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Jubilation, devastation, and the hug that bound them

After a fierce battle in the junior men's road race, two rivals embraced.

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WOLLONGONG, Australia (CT) – On a nondescript backstreet in central Wollongong, in the space between two crowd control barriers, two young men embrace. One is beaming with the jubilation of recent victory, the other sobbing with the devastation of second place. Both are exhausted, and both are speckled in road spray after a soggy junior men’s road race.

Seventeen-year-old Emil Herzog (Germany) and 18-year-old António Morgado (Portugal) have just duked it out in a scintillating finale to the opening road race of the 2022 Worlds. Morgado had been one of the race’s main aggressors, frequently on the attack, frequently testing his rivals whenever the road went uphill. Herzog, the pre-race favourite, had been rather more measured, until the race required otherwise.

Herzog has taken the spoils and is the new world champion. But it was a close-run thing.

On slippery suburban roads, a first-lap crash ended the hopes of Worlds time trial winner Josh Tarling (Great Britain) and silver medalist Hamish McKenzie (Australia). Later, from a front group that had splintered, reformed, and splintered again many times over eight laps, Morgado made his big move with 18 km remaining.

Bobbing and weaving on the bike, the animated Portuguese rider opened a handy gap. A short time later, on the last meaningful ascent of the race, some 8 km from the finish, Herzog decided it was time. He attacked from the chase group and set off alone. And so began the one-on-one duel that would define the race.

Morgado ploughed on alone out front, the many twists and turns of the city-centre circuit ensuring that once Herzog caught sight of Morgado, he’d soon disappear from view once more. But Herzog kept on coming.

With 4 km to go, just seven seconds separated the pair. Morgado had been looking around with inadvisable regularity, seemingly spooked by the favourite hot on his tail. With 3 km to go Morgado sat up, deciding his best chance of victory would be in a two-up sprint. Herzog reached the front and Morgado slotted in behind.

A kilometre and a half from the finish, Herzog tried distancing Morgado, but the Portuguese rider was up to the task. When Herzog asked Morgado to pull through a short time later, the Portugese rider declined, tightening his shoes for the decisive final dash.

When that sprint came, Morgado quickly hit the front. But Herzog was able to reel him back in just before the line. 

“I think I’ve never done a sprint that was so hard,” Herzog said later. “I think in just a normal race I would have stopped pedalling, I don’t know, 50 meters before because I just was so fucked. Then it worked out and it’s just … I can’t believe it.”

As Herzog threw his arms in the air, Morgado punched his handlebars. And then around a right-hander after the finish line, the two engaged in something that was part on-bike embrace, part mutual back-slap.

Minutes later, in that nondescript backstreet, they’d be embracing off the bike, Herzog jubilant, Morgado distraught. One a world champion, the other a silver medalist. Both exciting prospects for the future; both showing mutual respect for the other’s strength and panache in a hard-fought contest.

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