A crash, a broken shoe, a ripped skinsuit, and a bloody elbow couldn’t stop Mathieu van der Poel from riding to a solo victory at the 2023 Road World Championships in Glasgow. His attack at 23 km to go was unstoppable, and the star-studded chase behind knew it was done well before the finish.
A quiet Tour de France will be quickly forgotten as the Dutchman dons his second set of rainbow stripes of the year, and the first road bands of any Dutch elite man since Joop Zoetemelk in 1985.
- It was a brutal day. The peloton was down to less than 40 with 100 km still to go, splitting and coming back together over the subsequent laps.
- Van der Poel attacked at 23 km to go, quickly pulled out a gap of 30 seconds, and then promptly crashed in a wet corner. He broke his shoe and was forced to pull the broken Boa dial right off.
- The chasing trio of Wout van Aert, Mads Pedersen, and Tadej Pogačar only held on to hope for about five kilometers before all three started thinking of the podium. Even Van der Poel’s crash didn’t dent the gap enough to give them hope.
- Italy’s Alberto Bettiol deserves the day’s Most Combative award for his multiple solo efforts, culminating in a move that saw him off the front for nearly 30 kilometers.
- Say what you will about the day’s course, but the strongest man won.
Quotes of the day
Mathieu van der Poel
“It was one of the biggest goals I had left, and to win it today is amazing. Almost completes my career in my opinion, for me it’s maybe the biggest victory on the road. I can’t imagine yet riding in the rainbows for a year.
On the crash: “If this had cost me the world title, I would not have slept for a couple days.”
Not that it was stupid, because I wasn’t taking risks. I don’t know, in this corner all of a sudden I was on the ground. I was pretty pissed at myself, but it’s not that I was taking risks in my opinion, I just had to stay on the bike and I didn’t manage of course. It was super slippery at times. It was really difficult.”
“In the end, I knew I had to get rid of guys like Mathieu and Tadej, because they are super explosive on a course like this, which didn’t really suit me in the end. I had to try to go alone.”
“Probably one of the hardest days on the bike I’ve ever had.”
- The somewhat controversial finishing circuits, with nearly 50 corners per 10 km lap, plus narrowing sections and steep climbs, made it all but impossible for dropped groups to chase back to the front. That dynamic defined the day, making it an attritional, brutal worlds like few we’ve seen. Riders were also well aware that a strong break on the circuits would be difficult to pull back. So they kept trying.
- Alberto Bettiol clearly had great legs on the day, trying to go solo multiple times before he finally split decisively. It says quite a lot about the technicality of the course that even a group of four behind was hardly more efficient than a lone rider up front. The rain, which arrived at 55 km to go, certainly helped Bettiol’s case as well.
- An early break made its way off the front and entered the circuits with just under two minutes. It contained eight riders by the circuits, including Owain Doull, Matthew Dinham, Harold Tejada, Kevin Vermaerke, Patrick Gamper, Rory Townsend, Ryan Christensen, Krists Neilands, and Petr Kelemen. Given the tricky finale, this break wasn’t the usual early doomed move. These riders all hoped that the race would come up to them close to the finish, and so it did. Dinham was able to hang on for 7th.
- After much shouting about the dangers of the route, the DNF rate was roughly in line with many difficult courses, and lower than 2019 in Harrogate.
- The group of four that eventually separated itself from the rest felt somewhat inevitable. It was Van der Poel, Van Aert, Pogačar, and Mads Pedersen, who had been carefully patrolling the front all day. They were alone from 45 km out, hitting each other on the lap’s steep ramps.
- But when Van der Poel finally hit out, there was no stopping him. Van Aert tried, but his head drooped and by the top of the short climb the gap was uncloseable. Pogačar, though strong, was nowhere near punchy enough relative to his companions in the move. He closed many gaps but couldn’t make one of his own.
- Need proof of how hard the day was? Pogačar still beat Pedersen, a winner of bunch sprints and a world champion in 2019, in the two-up duel for the last place on the podium.
- What happened to defending champion Remco Evenepoel? It appears he just didn’t have it on the day. He popped off the back of the chasing group behind the lead four with more than 30 kilometers to go. He appeared to be somewhat uncomfortable on the tricky circuit. It is worth noting that he continued to the finish.
- Finally, WHAT A RACE. The best bike racers in the world, whacking each other over the head lap after lap. A super crit of historic scale. I thoroughly enjoyed that and can’t wait for next weekend.
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