Remco Evenepoel wins world road race title after Mathieu van der Poel gets arrested

Remco Evenepoel
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WOLLONGONG, Australia — A fortnight after becoming Belgium’s first Grand Tour winner in 44 years, Remco Evenepoel became his country’s first men’s elite road race world champion in a decade to cap his breakthrough season.

Evenepoel won the Vuelta a Espana Grand Tour two weeks ago and was again dominant in Sunday’s 266.9-kilometer race as he broke away with 25 kilometers left and powered to an emphatic win.

The 22-year-old spread his arms in celebration as he crossed the line on his own to as he became the first Belgian man since Philippe Gilbert in 2012 to win a cycling worlds road race.

He became the first rider to win a Grand Tour and the world championships road race in the same year since American Greg LeMond in 1989, according to Gracenote.

French rider Christophe Laporte took second after winning the bunch sprint behind Evenepoel. Australian Michael Matthews won bronze as the chasing pack finished two minutes 21 seconds behind the Belgian.

The race featured 12 laps of a 17-kilometer finishing circuit at Wollongong, a coastal city south of Sydney.

Early breaks gained as much as eight minutes on the peloton, but they never looked threatening.

Inside the last 40 kilometers the pace quickened and the front group started to pull away. On the second last lap Evenepoel and Kazakh rider Alexey Lutsenko broke clear and built a small advantage.

The Belgian star, who earlier this season won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic, pushed clear of Lutsenko on the second-last ascent of the tough Mt, Pleasant climb and was never challenged on his way to a dominant victory.

Compatriot Wout Van Aert just missed out on the podium, finishing fourth.

Before the race news emerged that Dutch star Mathieu van der Poel, one of the title favorites for the men’s race, had been arrested and charged by police for an alleged assault at the team’s hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Police took van der Poel into custody after an incident at the team hotel involving an argument with two teenage girls as he was trying to sleep.

Van der Poel was cleared to start the race but pulled out shortly after.

On Saturday, 39-year-old Annemiek van Vleuten overcame an elbow fracture sustained three days earlier to win her second world road race title with an attack in the last 600 meters that caught the other eight leaders napping.

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Annemiek van Vleuten, with broken elbow, becomes oldest to win world road race title

Annemiek van Vleuten
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WOLLONGONG, Australia — Annemiek van Vleuten surprised herself and the rest of cycling by recording the finest win of her career on Saturday at the world road championships.

Overcoming an elbow fracture sustained three days earlier, the Dutch great won her second world road race title with an attack in the last 600 meters that caught the other eight leaders napping.

The 39-year-old rider and her Dutch teammates were in disbelief at the finish after she put the exclamation mark on a 164.3-kilometer event. She became the oldest man or woman to win a world championships road race, according to Gracenote.

The 2019 World champion and reigning Olympic and world time trial winner claimed cycling’s triple crown this year when she landed the Italian, French and Spanish tours.

But for Van Vleuten, who will retire at the end of next season, what she did on Saturday was extra special.

“Maybe this is my best victory . . . I am still speechless, I still can’t believe it,” she said. “It took me some time to realize I’d really pulled it off because I’m waiting for the moment that they tell me there was someone in front or it was a joke. I had the feeling it cannot be true.”

She crashed in Wednesday’s mixed team relay at the worlds and sustained the fracture, describing the pain during Saturday’s race as “hell.”

The win also continues the domination of the Dutch women, who have finished on the road race podium at all but three of the last 20 worlds.

Earlier Saturday, Britain’s Zoe Backstedt celebrated her 18th birthday by turning the junior road event into a one-woman race.

In wet and cold conditions, Backstedt cycled away from the peloton with a solo attack at 10 kms and stayed clear for the remaining 57 kms to win by more than two minutes. Eglantine Rayer of France was second ahead of Dutch rider Nienke Vinke.

Backstedt retained her junior road race title and also is a world champion on the track and in cyclocross.

The championships end Sunday with the men’s road race.

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Vatican rider to make history at world road cycling championships

Vatican Cyclist Olympics, Cycling, Vatican City, World Road Cycling Championships, Rien Schuurhuis
Athletica Vaticana
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VATICAN CITY — A plain white helmet like the pope’s skullcap.

The Holy See’s crossed keys seal stamped on his white and yellow jersey over his heart.

Dutch-born cyclist Rien Schuurhuis will carry an enormous sense of duty when he races for the Vatican in Sunday’s road race at the cycling world championships in Wollongong, Australia — marking a first in the city-state’s increasing use of sports as an instrument of dialogue, peace and solidarity.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Schuurhuis told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Australia on Friday. “I think the real emotion is still yet to come when I’m standing there at the start line.

“This is a great first step in the direction of what the pope believes in achieving through sports (with) inclusiveness and fraternity,” Schuurhuis added. “Everyone on the sports field — or on the roads in this case — is equal, no matter their backgrounds, religion or age.”

Vatican athletes have recently participated as non-scoring competitors in the Games of the Small States of Europe — open to nations with fewer than 1 million people — and the Mediterranean Games.

The cycling worlds mark the first time that a Vatican athlete will compete as a regular scoring competitor, after the International Cycling Union recognized the Holy See as its 200th member last year.

“As Pope Francis said when he met with a group of riders in 2019, the beautiful thing about cycling is that when you drop behind because you’ve fallen or because you punctured your tire, your teammates slow down and help you catch up with the main pack,” said Athletica Vaticana president Giampaolo Mattei, who oversees the team. “That’s something that should carry over to life in general.”

The 40-year-old Schuurhuis qualified for the team because he is married to Australia’s ambassador to the Vatican, Chiara Porro.

He holds Dutch and Australian passports but athletically now represents the Vatican.

“I was able to ride a bike before I could walk” Schuurhuis said about growing up in the cycling-crazy Netherlands.

Schuurhuis previously raced on the UCI’s Continental Circuit, one level below the elite World Tour.

“He’s a good cyclist. That’s a high level,” said Valerio Agnoli, Schuurhuis’ volunteer coach and a former teammate of Grand Tour winners Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali.

Schuurhuis, whose day job is now running a company that supplies materials for 3D printers, trains on Rome’s traffic-clogged roads. He sometimes heads out to the Alban Hills, where the pope’s traditional summer residence is at Castel Gandolfo.

Besides a recent photo opp, Schuurhuis doesn’t really ride inside the Vatican.

“I think I did it once with my son,” he said. “But it’s not really allowed to go through St. Peter’s Square. So I think we were told off by the police.”

Schuurhuis doesn’t expect to come close to winning. His main goal is to spread the pope’s message.

Like when he participated in a church event with Indigenous Australians on Friday, or when Belgian standout Wout van Aert sought him out during training a day earlier.

“When people see that very special white and yellow jersey it makes them curious,” Agnoli said.

Agnoli noted how cycling takes place on open roads, passes by people’s homes and isn’t restricted to paying ticketholders inside a stadium or arena.

“That’s the great thing about cycling,” Agnoli said. “I was chosen by the Vatican for this job because my role as a cyclist was that of a team helper. I helped teammates win the Giro d’Italia and the Spanish Vuelta.”

In another example of the values held within cycling, Mattei pointed to how Gino Bartali, the 1938 Tour de France winner who smuggled forged documents inside his bicycle frame to help rescue Jews during Germany’s occupation of Italy in World War II, is currently being considered for beatification by the Vatican, the first step to possible sainthood.

Vatican officials would like to one day field a team in the Olympics.

“To go to the Olympics would require creating an Olympic committee and being recognized by the International Olympic Committee,” Mattei said. “That takes time.”

Competing in a world championships, however, is a big step toward Olympic participation.

So will the pope be watching Schuurhuis on TV?

“The time difference presents a problem,” Mattei said, noting that the race in Australia starts at 2:15 a.m. Vatican time and that Pope Francis is traveling to the southern Italian city of Matera on Sunday. “But maybe he’ll watch a replay.”

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