worlds, but win or not, we are going to try to repeat it.”
Young versus old. Sunday we’ll see who comes out on top.