Switzerland’s Marc Hirschi continued his run of important results after his stage victory at the Tour de France and award as the most aggressive ride, with third place at the World Championships in Imola.
The 22-year-old beat former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, Jakob Fuglsang and Promiž Roglič to win bronze, with only Julian Alaphilippe on another level as he won alone, while as expected, Wout van Aert won the sprint for second place.
Hirschi won the under-23 world title just two years ago in Innsbruck and confirmed his rapid development with another significant performance. He appears on track to become a Classics and World Championships contender for the next decade, and a possible heir to Swiss neighbour Fabian Cancellara.
“It’s super nice to get third place. I didn't expect that,” Hirsch told Cyclingnews modestly.
“Alaphilippe was the strongest today. I was just happy I could go with the second group because I didn’t feel great. But then when the race exploded I got a boost when I was able to go with the chasers.”
Hirschi was wise beyond on his years on the final climb, first setting a fast pace that hurt others but that was sustainable for himself. That put him at the front of the group for when the attacks came near the summit. Other riders were too far back to react when Kwiatkowski made his attack, while the likes of Vincenzo Nibali didn't have the legs. Hirschi had both the positioning and the strength to be in the chase group that formed behind Alaphilippe.
Hirschi and his chase companions were convinced the chase group could catch Alaphilippe on the fast descent to the Imola motor racing circuit. For a long time they worked well together but Alaphilippe used his dare-devil descending skills to hold them off. On the fast, wide and flat closed circuit, the gap came down but then the chasers began to think about the sprint for second place and eased up.
“We worked together at first but then in the last two kilometres everyone knew that Van Aert was the strongest in the sprint and that influenced the chase. It’s always like that,” he explained.
“Wout van Aert wins bunch sprints and everyone knew we couldn’t beat him; he could have sprinted from 350 or even 400m to go and he’d still have won.”
Hirschi has enjoyed a rollercoaster month of racing. He made his Grand Tour debut at the Tour de France but quickly showed his ability and intentions with second place on stage 2 after attacking with Alaphillipe and Adam Yates. He was then third on stage 9 to Laruns behind Tadej Pogačar and Promož Roglič, before emphatically winning stage 12 with a solo attack. A crash cost him a chance of a second victory on stage 18 but cemented his talents as an attacking, talented rider.
“I didn’t have much time to realise what I’ve done. Also because after the Tour this race came so fast,” he admitted.
“Now it’s continuing and my next big race is Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. It’s super nice even now but I’ll enjoy time after the season to understand what I’ve done.”
Hirschi will be part of Team Sunweb’s Classics team in the next few weeks, riding Amstel Gold Race, Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. He is still suffering after his Tour de France crash but senses he is on a roll.
“Maybe there’s a drop in my form, but I just want to enjoy it and hope it continues. I’ll just keep doing the same as I do now and I hope that I keep progressing.”