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Worlds’07: U23 Road Race Roadside
Espoir – it’s French for “hope”. With 168 riders from 46 nations starting the U23 race, there was tons of it last week in Stuttgart. We couldn’t begin to capture the aspirations of all those riders, but before the start, we tried to crystallize a few of those dreams by talking to some of the hopeful.

So, with Dario G’s “Sun chime” blasting over the public address, a warm sun on my skin, an accreditation pass round my neck and a decent coffee inside me, I set off in search of hope.

One of the reasons behind the UCI changing from the old “Amateurs and Professionals” format to the current “Under-23 and Elite” format was to try to encourage riders not to remain amateur well into their twenties, riding as pros in all but name and grabbing the spoils from less mature opposition. The current situation hasn’t really changed-much – there’s still a big disparity between the nations. The Canadian team tumbles out of the back of a van, a team helper hands each rider his bike to fit the front wheel, the riders are dressed like civilians’, sweat shirts and anoraks. Then they head for the ‘pits’ – that’s a tent, to get ready for the race.

The Italian squad only touch their bikes when they go to ride them, they arrive in the team car, all wearing the trendiest shades and looking for all the world like the Elite Squad – some would say, like film stars. Pits? No chance, they amble into the air-conditioned luxury coach that the Italian city of Varese is using to publicise the Worlds, which take place there next year. But under the rules, these squads are the same.

The Norwegian team falls somewhere between these two schools, looking the part, but not having the level of support the Italians, despite having one of the hot favourites in their number – Edvald Boasson Hagen. A beast on the road, but just a lad, larking about with his young team mates, when he’s not astride that Bianchi. It’ll be a Giant, next year, he’s signed with whiter-than-white (mostly) super-team, T-Mobile for 2008. I didn’t have the hard neck to ask if a win, here today would mean a better contract for him.

Simon Clark of Australia is an old client of mine, from the amateur Grenoble six. He rides for the Australian Institute of Sport squad, mainly in Italy. He won’t be riding the sixes this winter – it’s too much, on top of a road season. It’s been a good year for him, with decent placings in the Tour of Britain and Hessen Tour in Germany; “we don’t really have a designated team leader, there’s a climate of mutual respect in the squad and we sort it out on the road. We’ll just see how it goes today.”

Team boss, Brian Stephens (brother of ex-pro, Neil) sees it a little different; “Simon and Wesley Sulzberger are our protected riders for today, we’ve had a good season so far and we’ve eased back on the work-load coming into the Worlds, so we’re hoping for a good result.”

Michael Morkov of Denmark is another client from the sixes, he’s a really nice guy and this has been his best year, with a medal in the team pursuit world championships and a second place in the Under 23 Tour of Flanders.

Jakob Fuglsang flashes a mischievous look after the race.

“The team has been in Livigno in Italy since September 5th, it’s at altitude and many of the Italian pros train there too; for example, Pozzato was there.I had a great start to the year, but after the Olympia Tour I was on a bit of a low and had to take time of the bike to rest.I’m getting back to form now and I’ll be riding six, six days this winter with Alex Rasmussen (Danish elite road race champion, Alex). Our big hope today is the mountain biker, Jakob Fuglsang, he’s going very well – but don’t tell anyone!I’ve had a little trouble with my knee, too much training, maybe, but the doctor thinks that it will be OK, and I’m hoping to sparkle today!”

You’d never guess that Daniel Martin is a climber, would you?

Kurt Bogaerts runs the “Sean Kelly House” in Belgium, for the Irish Federation and despite Ireland’s low representation – just three riders, they have one of the race favourites in Daniel Martin, But Kurt is even-more optimistic; “I think we have two chances, whilst you could not have chosen a better circuit for Daniel, if Mark Cassidy has one of the special days he’s had this year already, then two good performances are possible.

Daniel has had some great rides, he won a stage in the Valle d’Aosta stage race in Italy, got top three against the pros, in a race in Tuscany and won a good UCI 1.2 in Italy. He’s really skinny and climbing very well. Mark is a different kind of rider – he does it on strength, in the Tour of Ireland on Saint Patricks hill in Cork, he was blasting-up it in first place.”

Three nations, three sets of hopes. At 6.00 pm, I tracked-down the same three nation’s riders:

Simon Clark: gave Wesley Sulzberger the lead-out that won him the silver medal; ‘I made my effort with two laps to go, but we were caught, I knew my sprint was gone. With two K to go, I could see that Wes was good, I knew he’s rapid at the finish, so I decided to do everything I could to get him up there, it was our best hope of coming away from here with a result. Once I got him in position, it was up to him!’

Michael Morkov: Buried himself to get Jakob Fuglsang and Jonas Aaen Jorgensen in to a good position for the finale; “that climb was too steep for me on the last lap so I decided to do everything I could to get my guys up, I did that and then I was finished. Jonas got sixth, so I did my job”

Daniel Martin: Kurt’s big hope finished in the bunch; “I rode pretty-much a perfect race, I didn’t make one effort until two laps to go. I felt good on the climbs, which were pretty tough, but it was hard for a move to work because of that wind, it was either block headwind or the speed was too high to get away.

I had good position coming in to the finish, but a ‘wave’ came back through the bunch and I nearly hit the barriers, still, that’s what sprints are like. But for that, I might have got top ten, but to be honest I wasn’t going to take crazy risks, I think I finished around 25th (26th). I’m pro with Slipstream next year and that’s what’s important.’

When I saw Wesley Sulzberger hugging Simon Clark at the finish, I thought, “hopes realised; what a great thing, and isn’t this just the greatest of sports?”


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