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By Kip Mikler , VeloNews Editor
The under-23 men’s cross-country category is one that breeds rivalries. It’s this middle ground between junior and elite categories where young riders looking to make a career of it have a lot to prove. Junior achievements spell potential, under-23 achievements spell contracts. Past all-star rivalries have included Cadel Evans versus Miguel Martinez, and today’s top battle seems to be the one between 21-year-old Julien Absalon of France and 20-year-old Ryder Hesjedal of Canada.
Both are top World Cup threats — Absalon scored his first win at Durango this year — and both came to the world championships at Vail seeking their first under-23 world championship.
So it was no surprise when Absalon and Hesjedal separated themselves from the field of 69 early in Sunday’s 25.7-mile race on the steep pitches of Vail Mountain. There will be more battles between these two in the future, but this one went to Absalon, who left Hesjedal behind the first time up one of the steepest climbs on the cloverleaf course.
“Ryder was the best and I knew I had to take his wheel,” said Absalon, who rode a hardtail Bianchi with Michelin knobbies on the dry course that climbed more than 1300 feet each time around the 7.5-mile course.
It was a sound strategy; after sitting at the front of the field during the start loop, Hesjedal made the expected attack, and Absalon went with him. The Frenchman, winner of the junior world title in 1998, matched Hesjedal’s pace comfortably, and then sprung the winning move.
“I saw Ryder was not in good shape,” Absalon said. And so he went. He quickly built a gap of just over a minute, then held it to the finish. Absalon’s winning time of 1:59:09 was 1:38 faster than Hesjedal, who took silver to match the one he earned as a junior in 1998 when he finished second to … Absalon.
So the rivalry continues.
Hesjedal said he started conservatively but simply couldn’t respond to Abasalon’s attack.
Putting in a brilliant bronze medal performance was American Walker Ferguson, the world junior champion of last year. The 19-year-old Colorado native got off to a rough start when, sitting in fourth position on the start loop, he crashed and went off course.
“I went head first about 15 feet off the trail,” Ferguson said. “After that I was real nervous.”
Not so nervous that he couldn’t gas it to get back where he belonged. The American steadily picked his way through the top-10, and on the second lap he was in the mix to prove that this is a kid who knows how to peak.
“This was my focus for the whole season,” said Ferguson, who spent more time on the road this year than in the dirt. The Subaru-Gary Fisher rider, who also owns a world championship silver medal in cyclo-cross, is scheduled to depart to Europe on Tuesday to finish the road season. “Hopefully I’ll be on the world’s team,” he said.
UNDER 23 MEN;;
1. Julien Absalon, France, 27.06 miles in 1:59:09; 2. Ryder Hesjedal, Canada, at 1:38; 3. Walker Furguson, United States, at 2:47; 4. Carlos Coloma Nicolas, Spain, 3:50; 5. Davy Coenen, Belgium, at 5:09; 6. Manuel Fumic, Germany, at 5:56; 7. Damien Bynens, Belgium, at 7:36; 8. Deiber Esquivel, Costa Rica, at 7:42; 9. Peter Riis Anderson, Denmark, at 8:00; 10. Frederick Kessiakoff, Sweden, at 8:06; 11. Jochen Kaess, Germany, at 9:03; 12. Michael Weiss, Austria, at 9:26; 13. Adam Craig, United States, at 9:45; 14. Christian Poulsen, Denmark, 10:15; 15. Matthias Mende, Germany, at 10:42; 16. Sid Taberlay, Australia, at 10:54; 17. Valentin Girard, Switzerland, at 11:03; 18. Rolando Gonzalez, Costa Rica, at 11:15; 19. Matthias Kirchler, Italy, at 11:25; 20. Ivan Alvarez Gutierez, Spain, at 11:54; 21. Manfred Steiner, Italy, at 12:38; 22. Erwin Bakker, Netherlands, at 12:58; 23. Tim Bartholomew, Australia, at 13:00; 24. Patrick Trevisan, Belgium, at 13:16; 25. Thijs Al, Netherlands, at 13:45; 26. Julien Girard, Switzerland, at 13:49; 27. Jody Crawforth, Great Britain, at 14:01; 28. Cody Peterson, United States, at 14:32; 29. Johannes Sickmueler, Germany, at 14:54; 30. GabrielBlanco, Argentina, at 15:15; 31. Yohann Vachette, France, at 15:34; 32. Murray Spink, Australia, at 15:59; 33. Reto Manetsch, Switzerland, at 16:56; 34.Jostein Hole, Norway, at 17:18; Kris, 35. Sneddon, Canada, at 17:49; 36. Ricky Federau, Canada, at 18:17; 37. Carlos Trujillo, Colombia, at 18:54: 38. Ross Schnell, United States, at 18:54; 39. Ian Wilkinson, Great Britain, at 19:24; 40. Petter Jorgenson, Norway, at 19:45; 41. Zak Toogood, Great Britain, at 19.58; 42. Tim Morley, Great Britain, at 20:43; 43. Cristobal Silva, Chile, at 20:48; 44. Philip Dixon, Great Britain, at 22:02; 45. Florian Vogel, Switzerland, at 22:35; 46. Rob Reuvers, Netherlands, at 23:16; 47. Stuart Houltham, New Zealand, at 23:24; 48. Mike Wilk, United States, at 23:28; 49. Brent Miller Australia, at 24:10; 50. Rok Solar, Slovenia, at 24:20; 51. PiotrFormicki, Poland, at 24:30; 52. Jeremy Houltham, New Zealand, at 24:54; 53. Ivan Amador Bikkazakova, Costa Rica, at 25:35; 54. Christian Cuesta, Mexico, at 25:41; 55. Santiago Duque, Colombia, at 26:22; 56. Matt Hawkins, United States, at 26:38; 57. Gasper Rak, Slovenia, at 27:26; 58. Dylan Sebel, Canada, at 27:41; 59. Primoz Kaiser, Slovenia, at 28:38; 60. Ian Longville, Australia, at 28:58; 61. Eduardo Saenz, Chile, at 31:35; 62. Anthony Pearton, South Africa, at 32:18; 63. Cheuk Chun Cheng, Hong Kong, China, at –1 lap; Liam Killeen, Great Britain, DNF; Ralf Naf, Switzerland, DNF; Lars Petter Stormo, Norway, DNF; Eduardo Bosc, Argentina, DNF; Takihiro Ogasawara, Japan, DNF; Markus Weber, Austria, DNF;