By Sue George, Cyclingnews.com
Michiel Van Der Heijden (Netherlands) rode to a solo victory at the junior men's cross-country world championships on Friday in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada. He finished ahead of Julien Trarieux (France) in second and Julian Schelb (Germany) in third.
"It's my first rainbow jersey and it's fantastic," said Van Der Heijden after the 5.5-lap race. "I felt good today, and it's nice to win."
After a night with some light rain, the course was riding better than previous days. The slight dampness helped pack down some of the dust. Racers also enjoyed cooler, less humid conditions that were far more comfortable than those faced by the junior and under 23 women in previous days.
In the first lap, a lead group emerged, including Van Der Heijden, Schelb, Roger Walder (Switzerland) and Maximilian Vieider (Italy). Behind them, Anton Stepanov (Russia) and Trarieux tried to bridge up.
On the second lap, Van Der Heijden took advantage of a mistake by Vieider, who was then leading. The Dutchman found himself at the front, with a small gap, and he proceeded to drop the hammer, leaving his competitors in the dust.
"It was one of those days when everything was good from the warm-up until the last lap," said Van Der Heijden. "I had quite a good start on the first uphill and it seemed like the others were not as fast, and I thought, 'Maybe it will be my day'. By the second lap, I knew for sure it was my day."
Although he hadn't planned to attack so early in the race, he rode alone at the front for the duration of the race. "Being off the front gave me more energy. I went faster and faster, but I was sure to save something for the final lap," said Van der Heijden, who is in his final year as a junior.
The real race was for second place. Trarieux worked his way up Schelb, Vieider and Walder, though eventually Walder fell of the pace of the others. "I had a bad start after a short warm-up, but I knew it would be a longer race," said Trarieux. "I wasn't in the first group and by the time I got up, he was already off the front."
Trarieux got stronger as the race progressed and he moved into second spot, chasing a little over a minute behind Van der Heijden. "When I caught the others chasing Van der Heijden, it took me a lap with that group, and then I knew I needed to attack, so I did so on a downhill portion," he said.
"I knew it would be a big challenge to try to catch the leader. I was surprised he went so early, but he's had a strong season so far and is a good international racer."
Going into the final lap, Schelb led Vieider, though the pair still raced together. Schelb appeared fresher, and indeed, he got away from Vieider to take the bronze medal. Vieider was fourth, and Jeff Luyten (Belgium) finished fifth.
"The Italian rider was good, but I was going faster on the uphill, and it was the best race of my life," said Schelb. "I was aiming for the top five, so to get a podium is a dream. I'm so happy."
Vieider said he was suffering back pain on the final lap, and he couldn't stay with Schelb any more. Fifth place finisher Luyten called the race "very tough and long", and added: "On the last lap, I was very tired."
Not far behind the leaders, two Canadians rode in the top 10. Cheered on by the many fans along the course, Antoine Caron rode a little in front of Evan McNeely. Canton, a last year junior, was getting stronger as the race progressed, but suffered some bad luck on the final lap.
"I had an alright start, but I missed my pedal and was in the final 20, so I slowly made my way up the field," he said. "I knew from the beginining that I had very good legs.
"In the beginning of the last lap, I was in seventh and close to the top five. Then I had a slow leak in my rear tyre, and I had to slow down for about half a lap to get to the tech zone, where I changed my wheel. I lost three positions. It's heartbreaking to know I was so close to the top five, which was my goal."
McNeely, another last-year junior, finished in ninth place. "I felt really good at the start and I was surprised how well I went during the first two laps," he said. "I might have gone a little too hard. Mid-race, I really felt it and knew how much more I had to push up those climbs."
McNeely derived motivation from riding near his countryman Canton. "When he was behind me, it was motivation to stay away from him. When he was with me it, it was even more motivation to try to make our way up the field even more," said Canton. "It was better riding with him, but he was too strong on the last two laps and I dropped back." In the end McNeely overtook Canton due to the latter's flat.