33 juniors from 11 nations will toe the start line in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday. These 17 and 18 year old riders often go on to great things as they move into the U23 ranks and then to the Elite Men. The list of past World Champions is impressive: Bart Aernouts, Martin Bina, Lars Boom, Kevin Pauwels and Niels Albert, just to name a few. Here’s who you need to watch for in Louisville:
Mathieu van der Poel (NED) – to say that the defending World Champion is a heavy favorite is an understatement. He has won every race he’s entered this year and often posts lap times similar to the Elite Men. Very few riders have been able to keep in contact with van der Poel and he usually wins by impressive margins. As with all Europeans, the jet lag and travel is a question mark, but most of them seem to be adapting pretty well.
Logan Owen (USA) – Owen has proven himself to be a contender after a few stints in Europe. He’s been very competitive this season and hasn’t finished outside the top-five at any UCI race. He finished second overall in the World Cup and should have home field advantage on Saturday. If Owen pulls off the upset, he’ll join Matt Kelly (1999) as the on Americans to win a junior world title.
Martijn Budding (NED) – Budding finished on the podium of every World Cup round, except the first two. Like Owen, he’s always in the hunt for a podium and looks poised to continue that trend on Saturday. In addition to being the second ranked rider in the world, Budding recently finished second to van der Poel at their national championship. With that said, Budding was nearly a minute down to his fellow countryman.
Quinten Hermans (BEL) – Hermans has had a remarkable season thus far and is Belgium best hope at a medal in the junior race. He’s had the unfortunate task of trying to hang on to van der Poel’s wheel; he’s finished second to van der Poel 11 times this year. His results have faded a bit in January, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that the Belgians know how to perform when it matters most.
Yannick Peeters (BEL) – after beating Hermans for a national title, Peeters has popped up on a lot of people’s radar. He’s only 17, so this is his first crack at Worlds and only his eight UCI race this season. He could surprise many in Louisville and has to be a super early favorite for next year’s World Championships.