The Italian flag flew enthusiastically in the wind at Alexandra Park after the 112km road race that brought down the curtain on the UCI World Cycling Tour Final, with two of the three world titles on offer on the final day going to Italian riders.
D'Andrea Allesandro won a thrilling three-way dice to the line to snatch the coveted UCI rainbow jersey away from local riders JC Jooste and Jaco Ferreira in the 30-34 year class, while his compatriot Gabriele Clementoni capped a tactically astute race with an imposing victory in the men's 40-44 class.
“Of course it is a great honour to have won,” said Allesandro. “Cycling is a hobby for me now. I used to be a pro but now I have a full time job. But my whole season has been focussed on this and winning was my main goal."
“To get two South Africans on the podium is great,” said Ferreira. “We obviously would have liked top spot but we are still very happy.”
However the day will be remembered for the dramatic crash fifty metres from the line by Slovenian rider Igor Kopše, who had dominated the 35-39 year class to the extent that he was able to enter the home straight alone, and he started to celebrate as he entered the straight.
The move proved costly because as Kopše threw his arms loft and fist punched the air he lost control of his bike and crashed hard onto the tarmac. As he got up he glanced back to see where second placed Jone Ellingsen was and tried to remount his bike, only to discover the he had smashed the gear off his back wheel in the crash, and he had no option but to pick up his bike and run to the line.
“I probably tried to salute too much when I got it wrong, but none of that matters now because I am so happy to have won,” said Kopše. “I have been working for this the entire season, trying to push the limit. Yesterday my derailleur broke and we tried to repair it until 8pm last night. Just before we started I had to put a new chain on and I was very nervous that it wouldn't work properly.
“On the last descent there were three or four times when I nearly fell but somehow I managed to survive and I attacked on the downhill. I am not a sprinter but I can push it when I need to and that gave me the gap over the others,” said the Slovenian.
Second placed Ellingsen cottoned onto the dramatic developments too late as he too was coasting into the finish, and his late charge was not enough to keep a relieved Kopše from the rainbow jersey.
The 16-29 year age group Challenger class produced breakneck racing in the cool overcast conditions until the sun burnt off the clouds, creating ideal conditions for very fast times. 27-year old Belgian Simon Collard retained his title in the class, which is the only age group not eligible for masters world champion rainbow jerseys, as he crossed the line first in a four way sprint finish with Allesandro, Jooste and Ferreira.
“I am very happy to have defended my title,” said Collard. “Four of us got away and were coming in together and I wanted to win overall and my sprint is good so I went with about 300 metres to go.”
The event concluded with warm praise from the riders for the standard of organisation and the hospitality shown by the residents and fellow riders in Pietermaritzburg. It was the first time that the UWCT Final has been held outside of Europe.
More information can be found at www.uwctfinal.co.za.
Photo credit: Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media