For Team Canada, that fielded its largest team ever for the Elite men’s race, it was a mix of emotion following a tough day in the saddle as Antoine Duchesne was the top Canuck, in the fight until the end, finishing 61st almost 2 min behind Sagan.
He was followed by Ryan Anderson in 93rd, Mike Woods in 94th and Guillaume Boivin in 107th. Hugo Houle, who celebrated his birthday today as well, and Ryan Roth were among the 82 riders that did not finish from the 191-strong field in a race that endured over 6 hours in the saddle.
With the weather co-operating Ben King flew the flag for the USA in an early 7-rider break but the peloton refused to let them gain a significant lead and the race came back together with five laps to go as The Netherlands and Poland kept the pace up in the chasing pack.
Several new attempts were shut down until Canada’s Boivin initiated an attack with four laps to go that had Canadian fans on the edge of their seats as American Taylor Phinney joined him along with Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) and Jarlinson Pantano (Col).
The foursome were up over a minute as Pantano got dropped while the Belgian team gathered on the front of the peloton. But the chase of the trio was disrupted when numerous riders were caught up in a crash near the feed zone. Nobody was seriously hurt but the peloton split into several groups, raising the tension in the race.
A fierce chase meant the peloton came back together again with 36km to go as Boivin’s group was caught but more attacks soon followed. Bauke Mollema of The Netherlands launched a solo move on the climb to the finish area with two laps to go and was quickly joined by former road worlds champ Tom Boonen (Belgium), defending champ Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland), Ian Stannard (Great Britain), Andrey Amador (Costa Rica), Dani Moreno (Spain) and Elia Viviani (Italy).
It seemed like it could be the decisive move but then other riders came across on the climbs with the peloton also catching the move as the bell rang for the last lap in Richmond.
The USA’s Tyler Farrar and Kanstantsin Siutsou of Belarus tried to anticipate the late attacks, gaining a slight lead for a few kilometres but they were quickly caught and Zdenek Stybar the Czech Republic lined out the riders on the last climb of Libby Hill. Several big names where there, including John Degenkolb of Germany, Philippe Gilbert of Belgium and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway.
Then Sagan emerged on the start of the steep cobbled climb of 23rd Street, attacking with fury as he quickly opened a gap on Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) that they could not match. He hesitated slightly after the descent but then committed to a solo attack. It was the right decision and he powered up the final climb and down the finishing straight to take the biggest win of his career.
“Today I was just waiting and waiting. I had my brother with me and my teammates were always with me. If something happened they where always there. It was a little bit crazy during the last laps, and I thought everyone had to be tired. I gave everything on last cobblestone climb and then it was full gas until the finish,” said the winner
For Duchesne, 24, who rides for Team Europcar and just completed the Vuelta, it was tough day but a good day for Canada. “I think we showed that we have a place with the best nations in the world,” he commented finishing 1:50 behind the winner. “I was not feeling too well at first, but you need to be patient and I tried to save my legs until the race really gets underway in the last 60km.
“I tried to go a few times but noone went with me. We were supporting Boivin but he wasn’t sure he’d last until the end so he tried to escape a bit earlier and got away in a small break which was great for us. After 200km I felt burned and was the lone Canadian near the front at the end. I managed to position myself well on the last climb but didn’t make the final split as I used up all of my energy just to finish.”
For Houle who ended his season in Richmond on his 25th birthday it was time to look ahead to next year. “I concentrated more on the time trial this year at Worlds because it’s been awhile since I’ve done a long road race. Honestly I had no legs today so I stopped quite early in the race. I knew things weren’t happening for me today, so mentally it was hard to turn things around,” said Houle who had one of his best seasons this year winning Pan Am ITT gold and the Elite Men’s time trial championship as well.
Full results and more photos here.