Julian Alaphilippe (France) could only express disappointment in his performance during the elite men's road race at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck on Sunday. The Frenchman went into the race as the favourite but fell apart on the steep slopes of the Höttinger Höll and was forced to watch his opportunity to win a world title ride away from him.
"Personally, I'm disappointed. I have no excuses," Alaphilippe told Cyclingnews. "The last climb was just too hard for me. My legs didn't have anything left. Everything was OK, but I just exploded, and I lost so much energy in the last climb."
The elite men raced a gruelling 258km that included an 84km loop from Kufstein to Innsbruck. They then raced seven laps of a 23.8km circuit, with each one featuring the 7.9km Igls climb.
On the last circuit, the men raced up the decisive 2.9km Höttinger Höll, with grades as steep as 28 per cent, a climb that was predicted to be the deciding point of the race.
The French team also included pure climbers, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, but Alaphilippe's successful season with wins at Flèche Wallonne, two stage wins at the Tour de France, and Clasica San Sebastian made him one of the top contenders.
Bardet also had a good season with third at Critérium du Dauphiné, sixth overall at the Tour de France and eighth at the Deutschland Tour, and his one-day successes stood out, too, with second at Strade Bianche and third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Pinot recently finished sixth overall at the Vuelta a España where he won two stages.
Gianni Moscon was hoping to end Italy's ten-year dry spell in the men's World Championships and was hoping to win in his new adopted home of Innsbruck but when the 28 per cent gradient of Höttinger Höll began to bite, he lacked the power to stay with Alejandro Valverde, Romain Bardet and Michael Woods, and the chance of a medal slipped away.
"I was just missing that little bit, just an extra couple of strong pedal strokes, but I was cooked. There was nothing I could do," Moscon said post-race after finishing fifth behind the medal winners and Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands), who caught then dropped him, and bridged across to Valverde, Bardet and Woods only to finish fourth in the sprint.
"I just didn't have the legs on the last part of the climb and they went away from me. I was right on my limit. I tried to survive after bring gapped and when Tom Dumoulin came up to me, I couldn't even hold his wheel. I was done," Moscon explained, wracked by regret and disappointment as he talked.
"I tried to recover on the descent and gave it everything on the flat hoping they would perhaps look at each other. I saw the cars and tried to come back up to them but I couldn't make it."
Moscon was chasing victory on his home roads after moving to Innsbruck from Monte Carlo in recent months. He originates from the mountainous region of western Trentino near Val di Non, not far over the border in Italy, and was extra motivated to perform at home.
"This is going to be my hometown for the next few years, I love it here and love Austria. It would have been nice to get a medal in my hometown but what more could I do? That's life," he said.
Tom Dumoulin said that he knew his chances of taking a World Championship medal in the road race were over when Alejandro Valverde shut down his attack inside the final kilometre before it had even begun. In the end, the Dutchman missed the podium and had to settle for fourth place.
Dumoulin said that he was running on empty after furiously chasing down the leading group of Valverde, Romain Bardet and Michael Woods through the streets of Innsbruck. He made contact with the group with just 1.6 kilometres to go until the line and tried to attack from the back of the group as they passed under the flamme rouge, but was not able to get away.
"I had nothing left for the podium anymore when I came back to the three of them. It was disappointing but it's also pretty honest I guess. On the climb, I was already unable to follow them. I was able to come back but I had nothing left when I came there," Dumoulin said. "I first thought to attack immediately but I didn't have the legs to do it. I recovered a bit and tried to go with a kilometre to go but Valverde was so sharp that he immediately saw it and I knew then that it was pretty much over because I had absolutely nothing left, I couldn't even hold the wheel in the sprint."
The Dutch team had five riders in the main group as they approached the foot of the Höll Climb. However, Dumoulin was the only one that could keep within touching distance of the leaders as they pulled a gap out over the steepest parts of the climb. It was clear that Dumoulin, who had taken a silver medal in the time trial on Wednesday, was suffering as he weaved across the road in drastic and sharp movements. Dumoulin knew that he would not be able to keep the pace with the others and relied on making up for lost time on the descent.
"I would have cramped up if I did so I decided to go at my own pace and the pace that I wouldn't have cramps. If you have cramps at 28 per cent then you're going to be in a lot of difficulty," he said. "On the climb, I kept seeing them so I knew that the gap wasn't too big. I knew that I had a chance to come back if I did a crazy downhill. I did but I knew it would also cost me a lot of energy and it did."
The World Championships bring to a close a busy season for Dumoulin, and though he took just two victories in the year, it was a hugely consistent one. Since May, he won the Giro d'Italia prologue and went on to finish second overall before backing that up with second at the Tour de France. He also helped his team to silver in the World Championships team time trial and went on to take silver in the individual event. His primary success in recent seasons have come against the clock and in the general classification, and though there was some disappointment, his Worlds performance gives him hope that he can also find success in one-day races.
Hull KR ensured they will be playing in the Super League in 2019 after racing to a 30-0 win over already relegated Widnes at KCOM Craven Park.
Rovers had it wrapped up at half-time when they raced to a 20-0 lead in a game where they needed to win by 14 points to beat Toronto to third place in the Qualifiers going into their final Super 8s match.
It means Toronto will be at home to London Broncos in next Sunday’s Million Pound Game to determine the 12th and final place in Super League for 2019, with the Rugby Football League confirming both clubs are eligible for promotion.
Victory provided a timely pick-me-up for ailing Rovers captain Shaun Lunt, who remains hospitalised with an infection, while a sixth defeat in seven matches meant a disappointing end for Widnes duo Chris Houston and Aaron Heremaia as they entered retirement after the final whistle.
Interim head coach Francis Cummins is facing an uncertain future but the Vikings will have the services of a crop of promising youngsters like Owen Buckley, Joe Lyons and Keanan Brand, who all showed up well in the final game, as well as a £500,000 parachute payment, to help them regroup in the Championship.
Rovers, promoted 12 months ago without having to go through the Million-Pound Game, were desperate to secure survival without it, especially having experienced the heartbreak of defeat in 2016.
There was an early sign of nerves when second-rower Joel Tomkins took a McGuire pass to reach the line only to lose control of the ball and Rovers suffered a blow when stand-off Todd Carney went off on six minutes after taking a heavy blow.
But the versatile Maurice Blair, back in action earlier than expected from a calf injury, slotted effortlessly into the half-back role alongside the influential McGuire as the Robins set about their task in earnest.
McGuire’s short pass got second-rower James Greenwood through a gaping hole in the Vikings defence for the game’s first try and centre Ben Crooks gathered his high kick to score his first try for the club.
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Craig Hall kicked both conversions and added a penalty to extend the lead to the required 14-0 with an hour left on the clock.
As the home side continued to make all the running, centre Junior Vaivai dropped Blair’s pass with the line beckoning but there was no stopping full-back Chris Atkin after McGuire had raced clear from Mose Masoe’s offload inside his own half.
Trailing 20-0 at the break, there was no way back for the visitors when Rovers created an overlap for Vaivai to go in for their fourth try on 57 minutes and Hall added another nine minutes later.
They might have scored more as Widnes’ performance disintegrated in the final quarter – they finished with 12 men after Tom Gilmore was sin-binned for dissent – but Tim Sheens’ men had long since ensured it was job done.
The Innsbruck course for the 2018 UCI Road World Championships was touted as the most challenging course in recent history, and so it prove to be. On the 2.9km Höll climb inside 10km to go, three riders separated themselves from the rest on the double-digit gradients, with Michael Woods (Canada) leading the charge with Romain Bardet (France) and Alejandro Valverde (Spain) the only ones able to hold his wheel.
In the end, Valverde proved too strong in the sprint after 258km and eight other testing climbs. Although he was pinned to the front and forced to lead out the sprint, Bardet, Woods, and Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) who had chased up to them, could not come around.
For Alejandro Valverde, the World Championships have always been the one that got away. It was always within touching distance but slithered away just beyond reach when he got too close. But after six previous visits to the Worlds rostrum, more than any other rider in the 91-year history of the road race, the Spaniard finally found the right formula to win the rainbow jersey in Innsbruck.
At 38, Valverde is the second-oldest rider to don the stripes after Joop Zoetemelk, who was almost 39 by the time he won his one and only world title in 1985. Like Zoetemelk, the jersey had been a long time in the making and Valverde burst into tears after he crossed the line.
"This is the victory that I have longed for. I have always wanted to be the World Champion. I was also chasing the Tour de France but I wasn't able to, but finally I am the World Champion," Valverde said in his post-race press conference, which was attended by Spanish former World Champion Oscar Freire.
"There have been other times at the World Championships where I have had the fortune of riding with teammates that have won the world title, like Oscar, wearing it myself is great.
"I have cried many times but the truth is that it was a really emotional moment to be the world champion. I have been chasing it forever and I have got six medals but I could never take the gold. Finally getting it feels incredible. I have to thank the Spanish national team, we did a training camp together on the Sierra Nevada before this race and it really helped. We really had a good vibe, we knew where each other were throughout the whole race and they have been a great support to get this victory."
Amidst the joy and relief for Valverde, his win will, of course, be met with scepticism given that he served a two-year ban for doping following the Operacion Puerto investigation and has refused to admit guilt or discuss doping.
"I was confident in the sprint, but then I cramped super hard in the legs with about 150 metres to go," Woods told Cyclingnews after stepping off the podium. "It's disappointing because I was so close to winning."
Woods found a little extra kick on the steep slopes of the final Höttinger Höll ascent and made it over the top with eventual winner Alejandro Valverde (Spain) and Frenchman Romain Bardet. He said the three communicated with one another on the descent back into Innsbruck, and all decided to work together to stay ahead of any potential threats behind.
"The three of us were talking," Woods said. "When you have guys like Bardet and Valverde, they're champions, and they don't just sit up and sit back, they ride through. It was cool in that group because we all wanted to win and they certainly collaborated."
Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) was dropped on the climb but used his time trial skills to chase back on to the three leaders in the final kilometres of the men's 258.5km race.
The four riders played a tactical game in the final kilometre, with Valverde leading out the sprint and then securing his first world title in a career that has spanned two decades. Bardet crossed the line with the silver medal and Woods the bronze, while Dumoulin finished fourth. Woods said he hoped for a better placing but that he suffered from a cramp in his calf as they sprinted for the finish line.
There’s plenty of boxing to look forward to in October.
A couple of pound-for-pound stars – Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue – are in action over the next few weeks alongside a whole host of other world class talent.
The World Boxing Super Series is also set to start up again with their new cruiserweight, super-lightweight and bantamweight tournaments.
You can read a full rundown of the upcoming boxing schedule below.
October 6: Jack Catterall vs Ohara Davies (Super-Lightweight) – Leicester Arena, UK
Controversial super-lightweight Ohara Davies heads into the second big domestic clash of his career, having lost the first to rising talent Josh Taylor. This time, he meets the unbeaten Jack Catterall, who is yet to be tested at this level. Nicola Adams and Daniel Dubois return on the card.
October 6: Artur Beterbiev vs Callum Johnson (IBF Light-Heavyweight Title) – Wintrust Arena, Chicago, USA
The headline bout on this show is a welterweight clash between Jessie Vargas and Thomas Dulorme. However, live on talkSPORT, the undercard features Callum Johnson challenging Artur Beterbiev for his IBF light-heavyweight crown and Gavin McDonnell taking on Daniel Roman for the WBA super-bantamweight strap. Heavyweight contender Jarrell Miller will meet the likely overmatched Tomasz Adamek.
October 6: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs Iran Diaz (WBC Super-Flyweight Title) – Impact Arena, Bangkok, Thailand
After some personal problems, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai is having a second tune-up bout of 2018 before getting back into the fray against the super-flyweight elite next year.
October 7: Naoya Inoue vs Juan Carlos Payano (WBA ‘Regular’ Bantamweight Title) – Yokohama Arena, Japan
The World Boxing Super Series returns with a bantamweight quarter-final between Japanese pound-for-pound star Naoya Inoue and Juan Carlos Payano. Kiryl Relikh defends his WBA title in a separate quarter-final from the super-lightweight tournament on the undercard.
October 13: Lewis Ritson vs Francesco Patera (European Lightweight Title) – Radio Metro Arena, Newcastle, UK
Geordie hero Lewis Ritson looks to continue his destructive win streak while moving up to European level, live on talkSPORT. The unbeaten 25-year-old blitzed through the British scene and now takes on Francesco Patera for the vacant EBU title with Joshua Buatsi, Dave Allen and Robbie Davies Jr vs Glenn Foot on the undercard.
October 13: Martin Bakole vs Michael Hunter (Heavyweight) – York Hall, London, UK
Rising heavyweight prospect Martin Bakole could be one to watch out for. His next fight sees him face a man only beaten once, by cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk. It’s a good step up for Bakole after just eleven fights.
October 13: Zolani Tete vs Mikhail Aloyan (WBO Bantamweight Title) – Ekaterinburg Expo, Ekaterinburg, Russia
The second week of World Boxing Super Series quarter-finals features UK-based South African Zolani Tete defending his WBO title against Russia’s Mikhail Aloyan in the bantamweight tournament, while Andrew Tabiti fights Ruslan Fayfer in the cruiserweight version.
October 13: Terence Crawford v Jose Benavidez Jr (WBO Welterweight Title) – CHI Health Center, Omaha, USA
After winning the undisputed super-lightweight championship, Terence Crawford moved up to welterweight and claimed the WBO belt from Jeff Horn. His first defence sees him take on an unbeaten, but seemingly overmatched opponent in Jose Benavidez Jr.
October 20: Anthony Yarde vs Walter Gabriel Sequeira (Light-Heavyweight) – Brentwood Centre, Essex, UK
Light-heavyweight prospect Anthony Yarde has generated a lot of hype, but is still continuing to learn his trade against Walter Gabriel Sequeira, with a British welterweight title fight between Gary Corcoran and Johnny Garton on the bill.
October 20: Billy Joe Saunders vs Demetrius Andrade (WBO Middleweight Title) – TD Garden, Boston, USA
Billy Joe Saunders is set to defend his middleweight world title against technical American Demetrius Andrade, live on talkSPORT. However the bout is in doubt due to Saunders testing positive for oxilofrine. If he is licenced, the fight will go on. If not, Andrade will fight Walter Kautondokwa for the belt instead. James Tennyson challenges Tevin Farmer for his IBF super-lightweight title on the card, which also features Katie Taylor, Kid Galahad and Scott Quigg.
October 20: Emmanuel Rodriguez vs Jason Moloney (IBF Bantamweight Title) – CFE Arena, Orlando, Florida
The World Boxing Super Series’ third week of quarter-finals sees newly-crowned IBF champion Emmanuel Rodriguez defend against Jason Moloney. Also, returning cruiserweight Yunier Dorticos squares off against Mateusz Masternak.
October 20: Ryota Murata vs Rob Brant (WBA ‘Regular’ Middleweight Title) – Park Theater, Las Vegas, USA
Japanese Olympic gold medallist and middleweight sensation Ryota Murata holds the lesser ‘regular’ version of the WBA title which is truly held by Canelo Alvarez. He will defend this strap against once-beaten American Rob Brant in Las Vegas.
October 27: John Ryder vs Andrey Sirotkin (Super-Middleweight) – Copper Box, London, UK
This bill features no big-name attractions, but does entail five intriguing 50/50 fights. The card is live on talkSPORT and sees John Ryder vs Andrey Sirotkin (final eliminator for Callum Smith), Ted Cheeseman vs Asinia Byfield (British super-welterweight title), Luke Watkins vs Isaac Chamberlain, Jake Ball vs Craig Richards and Ryan Doyle vs Jordan Gill (Commonwealth featherweight title).
October 27: Kubrat Pulev vs Hughie Fury (Heavyweight) – Arena Armeec, Sofia, Bulgaria
Both Dillian Whyte and Jarrell Miller turned down this IBF final eliminator, but Hughie Fury stepped up and will travel to Bulgaria to face Kubrat Pulev in his own back yard. Fury lost a close fight to Joseph Parker for the WBO belt last year, though he’s only young and is now one win away from becoming IBF mandatory challenger to Anthony Joshua.
October 27: Daniel Jacobs vs Sergiy Derevyanchenko (IBF Middleweight Title) – MSG Theater, New York, USA
Sergiy Derevyanchenko was Gennady Golovkin’s mandatory challenger earlier this year, however GGG had other ideas and faced Vanes Martirosyan and Canelo Alvarez instead. He was therefore stripped of his IBF title, which is now being fought for by Derevyanchenko and Daniel Jacobs. Alberto Machado defends his WBA ‘regular’ super-featherweight crown on the card.
October 27: Regis Prograis vs Terry Flanagan (Super-Lightweight) – Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, USA
October’s final week of World Boxing Super Series quarter-finals sees Manchester’s Terry Flanagan face hot US contender Regis Prograis in a tough super-lightweight clash. Ivan Baranchyk and Anthony Yigit face off for the vacant IBF super-lightweight title in another quarter-final that night.
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