A new star of world cycling was born in Innsbruck last week.
Belgian Remco Evenepoel won both the men’s junior time-trial and junior road race, an historic double achieved in dominant fashion by a flamboyant character who only took up cycling seriously last year once his ambitions of becoming a footballer had waned.
The picture of him picking up his bike and holding it above his head as he crossed the finish line was one of the enduring images of the week.
Trailing through the Alps a little farther down the field last Thursday were two West Yorkshiremen with designs on writing their own headlines one day.
Sam Watson, 17, of Leeds, placed 37th in the junior road race, 15 minutes off the pace, while a little farther up the road, Mason Hollyman, 18, from Emley finished 20th, some seven minutes behind Evenepoel.
Neither young man was expected to trouble the podium, but their ride through the stunning scenery of the Alps and into the old town of Innsbruck proved invaluable.
“It was a mega experience,” gushed Watson moments after the race.
“It was a hard race. I did the right thing getting into the front of the first climb but I didn’t have the legs to stay with the leaders.
“Over the top I worked hard to get back into the front group, but again just didn’t have the legs.
“It was a really tough course. But the crowds kept you going.
That’s a huge incentive, and it’s quite special. It’s where I live and the route is where I do my ride on a Saturday, so I’m quite motivated for it already.Sam Watson
“I’ve been racing with Great Britain throughout the year, doing the Classics, Roubaix and also the Nations Cup – so I’m familiar with this level.
“But this just gave you a taste of what’s possible.”
Hollyman added: “It was a great experience. I was caught up in a couple of crashes which was a bit gutting but you’ve just got to make the best of what you’ve got and not let your head drop.
“I’ve raced quite a few European races but the world championships is another level completely.
“No race can prepare you properly for a world championship test, especially one with three big climbs.”
Both young men will hope this is just the start, with next year’s UCI Road World Championships being staged in Yorkshire providing a huge incentive to secure a return.
Hollyman may find that journey more difficult as he steps up next year to Under-23s level and will find riders aged from 19 to 22 challenging him for a Great Britain jersey.
Watson still has another year at junior level, when he will hope to once more ride in the red, white and blue at a world championship junior road race that runs from Richmond to Harrogate on Thursday, September 26, 2019.
“That’s a huge incentive, and it’s quite special,” said Watson, who got into cycling through schoolfriend Tom Pidcock, the former world junior cyclo-cross champion.
“It’s where I live and the route is where I do my ride on a Saturday, so I’m quite motivated for it already.”
Watson will continue his education on the track this winter with his development in both disciplines ensuring he keeps his options open for when the time comes in a few years time to decide which pursuit to concentrate on.
“I’d love to become a pro cyclist. I do enjoy the Classics, I was eighth at Roubaix this year which gives me a lot of confidence,” he added.
“But I still see a lot of value on the track, it’s definitely very good training and I do enjoy it. It opens a lot more Olympic doors.
“I’m still not sure what my next turn is, go to the road or stay on the track.
“At my age it’s about keeping my options open.
“Right now, I’m going to rest up this off-season and then do the track and hopefully build towards the world championships this time next year in Yorkshire.”
Hollyman steps up to Under-23s level next year and will continue to ride on the road for his current team, Zappi Racing.
He is moving to Italy to combine his long-term ambition of becoming a road cyclist with his more immediate goal of forcing his way into the GB squad for next year’s world championship Under-23s race from Doncaster to Harrogate.
“I’d really love to ride for the GB team again,” said Hollyman. “I’ll be a first-year Under-23 next year so it’ll be hard but I really want to be there.
“What Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome have achieved by winning the Tour de France in recent years shows that anything is possible, if you work hard enough and you are lucky enough.
“Look at the guy who won in Innsbruck, Evenepoel, he’s only 18 but he’s turning pro next year which just goes to show the level we’ve raced against this year.
“It’s a very strong crop of British riders which we’re lucky to have. It’s great to have so many British riders pushing us on.”