Kazakhstan's WorldTour star, Yevgeniy Fedorov, was an unlikely winner of the World Championships under-23 road race in Wollongong. Having tried several times before, the Astana rider finally snuck away with Czechia's Mathias Vacek in a late move after the break of the day had been reeled in.
That had held out for most of the previous three-and-a-half hours, with France's Mathis Le Berre the hardiest resistor.
In the closing kilometres Vacek and Fedorov were able to take advantage of disorganisation and a lack of firepower in what was left of the bunch. They hung on to a few seconds, before extending their advantage to around a dozen by the home straight.
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Fedorov took the victory in straightforward fashion, by simply having the most left in his legs to sprint as his winning margin was clocked at more than a second. Soren Waerenskjold (Norway) won the sprint behind for the remaining podium place.
At 1pm local time in the pouring rain the riders set out for kilometre zero, the screech of disc brakes echoing around the tightly-packed peloton. The swarm around the car showed how many were determined not to get caught out by missing an early move.
Two more laps for the under-23s than the junior men meant a total of 10, for a distance just over 100 miles.
At the drop of the flag, the German team massed at the front of the race, setting the pace to high and stringing the peloton out in a long line behind. Without a sprinter of note they seemed to have a plan to foil any ambitions of other teams, such as the Netherlands, for a bunch finish.
On the Mount Pleasant climb, as their European under-23 champion, Felix Engelhard, danced on the pedals at the front, several riders were dropped early on. They included Rait Arm of Estonia and Australia’s Rudy Porter, while Jacob Hindgaul (Denmark) was the first faller on the same bend that caught out a few riders in the junior race.
Into the second lap and Hannes Wilksch (Germany) initiated a move that granted five riders a gap, taking Fabio van den Bossche (Belgium), Petr Kelemen (Czech Republic), Mathis Le Berre (France) and Fabian Weiss (Switzerland) with him.
As they built out their lead, Croatian Fran Miholjevic launched a successful solo attempt to bridge across to what looked like the official breakaway.
After an hour of racing the gap was approaching three minutes, with no teams in the peloton prepared to take responsibility. The British team spent some time on the front with Leo Hayter, who himself became another faller at slow speed.
The breakaway’s lead held steady at three minutes for a good while. Under the 100km to go marker and Slovenia took up the chase at the head of the peloton. Although Britain and Netherlands had spent time on the front, Italy and Denmark were yet to put riders to work.
Thirty seconds were taken off the gap over the next 15km, before the impetus dropped and the lead ticked back up again slightly.
With four laps remaining the trend was downwards once more, as the peloton brought the escapees back within two minutes for the first time in a while. A new phase of racing began, as Fedorov tried an attack.
On the hills the German team continued to set a high pace, determined to protect their leaders and deplete the energy levels of rivals. That served to help bring the break within a minute by the end of the seventh lap, as well as causing a small break in the middle of the peloton itself.
Now 54km to the finish and with the breakaway’s advantage falling fast, a group of six were able to part company with the bunch. As well as riders from Italy and Spain, they included Vacek, signed to Trek-Segafredo for next season, and Britain’s nominated leader Sam Watson.
They worked poorly together, however, lasting less than 10km out front and the leaders were able to eke out a few more seconds.
On the Dumfries Avenue climb, the front group began to break apart, with Weiss the first to lose contact, before he, Mihohjevic and Keleman opted to sit up.
More splits at the front of the bunch found a few of the favourites, such as Watson and Germany’s Maurice Ballserstedt come to the fore. Van den Bossche, Wilksch and Le Berre hung onto an advantage that was increasingly flickering but refused to be snuffed out entirely.
Four riders - Lorenzo Milesi (Italy), Watson, Fedorov and Matevz Govekar (Slovenia) - looked to overhaul them on the penultimate ascent of Mount Pleasant, but more likely was that the race would completely come back together.
Which was effectively the situation at the bell, with 17km of racing left, even as Le Berre kept fighting. Alec Segaert of Belgium joined him, along with Fedorov and Vacek again. Ahead of the final ascent of Mount Pleasant, Wilksch put in his last ounce of effort on behalf of Michel Hessmann.
Six kilometres to go and the bunch finish looked ever more likely. Though the peloton was reduced, it still contained Dutch sprinter Olav Kooij.
They still needed to catch Fedorov and Vacek, however, who hung onto a handful of seconds and had the motivation. The bunch did not have the firepower, and failed to organise themselves as the advantage swung away from them.
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At the flamme rouge, the WorldTour pair were in sight but out of reach.
Fedorov launched early, but not too early it turned out because Vacek had no sprint left in his legs. The Kazakh rider won by several lengths and lifted his arms to the gunmetal sky.
Waerenskjold won the sprint for the remaining podium place to add to his under-23 time trial title. Kooij was a surprise 5th place.
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