Day eight and the last rainbow jersey up for grabs at Innsbruck all came down to one 3km wall of a climb and 10km skidaddle to the finish line. But holy-moly, what a journey we had to get there. Let’s get down it.
Elite Men RR
I’m not sure many cycling fans expected to see some of the events that played out in this nigh-on seven hours of racing. Who amongst us would have thought the international break-of-the-day would hold out to 18km from home. Was anyone expecting to watch the world’s elite weaving from side to side trying to ascend that last climb to hell? Did we ever imagine a last gasp chase back on from the rider who has been second at two Grand Tours in 2018, or a Canadian on the podium for that matter?
There was perhaps only one moment of absolute certainty. When Romain Bardet, Tom Dumoulin and Michael Woods could not shake Alejandro Valverde off their tails and hurtled towards the finish line for a four up sprint, there was only ever going to be one outcome – after four bronze medals and two silvers, the timeless Spaniard would finally get to wear the coveted rainbow jersey.Embed from Getty Images
The world championship and the Tour de France were the races I dreamt of winning. It didn’t work out at the Tour but finally, I’m the world champion. It’s not the first time I’ve cried after winning a bike race but this is the most emotional because many times I’ve been afraid that I’d never get the rainbow jersey.
In the end, I managed to get into the group and measure my sprint. It’s something just incredible. It was a long sprint and they [the team] put all the responsibility on me. When we got to 300m, I said, ‘This is my distance.’ I went full-gas and finally I could achieve this victory.
This win is for the entire team, for everyone who has been supporting me my entire career. I knew I couldn’t mess it up in the last kilometre. I knew that I could not win and let down the team and everyone else who was supporting me. Alejandro Valverde
Age is just a number
In a lovely twist to the podium celebrations, the new World Champion received his medal from the outgoing one. It appears this was Peter Sagan’s own idea, but I hope the UCI would consider keeping it.
When Silver doesn’t feel enough…
The French were the team of the race. They surprised me, I admit I worried how they would dovetail the ambitions of Julian Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot and Bardet. I need not have. They rode as a cohesive unit, sacrificing themselves to keep Alaphillippe in the hunt. When his hopes fell apart on Höttinger Höll, Bardet assumed the mantle of leadership.
I think the French were remarkable, racing with courage and self-sacrifice, we can be happy with that if not with the result. We made a good effort with a well-drilled tactic, we put a lot of people in trouble. We rode to put Julian in the best position for the final climb because he has an amazing one-minute effort. After he struggled and said he had cramps, I knew it was up to me. You never know what can happen in the final of a race after 250km of racing. The final result is a disappointment but we couldn’t really have done anything else. Romain Bardet
I hope he realises his silver medal is worth so much more. That fans all over the world salute his effort. Bravo Romain and never forget that Il Lombardia is just around the corner!Embed from Getty Images
Michael Woods made his attack on the Höttinger Höll look so easy – well you know, in that wincing way when you know perfectly well that leg muscles and lungs must be screaming STOP!
He looked in supreme control on the descent and all the way into that final sprint – but the lactic laden legs just would not rally for one final kick.
I loved this snippet from his post race interview
The three of us were talking. When you have guys like Bardet and Valverde, they’re champions, and they don’t just sit up and sit back, they ride through. It was cool in that group because we all wanted to win and they certainly collaborated. Michael Woods
And of course his mighty Canadian team
It looked to be all over…
Hands up if you yelled when Tom Dumoulin risked it all on the descent to catch the leading three.
Tell me you held your breathe when it looked like he was going to make a HUGE move under the flamme rouge.
For a rider who’s only stood on the top step of the podium twice this year – he’s had ONE HELL OF A SEASON!
Michael Valgren gave me conniptions!
Holy moly when a Dane attacked on the last ascent of the Igls, the BBC commentary team were making wild guesses as to who it might be.
But I recognised that crouching tiger race pose. That tell tale, gritted teeth, race face. I knew it was Michael Valgren from the minute he lit the blue touch paper.
I’ll admit to squeaking at his breakneck descent before I willed him on across the flat. He still had over 32 seconds leading into that last insane climb.
He’s not a mountain goat but that didn’t stop him giving every last ounce of energy into keeping those pedals turning. It wasn’t to be, he was caught as the incline hit close to 30%, but even then he managed to hang on and finish 7th.
I was so proud. TILLYKKE Michael.
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Think i gave it a good go. In one moment I really believed that the rainbow 🌈 Jersey could’ve been mine but cramps and just no more power left on the “hell” climb I saw riders like Valverde, Dumoulin and Bardet, etc. passed me. That made me proud. The way we Danes raced the race made me proud. Thanks for a good week @danmarkscykleunion and a big thanks to all the staff around. Had a blast!! @bettiniphoto #uciworldchampionship #worldchampionship #cycling #danmark
The break that could…
They gained 19 minutes at one point, and stayed at 17mins for kilometre after kilometre. The last duo standing – Kasper Asgreen and Vergard Stake Langen – were only pulled back on the last lap with EIGHTEEN KILOMETRES to go. An outstanding effort.
The ideal World’s preparation? The #NoGoTour of course.
Header Image: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images