Racing at the World Championships continued on a rainy Friday afternoon, with Marco Bui (ITA) winning the Under-23 men's cross-country event with a powerful last-lap surge past World Cup champion Cadel Evans of Australia. Evans had overtaken the lead in the third of four laps, but was caught and passed by Bui on the final descent as Evans crashed and Bui rode to a 20" victory.
The Under-23 men compete in the Elite division during the world cup season, but contest their own cross-country event at the World Championships - a race separate from Sunday's senior event. While the field is smaller, it is no less competitive as several of the world's best racers are under the age of 23.
Evans was the main attraction of this 1999 edition of the U-23 race, the two-times World Cup champion coming into this final event in the top of his form. He was also being closely watched this year, as he has now competed in nine World Championships with six medals, but no victories and rainbow jerseys.
Racing began under dark and wet skies, a light rain making for some of the coldest and muddiest conditions of any World Championship. Italy's Martino Fruet took the first lead in the opening lap - a steady line of riders forming then quickly breaking up within the first lap.
Fruet, who finished as the 10th-fastest U-23 rider in the Houffalize World Cup finals two weeks ago, led the race by 38 seconds with Evans and Bui riding together as the only legitimate chase group. Bui, who shares Paola Pezzo's coach Paolo Rosola and was the second-fastest rider in Wednesday's Team Relay behind Evans, closely shadowed the experienced Evans. The next closest rider, Jure Golcer of Slovenia, was more than one minute off the lead in the race's first half.
After chasing for more than two laps, Evans and Bui passed Fruet early in the third lap, building a gap of a minute by the beginning of lap four. As Fruet struggled for his place the podium, Evans attacked Bui for the win, knowing that, with only one lap remaining, he'd have to amass his gap on the long sustained climbs against this excellent descender.
Entering the fourth and final lap, Evans finally had a significant lead on Bui - 15 seconds by the top of the final descent. But Bui, who was simply faster than Evans in the slippery, off-camber corners caught Evans less than a minute from the finish line, and on this serpentine section of the course, the race was finally decided.
Evans entered one of the final open corners before the last singletrack on foot, dismounting to negotiate a slippery corner. Bui, meanwhile, had nearly caught Evans and remained on his bike. He then made contact with Evans on the next turn, overtaking the lead while Evans crashed off of his bike.
Marco Bui"On the final downhill I gave it all I had," said Bui, who raced in the Downhill category as a Junior. "I went in too fast to the corner, and touched Evans and then he was gone." By the time Evans had collected his bike (which slid several metres down the slope) and remounted, he had lost approximately 17 secondsÖ and the race.
"I've never trained for this situation before," said a dejected Evans. "He was behind me, and then he had 17 seconds on me. I'm a fair racer - I'm not racing with my elbows. What can you do?"
Asked if Bui's move was unfair, Evans replied "That's debatable. He clipped me, my bike went down and while he rode on I had to run back and grab my bike. When it comes to the rainbow jersey I seem to be cursed."
Just minutes later, Bui entered the finish arena in the front to claim his first World Championship title. "I couldn't believe it when I crossed the line," he said. "But maybe now I believe that I am the World Champion. This race was mine because I was the strongest, but over the whole season it was Cadel who was strongest."
Thanks to Ari Cheren for this report.
This report from the UCI.