By Andrew Hood
Rafaá Chtioui dropped like a rock off the final passage over the Torricelli climb to electrify an already attack-riddled junior men’s road race Saturday and make history.
The tall, gangly Tunisian didn’t win. That honor went to calculating Czech rider Roman Kreuziger, but Chtioui took second and became the first African rider to win a world road championship medal.
“All of Tunisia is smiling with me now,” said the happy 6-foot-3 18-year-old from a suburb of Tunis. “It’s the first time a Tunisia has won anything in cycling and it’s the first time an African has won a medal. I am very content.”’
Chtioui’s attack could earn him the nickname the Tunisian falcon. Riding without teammates, he stuck close to the pre-race favorites Italians over the grueling nine-lap race. Of the 175 starters, only 125 held on to finish.
Chtioui was part of a group of about 20 riders that came through together on the bell lap. Several riders tried to attack on the final climb, first led by Australian Simon Clarke. Russian Ivan Rovnyi and Kreuziger also put in jabs, trimming the lead group to just seven riders over the summit.
Chtioui shot like a rocket down the descent, surprising the tired youngsters worn out after more than three hours of racing. The Tunisian was quickly making headway when Kreuziger dug deep to bridge out.
“I tried to attack on the climb, but I wasn’t able,” said Kreuziger, who took the silver medal in the junior men’s time trial. “When I saw Rafaá go, I followed him because I’ve raced against him many times and I know he is strong. I didn’t think about winning until the very end.”
Chtioui led way onto the homestretch for the sprint, but Kreuziger came around his left to take the gold. Journalists were more interested in the Tunisian’s story than what Kreuziger had to say and mobbed Chtioui after a press conference while almost no one paid any attention to the winner.
Chtioui picked up racing at 14 and is one of the resident athletes at the UCI cycling center in Aigle, Switzerland. He’s regularly raced in Europe for two years and showed savvy beyond his years both on and off the bike.
“Cycling is not a big sport in Tunisia,” said Chtioui, cheerfully switching from French to English. “There are not many races and there are not many races, but I hope someday to change that. I want to be the first Tunisian to race as a pro in Europe.”
While Kreuziger and Chtioui worked together, a five-man chase group wasn’t. Italian Eros Capecchi was the only azzurri to make it into the final selection and the others weren’t keen on carrying him to the line.
“There didn’t seem to be any organization in the chase,” said Slovenian Simon Spilak, who won the five-up sprint to take bronze. “When it became obvious we weren’t going to catch them, I sat up and saved my strength for the sprint.”
It was a tough day for the Americans. Zachary Bolian dropped his chain on the first lap and never caught back on. Adam Switters crashed out early while Zachary Taylor crashed three times. Chris Stockburger was the top American at 104th at nearly 20 minutes back.
1. Roman Kreuziger (Cz) 132km in 3:25.39
2. Rafaa Chtioui (Tun) same time
3. Simon Spilak (Slo) at 06secs
4. Eros Capecchi (I) s.t.
5. Pieter Jacobs (B) s.t.
6. Robert Gesink (Nl) s.t.
7. Ben Hermans (B) s.t.
8. Alexandre Binet (F) 32
9. Ivan Rovnyi (Rus) s.t.
10. Cyril Gautier (F) s.t.
81. Luis Pulido Naranjo (Mex) +15:10
104. Chris Stockburger (USA) +19:49
121. Zachary Bolian (USA) +23:47
122. Zachary Tayler (USA) s.t.FULLRESULTS