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Evenepoel wins world title, Matthews third

Remco Evenepoel’s world title was a dream come true for the young Belgian cycling star and Michael Matthews’ bronze medal at home felt as good as a win.

Just as Evenepoel capped his astonishing season with a command performance on Sunday in Wollongong, so Matthews headlined a complete Australian effort with his third place in the men’s elite road race.

Matthews’ fifth podium finish at a world road title was also vindication for the team and AusCycling selectors, who chose him over sprinter Caleb Ewan.

The men’s race was an outstanding end to the week-long worlds, with some 100,000 fans lining the course in perfect conditions.

The key feature of the course was a testing 17km finishing lap at Wollongong, which the men completed 12 times.

The 22-year-old Belgian ace went clear by himself with 25km left in the tough, 266.9km road race and pumped his fist in elation at the finish.

It is the cycling-mad nation’s first men’s world title since Philippe Gilbert in 2012.

Two minutes 21 seconds after Evenepoel, a chase group was gobbled up by the fast-finishing peloton and Matthews was where he needed to be as they sprinted for the minor medals.

Christophe Laporte took second and Matthews finished third.

Evenepoel’s emphatic win came a fortnight after he became the first Belgian to win a Grand Tour in 44 years when he took out the Vuelta a Espana.

Earlier this year, he also won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one of cycling’s one-day monuments.

“You dream about a few things,” Evenepoel said. “When I became professional I had two or three really big goals.

“To do everytihing like that in one year, it’s really incredible.”

Evenepoel, who is a non-drinker, had no time to celebrate his Vuelta triumph before coming to Australia and he aims to make up for lost time.

“I will be at every party for the next month,” he said.

Compatriot Wout van Aert finished fourth and the Belgians rode a perfect race, in contrast to last year’s disaster when they messed up at their home worlds.

The Australians, too, were celebrating great teamwork after Matthews’ bronze.

After winning the under-23 world title at Geelong in 2010, Matthews has won silver and bronze in the senior race ahead of Sunday’s podium.

He also won bronze last Wednesday in the mixed team relay.

“This one’s the best, definitely on home soil,” Matthews said.

“It’s definitely the most special … it feels like a win.”

Geelong was the only other time Australia has hosted the road worlds and that also featured Allan Davis’ bronze in the men’s road race.

This time Australia won two silver and two bronze across the week.

There was drama on Sunday morning when Dutch ace Mathieu van der Poel started but withdrew soon after.

It had emerged that he was arrested on Saturday night and charged with assault.

Police took van der Poel into custody after an incident at the team hotel involving an argument with two teenage girls as he was trying to sleep on race eve.

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