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World championships: a fitting finish – Sagan again!

World championships: a fitting finish – Sagan again!

It promised to be a championships to remember and Bergen delivered. Huge crowds, great racing, and a historic conclusion with Peter Sagan taking a hat-trick…

In the end, there was speed and strength and no salute. After 267.5km of racing, there were two men well ahead of all the others in what will be remembered as a “sprint finish” for the world championships of 2017.

Peter Sagan and Alexander Kristoff, threw their last bit of energy over the line; the Slovakian a fraction of a wheel ahead of the Norwegian.

And so it would be: Sagan would achieve the first hat-trick in the elite men’s road race. Champion again!

It was expected. It was executed. It was a flawless performance, one that will be remembered for a long time yet.

First in Richmond in 2015. First in Doha in 2016. First Bergen in 2017.

What’s next? No, let’s not consider that – not yet. It’s too soon.

For now, let’s take a moment to reflect. This essentially marks the end of the cycling season – although, in modern terms, that’s an ambiguous term that is akin to talking about how long a piece of string is.

What’s the message that resonates after a week of racing in Bergen? Sagan is strong. Sure, but we knew that. We’ve seen it time and time and time again. And it’s clear that not even illness can hinder him when the moment to rise arrives.

One of the lasting legacies of this championships is this: Norway clearly loves cycling!

The size of the crowds all week were impressive. There might not be a huge population in this proud Scandinavian nation but they certainly come out in force when there’s a bike race on.

It’s great to see that cycling still ignites the passions and stirs emotions. And it’s fantastic to see another sequence of champions being crowned in a week that proved that the gloss hasn’t come off a sport that has been riding through a state of flux for a little while.

There’s a new leader of the UCI and apparently new direction. What comes next is something to ponder but that’s also just politics: @DLappartient has promised to breathe a bit of life back into the sport and we wait to see if this becomes a reality but, in the meantime, we can consider what unfolded at the end of the worlds in Bergen and look at the photos of the elite men’s road race… and realise that only a matter of centimetres lay between what is a historic collection of victories and the possibility of a fantastic finale for the host country.

Kristoff: so strong, so committed… so close! But it wasn’t to be.

 

* * * * *

The sprint for the win turned into a drag race for two: Peter Sagan and Alexander Kristoff finished well clear of all others.

Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

Twenty-six riders were given the same time in the men’s road race in Bergen but two were well ahead of the rest. Sagan and Kristoff had their heads down, their arms out, and their eyes on the line as it passed underneath them.

Sagan’s last push was from his right foot; Kristoff’s was the left. Two men doing all they could to beat each other at the end of a race that was exhausting just to watch – but they finished with a flurry and, for a brief moment, there was a little uncertainty. Could it be that the Slovakian was beaten? No… it wouldn’t happen. Not this time.

There was no controversy about the sprint. There was no time to celebrate. There was no need for a commissaire’s intrusion into the result. There was just one final lunge and fate would decide the champion.

It happened to be that Sagan timed it better. And Norwegians have to lament what could have been: Bergen would have erupted and the joy would have been overwhelming. Instead it was the maestro of the worlds ahead of the rest, Sagan –back in the rainbow jersey for another year.

 

* * * * *

There was only a fraction of a wheel between first and second…

Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

The first true display of emotion as the riders crossed the finish line came from Australia’s Michael Matthews. He banged his handlebars in frustration. He knew the rainbow jersey could have been his but on this day in this race, it didn’t work out.

He’s the rider who, for all his conviction – for all his meticulous planning and commitment and speed and fitness – got to watch on as the rainbow jersey rode away from him again.

Second in Richmond. Fourth in Doha… third in Bergen.

He’s consistently close but Matthews missed out again in 2017.

Of course it’s frustrating to be so near yet so far away from the win that he knows he can get but the rider who turns 27 tomorrow is already thinking about “the next one”.

Okay, Innsbruck in Austria isn’t likely to provide a course for the “sprinters” in 2018. It’ll be a tough circuit, one for the climbers. Or so they’ll say from now until 30 September next year. But the worlds are special – anything can happen.

In recent years, “the end” has been the same over and over and over again… Sagan in the centre of the podium, smiling down at the crowd of photographers with a rainbow jersey and a gold medal.

What comes next is anyone’s guess but we can look back on the championships in Norway with a sense of happiness. The sun was shining. The crowd was cheering. The riders were putting on a show. Cycling was exciting.

That’s a good way to end it.

 

 

– By Rob Arnold

 

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