Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Campbell Flakemore wins U23 Worlds TT in a nail-biter

In what is the closest U23 Worlds TT finish in history, Campbell Flakemore was able to cap his U23 career with a rainbow jersey after making up a nearly 20 second deficit between the final checkpoint and the finish line to push Ryan Mullen (Ireland) out of the hot seat and into the silver medal position.
Ahmet Orken (Turkey) was the first rider to roll off the start ramp at 2 p.m. local time under threatening skies. The first few riders got a little advantage of being able to ride without any rain and that included Louis Meintjes (South Africa). While I object to Meintjes being to participate after riding a full pro season and the damn Vuelta, he was the 6th starter and took advantage of the dry course to put in a 44'38", which was an average speed of nearly 48.6 km/h. While the rain had begun to fall on the course, James Oram put in a good ride that saw him start really quick and then do a slow burn to the finish that would see him come in 21 seconds down on Meintjes to take the provisional 2nd place.

The biggest surprise of the day was Portugal's Rafael Reis. Reis was wearing the 41st bib and was far away from the favorite starters. To be honest, I didn't think Reis would do much. Reis was 6th in the Junior Worlds TT in 2010 in Copenhagen but since then, he hasn't done much except win some Portuguese U23 TT Championships. A 15th place in the Volta a Portugal TT was no predictor for what he did in Ponferrada Monday. Reis went out hard in the off and on rain, sprinting out of corners and set the fastest time checks before coming in 29 seconds faster than Meintjes. It was some great pacing by Reis because some riders like Andreas Vangstad (Norway) went faster than him but then faded later on. Reis set the bar high for the favorites that would come later.

Obviously Meintjes and Oram got a little advantage with the rain while other riders like Jon Dibben, Vangstad and others rode through a torrential downpour. Dibben rode out of his skin and if he had dry roads, it might have been an absolute ripper. He finished 19 seconds down on Reis to sit himself in 2nd with Vangstad just 6 seconds behind him in 3rd. The rain took Tour de l'Avenir winner Miguel Angel Lopez as a tariff; the Colombian tore his skinsuit but was still able to finish in the mid-table.

Riders were coming and going but no one was coming close to Reis. Frederik Frison was only 4 seconds down to Reis at check 1 but Reis rode an incredibly quick 2nd check that distanced the Belgian, who would eventually finish in 9th. It was a similar story for Søren Kragh, who started just 6 seconds back of Reis, but was distanced on the back half of the course to finish 16th.

Once Ryan Mullen hit the first check point, then the true race was on. Mullen just demolished Vangstad's best time by 21 seconds and looked incredibly smooth on his Vitus. And actually, no one was anywhere near his time. Mullen started so fast that he had a 20 second lead back to 2nd place Campbell Flakemore at check 1. Perhaps going out a little slower would have been a little better strategy for Mullen...

One of the biggest "what-ifs" had to go to Maximillian Schachmann. The German was on an absolute ripper of a ride and eventually ended up 5th on the day. Most everyone would be ecstatic with that ride but Schachmann was very sad. But why? Well the young German finished 37 seconds back but that included a crash...that is right, Schachmann crashed on course and rode the last half of the course in pain but he kept getting faster as the course went on. Could he have challenged for the medals? Maybe. Just keep an eye on him next year in Richmond.

While Mullen went out like a bat out of hell, Küng and Flakemore kept conserving as they still knew they had the final climb at the end of the course. While Mullen went flat out on the dead flat first half, he was suffering a little on the back half including on the climb. Mullen came in with 8 riders still out on course; his mount agape trying to hoover as much air as possible into his lungs. He was swerving down the finishing straight and came across in the lead, nearly 19 seconds up on Rafi Reis.

Mullen had even extended his lead to both Küng and Flakemore, whom he lead by 23 and 21 seconds at the 2nd check. Party time has going to be happening soon for thousands of his supporters but I do hear that the race isn't over until Phil Liggett sings. In the final check, Flakemore was able to bring back over 21 seconds and with a stunned Mullen watching on from the hot seat, Flakemore stood up and sprinted for the line. Flakemore beat the Irishman by .48 seconds. At nearly 50 kilometers per hour, that amounts to just 6 bike lengths. Over 36 kilometers and you tell me it comes down to 6 bike lengths? Damn. Being gutted is an understatement but Mullen will be back; this is not his only shot.

Stefan Küng brought back some time but the Swiss Mister was only able to finish 9 seconds down on Flakemore. Küng brings in a bronze medal in an amazing season with the RR still to come. Küng might be an after thought after Flakemore's incredible dramatics but his ride is nothing to scoff at. The big 3 came to play today and play they did.

 The Tasman Flakemore couldn't be a more deserving winner. Ask any of his teammates about how selfless he is as a rider and how willing he is to work for any one. Time trials are his times to shine and he does that with great aplomb. He isn't an incredible rider because he endurance is lacking for a future professional rider and he is a TT specialist so he has a bit to go before knocking on the World Tour door but cheers to Campbell Flakemore for the great win.

Ryan Mullen might have gotten his big win stolen from him but he is young. He will be in Richmond next year to get his rainbow bands. Perhaps Max Schachmann can keep it upright and those two can have a nice duel along with Jon Dibben? Can I call the podium a year in advance?

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