The penultimate evening of the 2013 UCI Juniors World Championships saw races decided by thousandths of a second, gold medals won by tactical brilliance, crashes, tears, and heroic perseverence.
Neither of the evening's Women’s Sprint semi-finals, which took a best-of-three format, needed a third, deciding race. Both followed the same pattern: the winners, Dannielle Khan (GBR) and Nicky Degrendele (BEL), beat their respective opponents, Mélissandre Pain (FRA) and Yoenhee Jang (KOR), by half a wheel in the first race, then by a bike length in the second.
The Scratch race for the Men’s Omnium riders was a race of relentless attacking. Yet, after 39 laps of continuous movement, the peloton was intact as it approached the finish line. Ollie Wood (GBR) took the sprint in a photograph over Jordan Levasseur (FRA). The Frenchman was then relegated for riding on the blue band, which left Jurczyk (GER) in second place, Regan Gough (NZl) third and Jack Edwards (AUS) fourth. With one event left, Edwards led the provisional Omnium standings with 16 points, ahead of Casper Pedersen (DEN, 19 points), Marc Jurczyk (GER, 26 points) and Ollie Wood (GBR, 31 points).
Photographs were also needed to settle successive races in the Men’s Sprint semi-finals. Patrick Constable (AUS) beat Jan May (GER) by two sprints to one: the first time, Constable won by a wheel; the second time, May won by millimetres. The third time, Constable won by a comfortable margin to qualify for the final. Jeremy Presbury (NZl) beat Aleksey Lysenko (Rus) easily, first time round, but in their second confrontation, a photograph was needed to separate them. The decision went to the Kiwi, who went through without a deciding third race being necessary.
In the third semi-final, Jai Angsuthasawit (AUS) won the first match, Vladislav Fedin (RUS) took the second and third to pass through to the finals.
The first match of the fourth semi-final, between Svajunas Jonauskas and Zac Williams, went the Lithuanian’s way. The second went to the New Zealander inyet another photograph. In the decider, Jonauskas took a clear win to gain his finals place.
Arianna Fidanza (ITA), the daughter of Giovanni Fidanza, a stage winner in the 1989 Tour de France, won the Women’s Points Race gold medal in brilliant style. With 56 of the 80 laps to go, Fidanza joined Vasilieva (RUS) and Wiechmann (GER) to chase down the Women's Scratch race winner Parra (COL). Wundersitz (AUS) and Jones (GBR) joined them, and those six formed the decisive breakaway. It took them 27 laps to lap the field, but crucially, while the other five escapees joined the back of the peloton before the sprint at 30 laps to go, Fidanza held back and crossed the sprint line alone beind the peloton. It was a clever move: taking advantage of a technicality, the Italian athlete ensured that she gained five points at the sprint point, while the other points went to the riders at the head of the peloton. That astute piece of tactical thinking put her in touch with the leader, Australia’s Elissa Wundersitz. Findanza secured victory by winning the final sprint.
Wundersitz won no less than three intermediate sprints, and took second on the line. She would certainly have taken the win, had Fidanza not out-thought her 31 laps from the finish to take Italy's first gold medal of the games. Great Britain’s Hayley Jones took the bronze medal, and Jessica Parra, the Colombian, was took her second fourth place of these Championships to add to her gold medal: she had the misfortune to find herself on the wheel of the Russian Vasilieva, whose constant changes of pace forced her to expend energy, and left her drained on the final lap. Still, Parra has emerged as an excellent all-round rider. We will see how she and thee other talented young riders progress in the years between now and the 2016 Olympic Games.
Next, controversy! In the first race of the Women's Sprint bronze medal play off, there was contact between Mélissandre Pain (FRA) and Yeonhee Jang (KOR) before Pain won the sprint. Jang (KOR) was given a warning, so Pain's victory stood. In the second race, Jang allowed Pain to gain far too much of an advantage before starting her sprint, and victory – meaning the bronze medal - was a formality for the French girl.
The gold medal final began with victory by a wheel for Nicky Degrendele (BEL) over Dannielle Khan (GBR). In the second race, Khan came back attacking with a lap to go and holding off her rival, to make it one race each. THe two athletes returned to the rollers during the play off to decide fifth-to-eighth places in the Men’s Sprint, won by Lysenko (RUS), followed by May (GER), Williams (NZl) and Angsuthasawit (AUS).
The last event of the Men’s Omnium was the 1 km Time trial. Nikita Klevanov (KAZ) set the early best time of 1:07.542 in Heat Two. Patrick Müller (SUI) raised the bar in Heat Five with his time of 1:06.189. Jordan Levasseur (FRA), relegated to last place in the Scratch race, took the lead in the Kilo when he rode 1:05.627 in Heat Eight. Johnstone (CAN, 1:05.771) and Minali (ITA, 1:05.992) moved into second and third places in Heat Nine.
Germany’s Marc Jurczyk, lying third overall going into the Kilo, posted a new best time of 1:04.168 in Heat Eleven, riding against Ollie Wood (GBR), whose time of 1:06.125 placed him fifth, with only Edwards (AUS) and Pedersen (DEN) left to ride.
Edwards could have finished two places behind Pedersen and nine places behind Jurczyk, and still win the Omnium. Instead, he posted the second best Kilo time, 1:05.134, and sealed a brilliant overall victory, thanks to victory in the Individual Pursuit and no less than three second places (Flying Lap, Elimination Race and 1 km Time Trial).
Pedersen, only tenth in the final event of the Omnium, dropped from silver to bronze place position overall. Germany’s Jurczyk leap-frogged him into second place.
Finally, Nicky Degrendele (BEL) and Dannielle Khan (GBR) returned to the track for the third, deciding race in the Women’s Sprint, which would give one or other of them the gold medal. Khan led out her opponent, who moved alongside on the final bend, before the British girl found a second acceleration. In the closing straight, Degrendele, trailing, shook her head in defeat as Khan, already the 500m Time Trial winner, added second Juniors World Championships gold medal to her collection.
A word about Nicky Degrendele, who has grown enormously in stature during these past four days. Her relegation in the Women’s Team Sprint on Day One left her shattered. But she worked through her emotions, and when she was relegated again in the Individual Sprint, her response was one of gritty defiance. She fought through to the final, and took her rival Dannielle Khan to a deciding race. The Belgian athlete, who has been racing for little more than a year, will take home from these games a wealth of experience, a new maturity, and, of course, a hard-earned World Championships silver medal. The 2016 Olympic Games will be firmly in her sights. If her learning curve continues like this, she will be a formidable competitor in Rio.
The final event of the evening was chapter three of the Women’s Omnium: the Elimination Race, that recipe for heartbreak. France’s Soline Lamboley and Germany’s Anna Knauer set a grueling pace at the front of the group and, one by one, the rest of the field slipped away. Priestley (IRE) was the first victim. She was followed, in order, by Semian (USA), Piatrouskaya (BLR), Gibson (CAN), Abramova (RUS), Stewart (AUS), Vandenbroucke (BEL), Kay (GBR) and Sperotto (ITA). After feigning fatigue on the wheel of the strong German, Lamboley shot past her on the final back straight and took a memorable win.
Lamboley and Knauer had gone into the Elimination Race equal on five points at the top of the provisional Omnium table. The win gave the French athlete a clear, one-point lead, and put both riders well clear of Stewart (AUS, 12 points), Sperotto (ITA, 14 points) and Kay (GBR, 16 points).
After yet another exhilarating evening of sport, one day remains of this 2013 edition of the UCI Juniors World Championships. Tomrrow will see the conclusions of the Women’s Omnium and the Men’s Sprint, as well as the Women’s Keirin competition and all the excitement of the Men’s Madison. Not to be missed!