Hirschi descends to victory – U23 World RR

Marc Hirschi (Switzerland) capped a magnificent team effort from the Swiss by winning the World U23 Road Race title in Innsbruck on Friday (28 September). 

After an early attack from Poland, Slovenia and Canada had been brought back, the Swiss made an unplanned but effective move with 3 laps (75km) to go, when a break of 7 riders clipped away on a descent. Lukas Ruegg, Patrick Muller, European U23 Champion Marc Hirschi, Gino Mader (all Switzerland), Mark Padun (Ukraine), Neilson Powless (USA) and Mikkel Honore (Denmark reached a maximum lead of around 45 seconds over the ever-shrinking main group.

Mark Padun (UKR) leads Patrick Muller (SUI) away from the remnants of the mid-race break (Image: Innsbruck-Tirol / Bettini)

Although the septet worked well together around the course, they were undone by the steep climb which was the main feature of the race’s 191km parcours. After a long turn by Powless up the lower slopes, it was Padun put a dig in followed by Muller. These two survived over the summit, with the other 5 riders being absorbed by the French and Russian-led bunch 30-odd seconds in arrears.

Padun and Muller – both WorldTour professionals despite competing in the Under-23 category here in Austria – held their advantage for a further lap, fending off a counter-move from new Team Sky recruit Eddie Dunbar (Ireland) and double Tour de l’Avenir stage winner Mader. Although the chasing pair closed to within 6 seconds of the lead, they couldn’t find the extra few percent in their legs to join Padun and Muller. 

As the race finale approached, Padun’s energy levels had dropped through the floor and Muller was unable to do the work on his own. An animated Bjorg Lambrecht (Belgium) made several efforts on the front of the bunch, apparently trying to ride the race off his wheel but eventually breaking away in the company of Team Sunweb-bound Hirschi and lone Finnish rider Jaakko Hanninen. 

Like Mikkel Bjerg in the time trial, Hirschi has based his entire season around this race and having put himself in the right place made no mistakes on the day. Another attack on the descent, this time very much planned, put him on his own in the lead with 10km to ride.

Lambrecht once again waved his arms behind, this time at Hanninen, but with Hirschi up the road no amount of gesticulation could close the gap and the Swiss rider eventually crossed the line 15 seconds to the good, with Lambrecht taking silver and Hanninen the bronze.

Marc Hirschi (SUI) winning the World Under-23 Road Race title at Innsbruck, 28 September 2018 (Image: Innsbruck-Tirol / Bettini)

A further 20 seconds back Gino Mader continued his strong late-season in fourth place, with Padun shortly behind in 5th.

Hirschi said, in the press conference: “You have to be strong and smart to win the world title. Bjorg Lambrecht was the strongest but he was nervous. I was at the limit, I could have waited for the sprint but I saw the possibility to attack in the descent. We learned from previous experiences at the World Championships, so we wanted to make a very active race today. We rode together perfectly as a team although the way the race unfolded wasn’t what we planned. We had three leaders [with Gino Mäder and Patrick Müller]. I’m very happy with the outcome of course.”

Bjorg Lambrecht – disappointed with silver (Image: Innsbruck-Tirol 2018 / Bettini)

Visibly unhappy on the podium, Lambrecht conceded that his national team and Lotto-Soudal were both happy with the result. said: “I felt that I was the strongest on the climb, but I knew since last year’s Tour de l’Avenir that Marc Hirschi was very good in riding downhill and I’m not the best descender myself.”

A surprise to many, third placed Jaakko Hänninen, has been racing at Elite level in France this season. “It’s nice to race against the best U23 riders in the world, although some of them are already professional cyclists when I’m an amateur. They were also riding in teams while I was the only one from Finland. But the course today was hard so it was more the legs to do the talking. I tried to save as much energy as possible in the first part of the race. The last part was more about having the legs.”

Full results from Tissot Timing here

Tedious Post Script

The perennial debate about whether WorldTour riders should be eligible for this event wasn’t advanced significantly in either direction as half the top ten are current WT riders and the other half ride for a mix of Continental, “elite club” and in Ethan Hayer’s case the British track squad (although he is a stagiare for Team Sky, so at least familiar with the occasional right turn).

Having been pointed to the correct rules this week, my understanding is that no event on the calendar prohibits any class of rider representing a national team in that race, so it would be out of synch to create such a prohibition for one afternoon a year. Of course it is exceptionally rare for WorldTour riders to turn up to the Nations Cup, and not much more common for a strong National team to ride a 1.2U or 2.2U, but the possibility is there.

The last two World Championship road races and time trials have been won by non-WorldTour riders – although Marc Hirschi and 2017 winner Benoit Cosnefroy both had WT contracts lined up for the following season – so the races are hardly dominated by the WorldTour riders. 

Let it continue.

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