Belgium ace Remco Evenepoel backed up victory at the Vuelta a Espana by storming to the world road race title yesterday with a spectacular solo ride to claim a first rainbow jersey, vowing “a big party” to celebrate.
The 22-year-old finished 2min 21sec ahead of Frenchman Christophe Laporte after an epic 266.9-kilometre (165.4 miles) slog around the coastal city of Wollongong south of Sydney.
Australia’s Michael Matthews was third after a last-gasp sprint ahead of Belgium pre-race favourite Wout van Aert.
Another favourite, Dutch star Mathieu van der Poel, abandoned the race early after he was charged with common assault late Saturday following an alleged altercation with two teenage girls.
French two-time defending champion Julian Alaphilippe, who had a chaotic build-up, missing much of the year with injuries, was 51st while Slovenian two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar came 19th.
“After a long season it’s amazing to finish like this,” said Evenepoel, who pumped his fists and put his head in his hands in disbelief after the 6hrs 16min endurance test. “I’m super happy I had the legs today, it’s something I’ve been dreaming of.”
Evenepoel launched a massive attack with 35 kilometres left and only Alexey Lutsenko stayed with him, then he went off again on a climb nine kilometres later to leave the Kazakh in his wake.
He entered the final 17.2-kilometre lap with a 1min 10secs lead and put his head down for the solo ride to the finish, becoming the first Belgium winner since Philippe Gilbert in 2012.
Already the winner of the Vuelta a Espana World Tour event in September, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege earlier in the year, victory capped a massively successful season for Evenepoel.
“After a big classic grand tour, and a world championship, I think I won everything I could have won this year,” he said. “I think I will never have another season like this.
“It will be a big party, I’m not going to see my bed I guess.”
The pack headed south with a sweeping coastal traverse from the start at Helensburgh towards the heart of the championships in Wollongong.
Once there, they tackled a steep climbing circuit over Mount Keira, peaking at a 473-metre elevation, before heading back to a technical Wollongong city route which they lapped 12 times.
In warm sunshine and with fans packing the roadside, they made a fast start with an early breakaway group building a 95-second lead after 26 kilometres.
The gap stretched to six minutes through Mount Keira before a 16-strong chasing pack led by Australian Ben O’Connor reeled them in with 139 kilometres to go.
The heavy hitters were not among them, with Pogacar, Van Aert and Evenepoel in a peloton conserving energy more than six minutes adrift.
But the gap closed as the breakaway riders tired and they were caught by a group including Evenepoel with 59 kilometres to go.
Pogacar, Van Aert and Alaphilippe were over one minute further back and that gap only grew as Evenepoel drove the leaders forward before launching his stunning attack that won him the race.
As the riders set off it emerged that Van der Poel had been arrested the night before, which Christoph Roodhooft, a director of his Team Alpecin-Deceuninck, said left him “mentally a bit broken” and he quit the race early.
Van der Poel told Belgium broadcaster Sporza it was an alleged dispute about “noisy neighbours”.
Police said a man was charged with assault involving two girls aged 13 and 14, but did not name him, although Roodhooft confirmed Van der Poel was taken to a police station “to make an explanation”.
Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel wins the men’s gold medal at the UCI 2022 Road World Championship in Wollongong yesterday. (AFP)