Dylan Hopkins fights of the overall victory at Gemenc GP
8 August 2023
A battle decided by the width of a tyre
The Gemenc Grand Prix is a 3 day UCI 2.2 tour run out of the Hungarian town Szekszárd. It features a short uphill prologue and then 2 relatively flat and punchy stages all finishing within the city. Going in, my team Ljubljana Gusto Santic knew that the race suited our characteristics and we could pull off a result. With the two road stages expected to be bunch sprints we knew the prologue was incredibly important and we had to be up there in order to fight for the GC.
The prologue was a short 2km uphill course, it featured cobbles, loads of turns, and an extremely steep finale. lots of thought went into the bike set up, I chose to run 30mm tubeless tires and 45mm deep wheels. This would give me plenty of control over the road surface. My teammate Viktor Potocki was up first, he gave me the inside advice and told me ‘when you see 500m to go just go full gas, you’ll need speed for that final climb’. My warm up was a simple ramp followed by 3 short sprints.
I went up to the start ramp and sat on my bike. 3 deep breaths and I was off. My decision was to go off hard, the first 400m was about 5% and cobbles. There was a chance to regather yourself after when the road went flat so getting started hard wasn’t risky. The road kicked up to 8% with 1km to go, it flattened once again at 500m and then at 200m to go it went to over 20% for the last bit. I stayed in the saddle trying to stay over 600w and then with 500m to go I got out of the saddle and sprinted to the line. I knew my time was good as I caught my minute man. Once I got back to the bus everyone began congratulating me and I found out I was sitting fastest by 6 seconds, knocking my teammate Anze Skok out of the hot seat.
The time was good, some told me unbeatable but there were some strong riders yet to come. The New Zealand team Blackspoke were attending as well as many strong European teams all with standout riders. One by one the times clicked through, until one rider from the Elkov Cycling team went 3 seconds faster than me. A time that would actually remain unbeatable. I would finish in 2nd and my teammate Skok would hold onto 2nd.
On the second day, we faced a 175 km stage, seemingly flat, but the dynamics were anything but. With tight time gaps between riders and the chance to earn bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints. This made for some really aggressive racing and the breakaway took over 100 kilometers to form. Sprinting has never been my strong suit, and our tactic was to support Skok’s bid for the General Classification (GC). However, Skok suffered a crash, dislocating his shoulder and ruining his chance at a result. The pressure of the team’s result fell on me.
Determined to make the most of the situation, I dug deep and sprinted in two opportunities available to gain crucial seconds. Thanks to the lead-out by my teammate Viktor Potocki, I managed to secure a single second in one of the sprints. With Skok out of contention, all focus turned to the stage result for me. Positioned well into the final turn, my chance took a turn when I my dropped chain on the cobbled section with 300m to go and fell out of contention. Although a little disappointed, I was happy in knowing that I had managed to narrow the gap to the GC leader, reducing it to a mere 1-second difference. As the spotlight shifted to the final day, I was determined to leave no stone unturned and go for the overall win.
The final stage was more selective and featured laps of a circuit with a 2km hill. There was a possibility to attack on the final climb but with 30km of big wide road afterwards, it would be hard to ride away. I went to the team leading GC and we discussed the risk of the riders from Blackspoke jumping our GC. George Jackson was fast and he only needed to win one sprint to be in the lead. We had to drop him on the climb to be able to hold on. I also encouraged Elkov to burn their matches to drop him, this would secretly help me as I backed myself to get some bonus seconds from a small group and take the GC lead. The plan went perfectly, I saw Jackson was struggling on the climb and made sure Elkov knew.
A break had gone up the road with no GC threats so I was happy to see them take the bonus seconds on the road. This however meant I had to race for the stage result, all I had to do was finish 3rd and I would win the tour.
On the final climb, Elkov went full gas taking away a group of 15 or so riders. I was the only one represented on my team but I chose to work. George Jackson was in the GC lead after winning the first sprint so by working I was protecting my GC and also giving me the opportunity to sprint the group and win the race overall. We went full gas, the gap grew to over a minute and riders started playing games. I decided to hide, I went to the back and did not roll another turn. I wanted people to forget about me. However the group stopped working and everyone began to watch each other. An attack of three riders went away with no Elkov, I gambled. Elkov were forced to chase, they caught 500m to go and the sprint opened up. I went early trying to see if I could force a gap on the uphill sprint. On the line and I lunged, my legs where gone but I only saw
two wheels in-front. ‘Am I 3rd?’ I thought to myself ‘ did I just win the tour?’.
A later inspection of the photo finish, I was 4th by a tyre’s width. Agonisingly close to my first GC win. When I do everything I can to get the result but it doesn’t work out, I am only happy. I have no regrets and am happy and stocked to finish second overall for my team. If anything I now have the confidence and know that I will be fighting for the win again in the future.
Dylan will now line up for Australia this Friday, August 12, for the UCI road world championships men’s under 23 road race.