An atrocious conditions that felled the greatest cyclists in the world, Australia’s Michael Matthews finished a gallant 24th in the 2019 UCI Road World Championships men’s road race in Yorkshire.
”It was horrendous, not too many words can describe the day,” said Matthews, the 2015 silver and 2017 World Championship bronze medallist who was just one of 45 finishers from 196 starters.
“It was one of those ones that winds you down. I tried to accelerate at the end, but I had nothing.
“In terms of conditions, that was the hardest race I’ve ever done.”
With team captain Rory Sutherland (UAE-Team Emirates) calling the shots while the entire team surrounded Matthews in an attempt to protect him from the atrocious weather, Dennis drove the pace of the peloton through horizontal rain for the next 120 kilometres.
Dennis’ superb efforts reduced the breakaway’s margin from two and half minutes down to ninety seconds as the race approached the Harrogate circuit. As they hit the first lap of the circuit, Dennis and Sutherland hung up their bikes for the day after a perfectly delivered team performance.
The race was quickly brought back together on the first lap and the urgent pace setting during the early Harrogate circuit laps saw riders shed from the peloton seemingly at every kilometre.. Riders who ended their race in this phase included Australians Mitchell Docker (EF Education First), Nathan Haas (Team Katusha Alpecin) and Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott).
Simon Clarke’s (EF Education First) efforts came to an end on the third last lap, with Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) the team’s only remaining support rider for Matthews until he lost contact on the penultimate lap.
One of the many race favourites Mathieu van der Poel (NED) attacked with two laps to go alongside Matteo Trentin (ITA), Gianni Moscon (Italy), Mads Pedersen (NED), and Stefan Kung (SUI) and while this group appeared cohesive and capable, the main bunch began to fade.
Teams that needed to chase were fast running out of bullets, while mechanicals, exhaustion, hunger flats, hypothermia and old fashioned “getting dropped” had relentlessly whittled the riders from nearly 200 to well below 50.
Despite the lead group being just a tantalising 50 seconds up the road, the bunch struggled to get themselves coordinated, and with Trentin unable to muster a winning sprint, it was the 23-year-old Danish rider Pedersen who held his nerve and watts to take the win from Trentin and Kung.
”I knew it was always going to be difficult, a bit of a gamble of a race,” Matthews added. “With four laps to go, when a group of five went, we didn’t have any guys to go with it.
“I was trying to wait for the last two laps until I moved, but they didn’t come back.
“I was wound down too much, the guys were gone, I think there was a sprint for fourth of fifth, but the race was over.
Team Director Brad McGee was proud of the team’s overall campaign for the World Championships and in particular their performance on what was the most testing of days.
“One of the toughest! You saw some of the mightiest bike riders on the planet today just stopping suddenly; going from a potential performer to zero,” McGee said. “Michael, gallant to the end, but just legless in the last half lap. It happened to Clarkey too; all the boys finished as if it was the hardest race they have ever done.
“I don’t know how you prepare for a day like today, physically you can’t do anything, mentally you have your strategy, and you are confident with that. At the end of the day, there is an element of being born and made for the mud.
“We didn’t have that today. But we gave it everything we could, we stuck to the strategy, stuck together, fought until the end.
“They made the perfect adjustments according to how the race unfolded. In the end, we just didn’t have the firepower to make an impact,” McGee added.