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Emil Herzog is leaving Australia a world champion.
The German won the junior men’s race by a bike length at the UCI Road World Championships in a two-up sprint finish with Antonio Morgado (Portugal).
Vlad van Mechelen took bronze for Belgium from a reduced bunch sprint 55 seconds later.
“I worked hard for this,” Herzog said after the race. “I think last year I had a bit of bad luck. Today everything went perfect. I still can’t believe it that everything worked out so well and that I’m now a world champion. That sounds so unreal.”
After eight laps around the 16.9km Wollongong circuit, some 135 kilometers of racing, it all came down to a sprint finish that maxed out the junior gearing on the bikes of Morgado and Herzog.
Morgado was an animating force throughout the race and put in his biggest effort of the race from the lead group as it entered the final lap. He attacked solo and built up a small cushion of around 25 seconds as the chasers played cat and mouse deciding who would put in the effort to hunt down the break.
On the final ascent up Mount Pleasant, the climb punctuating each lap of the circuit race, Herzog pushed the pace, shredding up the chase group and riding away from the rest on the descent. Steadily making his way up to Morgado, he connected with 2.8km to go.
After trading some turns on the front, Morgado took the German’s wheel for the run into the finish. The pair opened up a sprint just outside of 200 meters to go, riding shoulder to shoulder, Herzog only eking out as the winner in the final moments.
“I think that was the hardest sprint of my whole life,” he said.
How it happened
Nerves and a sprinkling of rain made for a dangerous first lap of the eight-lap, 135.5km circuit race in Wollongong.
A group of six riders went down almost immediately at a roundabout. And not much later, three favorites crashed out on the rain-soaked descent down Mount Pleasant, the climb punctuating each lap of the race. Josh Tarling (Great Britain), Hamish McKenzie (Australia), and Max van der Meulen (Netherlands) all hit the tarmac, each suffering major road rash, and broken bikes. Despite chasing back on by the next lap, they would withdraw as the race entered its latter half, succumbing to their injuries.
American Artem Shmidt got off the front at the end of the first lap and was soon joined by Luxembourg rider Mil Morang. The race began to stretch out on the second lap, but came back together as the race turned upward again at Mount Pleasant.
A break of three on the second lap consisting of Romet Pajur (Estonia) Daniel Lima (Estonia), and Pavel Novak (Czech Republic) represented the race’s first serious move. It grew quickly to 42 seconds, helped along by a slowing peloton. But Mount Pleasant ate away 30 seconds of that, while shedding Lima. The lead duo carried a 20-second lead into the third lap.
On the third lap a chasing break combined with the leaders to form a group of five total including Americans Artem Shmidt and Viggo Moore. The group’s lead would rise to 1:03 at its peak, but that would represent the most time any lead group got throughout the entire race. Near the end of lap four, the sense of urgency within the peloton rose and the pace ballooned, breaking it into smaller groups as the break got reeled in.
On lap six, with 42km remaining, a sizable chase group caught the lead group of five, becoming 25 strong. The group wasted no time, with riders taking turns launching a barrage of attacks, the group stringing out single file around the constantly turning course.
Antonio Morgado attacked the climb with 25km to go, shedding the American duo of Shmidt and Moore from the lead group in the process. He was soon joined by more riders entering the final lap.
Morgado put in another solo effort just shy of the final lap as the chasers hesitated. With only one French rider doing any work in the chase, several dropped riders were able to catch back on, making a total of a dozen chasers behind Morgado with under 12km to go.
Morgado carried 23 seconds into the final ascent of Mount Pleasant, holding a steady lead up the climb. But Emile Herzog went to the front and kept the pace high, then rode away from the chase group on the descent. He connected with 2.8km to go, setting up the two-up sprint finish.
The chase group would cross the line 55 seconds later, with Vlad van Mechelen rounding out the podium for Belgium. For his efforts throughout the race, Artem Shmidt walks away with a fifth-place result.
- Emil Herzog (Germany) – 3:11:07
- Antonio Morgado (Portugal) – same time
- Vlad van Mechelen (Belgium) +55″
- Paul Magnier (France) – same time
- Artem Shmidt (USA) – s.t.
- Menno Huising (Netherlands) – s.t.
- Thibaud Gruel (France) – s.t.
- Frank Aron Ragilo (Estonia) – s.t.
- Zachary Walker (Great Britain) – s.t.
- Pavel Novak (Czech Republic) – s.t.