Representing 44 nations, 192 riders lined up at the University of Richmond in Sunday’s elite men’s road race for a short neutral roll out before beginning the 261.4km course that included 16 laps of 16km through Richmond, Virginia. The course, with just 3 climbs; 2 of them cobbled, the longest within the final kilometer, and a false flat dragging into the finish, left the experts with a lengthy grocery list of possible winners. Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb, Michael Matthews, Niki Terpstra, Greg Van Avermaet, Alejandro Valverde were among the favorites and, if the rain clouds were to downpour as forecasted, another handful of names had to be added to the contenders.
In a part of the country where pro cycling does not have a strong foothold, the winding climb up Libby Hill and punchy 23rd Street were packed with fans well before the race got underway.
The Dutch led by Jos van Emden.
Belgians Nikolas Maes, Philippe Gilbert, and Tom Boonen.
The field completed an early lap.
Greg Henderson and defending world champion Michal Kwiatkowski.
Though only a 6 man team, the Americans rode a strong race, eventually placing both Ben King and Taylor Phinney in the break and launching a late attack from Tyler Farrar. Below: Lawson Craddock, Farrar, and Brent Bookwalter.
Great Britain’s Alex Dowsett in the bunch.
Luka Mezgec, Bookwalter, and Danielle Bennati.
With just 2 teammates, Peter Sagan hid himself for most of the race.
A mechanical saw Phinney spend time at the neutral Shimano service vehicle and the American car before he eventually swapped bikes.
Racing his 11th world championships on Sunday, Alejandro Valverde has earned 2 silver and 4 bronze medals, finishing outside the top ten only twice, but never the gold.
A quick wheel change for a Ukrainian.
Gilbert, participating in his 16th consecutive world championships, with Simon Geschke and Tony Martin of Germany.
Luke Durbridge, Rui Costa, and Sam Bewley.
Costa Rican Andrey Amador.
Kiwi Jesse Sergent, taking a pull, was in the early break which included Colombian Carlos Alzate, Serbian Ivan Stevic, Irish Conor Dunne, Ukrainian Andriy Khripta, Romania’s Serghei Tsvetkov, South Korea’s Sung Park, and American Ben King.
The peloton let the break hover around 3 to 4 minutes, occasionally pulling back to under 2 minutes before sitting up and letting it stretch out once more.
Richmond-born King was greeting with massive cheers every lap of the course.
Maciej Bodnar, who played an important role in Kwiatkowski’s 2014 world championship, again served his national teammate and friend.
A relaxed peloton finished the last of 3 climbs in quick succession, knowing they had 12 flat kilometers to recover before repeating the climbs.
Kwiatkowski, Christian Knees, Matt Hayman, and John Degenkolb.
The original break shed a few riders over the laps.
Dropped from the break and riding in no man’s land, Serbia’s Ivan Stevic gave the crowd an enthusiastic thumbs up for their support.
The Netherlands and Poland were among the countries that most often sat on the front of the peloton.
Dylan van Baarle.
Ben Swift and Kristijan Koren.
Kristoff and Sagan, 2 Classics sprinters expected to perform well on the Richmond course.
A powerful domestique with an aptitude for the Classics and bunch sprints, Lithuania’s Ramunas Navardauskas was considered a dark horse among dark horses.
Van Emden spent an enormous amount of time on the front.
Boonen won the world championships a decade ago.
Done in the break, Sergent and Carlos Alzate soaked in the crowd.
The next break to go was the trio of Kanstantsin Siutsou, Guillaume Boivin, and Phinney.
Robert Gesink took a flyer off the peloton.
Fresh off his first grand tour, Canadian Antoine Duchesne participated in his first elite road race at the world championships.
Mezgec and Kwiatkowski.
National and trade teammates, Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews both aimed for a strong person result in Richmond.
Michael Woods, riding his second world championships, will move up from Optum to Cannondale Garmin in 2016.
Boivin and Phinney.
Paul Martens, Sagan, and Duchesne.
Michael Woods and Ryan Anderson.
With just a couple of laps to go and their work done for the day, a large group sat up. Chris Juul-Jensen waved to Danish fans on the corner while Daryl Impey and Jay McCarthy enjoyed a chin wag.
The group rolled on.
Juraj Sagan and Michael Kolar of Slovakia both did not finish the race but knew their remaining teammate, Peter Sagan, was more than capable of finishing without them.
Kwiatkowski and Matteo Trentin.
Zdenek Stybar would have benefitted had the predicted rain fallen but the course stayed dry all day.
Gesink and Daniel Moreno.
In an all hand on deck approach, sprinter Andre Greipel took a huge pull on the front of the peloton to help reel in the break before sitting up.
Hitting the 23rd Street hill for the final time, Sagan emerged from hiding to surge ahead, gaining a small advantage on the following decent. The handful of seconds he had on his chasers gave him a little wiggle room on the Governor Street climb.
Cameras at the ready as the crowd anticipated seeing a solo Sagan fly around the corner in the final kilometer of the race.
Sagan had a few seconds on the peloton.
Turning the final corner, Sagan could see the finish line 700 meters up the road.
A group of nearly 2 dozen riders stormed up the Governor Street climb in desperate pursuit of the dangerous Slovakian.
Rigoberto Uran led the charge with Kristoff, Greg Van Avermaet, and Tom Dumoulin riding for their lives.
Michael Matthews and Rein Taaramae.
Kwiatkowski following Matthews’ wheel.
Silvian Dillier and Bookwalter.
Luis Leon Sanchez.
With the chasers barreling down upon him, Sagan crossed the finish line alone, 3 seconds ahead of the followers, with his arms open in an gesture of celebration.
Navardauskas was the first Lithuanian to ever stand on the podium at the elite men’s road race.
A sorely disappointed Matthews won the bunch sprint to earn his first elite medal at the world championships.
In what was probably the most entertaining podium ceremony the world championships has ever witnessed, the Slovakian leapt off the podium, kicking his heels together, and hugged his support crew off stage. Eschewing the stairs, the charismatic Sagan jumped back on the podium with a Slovakian flag. He also pounded his chest with a tight fist, as he did when finishing second to Ruben Plaza on stage 16 at this year’s Tour de France, a salute to Matthew McConaughey’s character in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” when he told the press he had, “big balls.” He was now ready to receive his gold medal and the rainbow jersey from UCI president Brian Cookson.
1st Peter Sagan
2nd Michael Matthews
3rd Ramunas Navardauskas