It was, in so many ways, a throw back to the roots of Speed of Light. A small group of 20, assembled by the start under clouding skies, joking before the off and the frenetic forty minutes that is SOL. Simply starting was an improvement after last week’s incident, and for more riders than one. The return of Einstein Racing-Short’s Brewing’s Ryan Kennedy drew a round of welcome, with the Tour winner making his first SOL appearance since the Queen Stage back in July due to injury.
His name was immediately tossed into the ring of favorites, and the only former winner in attendance. It was a fitting that the three riders so close this season were also in the hunt, with John O’Hearn, Kent McNeil and Cody Sovis making up a group of four that established a lead almost immediately, with Sovis dutifully on the front for Kennedy, a scene the pair have staged countless times on Thursday nights since 2012.
Behind, Susan Vigland raced to the women’s World Champion title unopposed, but that didn’t give her the night off, as she tucked into a chase group that included the mono-cogged Craig Fortuna, Chris Klau and Jaden Drews.
Lars Welton, too, had no competition for his Master’s World Champion category, but used the night as ready and important training for what we believe is his 400th Iceman Cometh Challenge. It was a solid night for Hagerty Cycling, and they’ll hold two of the three World titles for all of 2o17.
The men’s title, however, was far from decided, even as the race rounded a re-routed course to the Power Section. With Sovis ensconced on the front, much of the first half of the race saw the favorites marking and watching, content to bring things to a head in the finale. It all had the scent and feel of something Flandrien; a brief rain soaked riders and made the trail damp and gummy, as the four final titans of summer sprinted into the gather autumn ahead.
Kennedy attempted to move on the Boonenberg, but it was only Sovis of the quartet who found difficulty. Over the top the pace slowed, allowing Sovis to eventually slide back onto the front and bring the race to the foot of Anita’s with everything to play for. It was O’Hearn on the left, Kennedy up the middle and Sovis on the right flank, bar-to-bar, up the climb, with McNeil vigilant just behind. Sovis’ usual move on Go! was decidedly lackluster, and O’Hearn was ready.
Taking the lead, O’Hearn looked completely in control and untroubled, deftly clearing the logging trenches and forcing Sovis to use his last reserves to pull Kennedy back into contention, only just regaining O’Hearn’s wheel before the last power line crossing. Kennedy jumped, but O’Hearn made contact and had the better line down the last descent. A late flourish from Kennedy was answered in the final right hand turn, with O’Hearn taking the win by a tire width.
It’s a fitting win for O’Hearn, who has proven himself as one of the most consistent riders of 2016. He missed just a single SOL all summer, and will finish second in the WorldTour points standings. It’s hard to think of a more deserving World Champion after submitting a summer of stellar work.
Sovis gives Einstein Racing-Short’s Brewing two riders on the podium behind Kennedy, with McNeil coming home fourth.