Wollongong 2022: Dominant performance from Evenepoel sees him become youngest world champion in 29 years
An astonishing performance from Remco Evenepoel in Wollongong saw him go clear at the start of the penultimate lap, before going into time trial mode to build a big lead over the final 25km and cross the line 2'21 ahead of anyone else. Christophe Laporte won the sprint for secong, with Australia's Michael Matthews rounding out the podium.
'A performance to savour!' - Evenepoel comes home in style as world champion
In Wollongong on Sunday Remco Evenepoel became the youngest World Champion in 29 years and the first rider to win a monument, a grand tour and the world road race since Bernard Hinault in 1980.
The 22 year-old did it first by getting team-mates in the break, then slipping away from the peloton to join them in the final third of the race, before going on the attack himself with exactly two laps left.
He rode on for ten kilometres in the company of Alexey Lutsenko, but going solo on the penultimate ascent of Mount Keira.
An unmatchable effort did the damage over the next 20 kilometres. More than a minute in arrears, by the final lap of the 17km circuit the remaining chasers were forced to fight it out for the remaining medals.
Evenepoel didn’t let up, looking to deliver the most dominant world championship victory many had seen. He crossed the line on the brink of tears, raising his finger to his lips to suggest the silencing of critics.
While the world was watching Evenepoel’s performance an insurgent group from the peloton was able to overhaul the remains of the break. Christophe Laporte of France won the sprint for second place, with Australian Michael Matthews taking the bronze medal.
Highlights: All the action from a dramatic men's road race as Evenepoel takes title
Last minute preparations for the race had been overshadowed by reports that Mathieu van der Poel had been arrested and charged with common assault on Saturday night following an incident at his hotel. Although Van der Poel started the race, the Dutch favourite abandoned after less than an hour in the saddle.
Under crystal clear New South Wales skies - a world away from the gloom experienced by the female riders on Saturday - the race set out at a furious pace, with attacks coming thick and fast. A number of the big countries, including Poland, Slovenia and Switzerland, were represented by the main, 11-man early move, while others, such as Belgium, Great Britain and Spain, were notable by their absence.
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Rien Schuurhuis (Vatican) was one who missed it and despite attempting to catch a lift to the front was dropped from a group making a late attempt to hook up.
Onto the 7.5km, 5.7% Mount Keira and the front riders had a lead of almost four minutes with a smaller set of chasers two minutes further back.
The climb itself caused splits in the peloton, with a large group including Tadej Pogacar and Roman Bardet riding clear, forcing the Belgians, and even Wout van Aert, into action.
By the time the race arrived at the main city circuit, the break of the day had settled. It consisted of sixteen riders with varying contributions to make to the final outcome:
Pavel Sivakov (France), Pieter Serry (Belgium), Jaka Primozic (Slovenia), Ben O’Connor (Australia), Luke Plapp (Australia), Samuele Battistella (Italy), Simon Pellaud, (Switzerland), Scott McGill (USA), Pier-André Cote (Canada), James Fouche (New Zealand), Łukasz Owsian (Poland), Michael Kukrle (Czechia), Emīls Liepins (Latvia), Juraj Sagan (Slovakia), Guy Sagiv (Israel), Nícolas Sessler (Brazil).
Their lead would top out 80km into the stage at a very soft eight minutes. An hour and a half later it had lost two of those, falling to five with a hundred miles of racing completed, and coming down even faster from thereon.
With 5 laps remaining the peloton was less than three minutes behind.
As it went inside 100km the peloton, led particularly by France, really began to put its foot down while the stronger riders in the break did the same. Ben O’Connor was determined to thin the front group out and he was the principal person who orchestrated its division into two similarly sized groups.
'No time to waste!' - Evenepoel explains attack with two laps still to go
The front of the race drawing closer also inspired attacks from and, effectively, a split in the peloton. Three laps left to go and several important riders, such as Nairo Quintana (Colombia), Jai Hindley (Australia) and Jake Stewart (Great Britain) found themselves 35 seconds ahead of the larger bunch. The biggest name of all was that of Remco Evenepoel, flying down the road and with three Belgian team-mates at his disposal.
Within 10km they had made it to the very front of the race, forming a three dozen strong supergroup more than a minute to the good and gaining.
A band that big could not be sustained, and the attacks from it kept coming, intended to drop the passengers and whittle it down into a smaller, more effective selection.
Through the finish line for the third from last time and Germany, one of the few teams without representation up the road, were the ones doing the work in the bunch, determined to prevent the race disappearing into the distance.
When Great Britain and France came to the front of the peloton on Mount Pleasant, such was the increase in pace that the leaders two minute advantage was almost halved at a stroke.
Sensing something happening behind, Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan) broke free out of the breakers, the effect being more to increase the overall gap to the peloton.
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As they crossed the finishing line with two laps left, Remco himself decided it was time to go chasing rainbows, quickly bridging across to Lutsenko and taking charge.
Lutsenko proved a useful ally for the Belgian, enabling him to achieve a thirty second advantage over anyone else, and grow the gap to the peloton to more than two minutes, but on the penultimate ascent of Mount Pleasant Evenepoel simply rode him off his wheel.
On the descent and still with 23km to go, it looked like all that was left was a fight for the podium places, the peloton still a minute down on the silver medal spot.
By the bell it looked as if they had given up. Evenepoel was in time trial mode and on his way to the world title, at least the equal of his victories in Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April and the Vuelta title just a few weeks earlier.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming of,” Evenepoel said afterwards. “I think I will never have a better season than this.”
Of his unwillingness to let up even after the victory had been assured, Evenepoel said “I kept pushing because it’s the world championship and you don’t want to lose any time, you just want to win the jersey.”
2’21 later a group of 27 riders crossed the line, with France’s Christophe Laporte sprinting to silver and Michael Matthews taking the bronze medal.
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