Crashes proved costly for New Zealand cyclists Julian Dean and Hayden Roulston in the UCI Road World Championships in Valkenburg, Netherlands today.
Dean was well positioned in the peloton when he was brought down in a crash over the top of the famed Cauberg Hill on lap seven of 10. He lost more than four minutes extricating himself from the crash before withdrawing from the 261km race.
A lap earlier teammate Roulston was forced out with a smashed derailleur on his bike after he was run into from behind. The narrow circuit meant he too lost too much time before the team's service vehicle could reach him to swap bikes.
Director Sportif Craig Geater said it was a disappointing end to a promising day.
"Both riders were in excellent position and both felt they had the legs today," Geater said. "World championships, especially on tight, narrow roads like these, always prove nervous races.
"In both cases neither could do anything about it. It is just bike racing."
Geater said Dean's injuries appeared superficial and he expected the fellow Rotorua professional to be travel to the Orica-GreenEdge team training camp starting in Italy tomorrow.
Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert, who won two stages on the recent Vuelta a Espana, produced a powerful surge up the Cauberg on the final lap to hold off Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen and Spain's Alejandro Valverde to claim his first world title.
The elite men's race played out to script with an early break on the 100km touring stage around the Limberg region reeled in four laps into the 10-lap Valkenburg circuit. A second break was caught with two laps of the 16-km circuit remaining before the strength sprinters were deposited at the front for the final ascent of the Cauberg, a 1.2km power climb with a further 1.5km to the finish.
Gilbert surged clear and held on to win by four seconds from the 29-strong peloton in 6:10.41.
However it proved a day of "ifs and buts" for the three-strong kiwi contingent.
"Julian looked really, really good and super-comfortable. He was in the same place in the peloton each lap and looked in really good space," Geater said.
"He got caught in a big crash at the top of the Cauberg. He lost some skin and although it did not look serious, there was no way of catching back on at that stage.
"Quite a big group came through to the finish so I am pretty confident to say that Julian would have been in that group quite comfortably. Being a sprinter he could have made quite a good result."
"Hayden Roulston looked to be going well also. You never know. It was all those ifs and buts again but the guys were in good space, but things like crashes are so much part of the sport especially in this sort of race on this sort of course."
Geater said Sergent had done a good job in support of his two more senior professionals.
The Radioshack Nissan Trek rider had provided the key support by riding Roulston and Dean into good position on the initial touring stage and ensured a supply of nutrition.
"We were hoping he would get through to 200kms and he made 195km. Jesse never felt great all day but did his job and got some invaluable experience in a nervous race of this level," Geater said.
Earlier Southland teenager Tom Vessey was rewarded for an aggressive ride to finish an impressive 14th in the 129km junior men's race.
The 17 year old pushed into the lead three laps from the finish of the eight-lap race of the same Valkenburg circuit and again forced his way to the sharp end in an all-out battle up the Cauberg.
He finished in the sprint, given the same time as the winner Matej Mohoric (Slovenia) who pipped Australian Caleb Ewan, the former world junior omnium champion, for the rainbow jersey.
Teammate Sean Hambrook (Nelson) rode prominently in the front pack throughout and was also given the same time as the winner, with Te Awamutu's Hayden McCormick 50 seconds back.
Elite men, 261km: Philippe gilbert (BEL) 6:10.41, 1; Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) at 4 secs, 2; Alejandro Valverde (ESP) at 5 secs, 3. Also: New Zealanders Julian Dean dnf, Hayden Roulston dnf, Jesse Sergent dnf.
Junior men, 129km: Matej Mohoric (SLO) 3:00.45, 1; Caleb Ewan (AUS) same time, 2; Josip Rumac (CRO) st, 3. Also New Zealanders: Tom Vessey st, 14; Sean Hambrook st, 53; Hayden McCormick at 50s, 100.