Like their Junior counterparts a few hours earlier, the French Espoirs were able to claim the world title until the very last moments of the race but will finally leave the Antipodes empty-handed. This Friday, the band of Pierre-Yves Chatelon did not manage to put a rider on the podium of the World Championship and must be satisfied with an anecdotal place in the Top 10 for his sprinter Paul Penhoët on the Wollongong circuit, south of Sydney (see ranking). For a long time, however, the French seemed in a good position with the presence of Mathis Le Berre at the front of the race. “The breakaways, I like that. I manage to go the distance. It was planned in the briefing, the guys didn’t have to ride behind. If there were big nations ahead, you had to go and that’s what I did. You shouldn’t be trapped”says the Breton, in a mixed zone, for DirectVelo.
In the decisive part of the race, the future professional of Arkéa-Samsic ended up isolating himself with the Belgian Alec Segaert and the Czech Mathias Vacek. “In the bump, I accelerated a bit because it was coming back. Then we met three. When it came down to 30 seconds, we had to do it again. We didn’t know what could happen, Romain (Grégoire) could have come from behind for example. It was better to be one step ahead”, he explains when asked why he had – it seems – done a lot (or even too much?) at times. Moreover, Mathis Le Berre ended up getting slightly upset when he was asked to pass (again) big stints in the final against fresher athletes. “They still wanted me to pass when I had been in front for 140 terminals… It was not necessary to abuse either, I was at full speed. I could no longer pass. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore after giving everything I could for the guys. I sacrificed myself as I had to”. The winner of the last Tour of Normandy finally cracked on the last lap, ten kilometers from the finish, after the return from behind of future winner Yevgeniy Fedorov.
AN UNFORTUNATE FALL FOR EDDY THE EIGHTOUZE
The Blues then only had to bet on the runners who had remained warm until then. Romain Grégoire lit a first fuse in the ascent, before Bastien Tronchon went there in turn, eight terminals from the goal. “Mathis relieved us of the whole race. We didn’t have to take responsibility, we were just waiting for the finale. Then it was up to us. I started a little too late on the last climb and it wasn’t enough to make a difference. Starting from a little earlier, I think we could have taken the two who were in front. But that’s how it is, we can’t remake the world”, regrets the last quoted after the fact. Bastien Tronchon, who will be pro at AG2R Citroën in 2023, of course hoped for something else from this World Cup. “There is inevitably disappointment because we had cards to play to do better than that. But we don’t have much to regret. We tried. Mathis was in front all day, I tried in the last climb then we did everything for Paul (Penhoët). We came across two big guys. The fall of Eddy Le Huitouze hurt us because he was a key element of our squad to ride behind the breakaway. It’s a shame because he was in great shape but we did with what we could”.
Paul Penhoët, precisely, was therefore the last card to play for the Blues during the last five minutes of the race. While his compatriots and teammates for a day were unable to make a difference on the last climb, it was necessary to resolve to play the sprint card in small groups, for the Groupama-FDJ rider. “For a while I was really good and felt comfortable in the bump. I imagined anticipating because I thought it would settle sooner. But in the end, I got quite a bit out of it and I found myself not doing as well in the last two laps. I really had to hang on, mentally”he says at first. “We mainly had a tactic around Romain (Grégoire) but in the end, he didn’t feel very good”specifies Paul Penhoët, who saw the Franc-Comtois sacrifice himself for him in the final. “I was unhooked on the top of the last bump and it took me a while to get into the descent. But as soon as I got back into the pack, Romain started riding for me. Then Bastien took the lead in the 1500 meters but it was not enough”. Paul Penhoët then admits not having produced his best sprint of the season in the last hectometres. “I started the sprint really early. With the tailwind, I thought it would go very fast but in the end, it was a worn-out sprint. It was very long, too long for me. I crashed in the last meters”. Still no question of “have the blues” for those who prefer “keep the positive” from this experience with “a great group”.