Big crowds at the roadside in Leuven to cheer the youngsters.

Leuven takes over as World Cycling Championships hotspot

The road cycling World Championships have entered their second phase, with the juniors and U23 riders competing today. The main focus has moved from Knokke and Bruges to Leuven now, the city where the road races will have their finish. The Flemish Brabant capital is expecting between 200,000 and 400,000 visitors as cycling remains immensely popular. 

With the time trials (from Sunday to Wednesday) behind us, it's time for the road races (Friday to Sunday). This morning, the boys' juniors had the honour to open the debates. It was Norway's Per Strand Hagenes who took it after a solo effort.    

Romain Grégoire of France came second, 19 seconds behind Hagenes, with Madis Mihkels of Estonia taking third place. Belgium's Cian Uijtdebroecks crashed early in the nervous race (marred by crashes early on) and never had a chance to clinch a medal. 

In the afternoon, the men's U23 battled it out for the rainbow jersey. Filippo Baroncini of Italy grabbed the Gold, also after a last-gasp solo effort. After a 161 km race between Antwerp and Leuven, Biniam Girmay (Eritrea) came second, with Olav Kooij of the Netherlands claiming the bronze. Local favourite Thibau Nys, the son of cyclycross legend Sven Nys, took 6th place. Just like the junior race, the U23 had a nervous race. There were riders falling even before the start of ther race. 

Leuven in the spotlights

Leuven will be in the centre of the attention the next days. 

The men's elite race on Sunday will start in Antwerp and have a loop south of Leuven in Overijse, before finishing with some local laps in Leuven. Hundreds of thousands of cycling enthusiasts are expected in these three days. All races end in Leuven, where some short but steep climbs like the Wijnpers and the Keizersberg could make the difference. 

Weather conditions should be good with mild temperatures above 20 Celsius, though Sunday afternoon a thunderstorm is possible.  

Below are some pictures to show the atmosphere:

Eritrea rider Biniam Girmay took the silver in the U23 race, but Filippo Baroncini came out on top.
Per Strand Hagenes of Norway took it in the U18 category.

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