World Championships Preview
It's great times in Yorkshire and to top off a massive week of cycling is the cherry on top of the cake, the men's elite road race. Every year it's a very special day and this year it should be no exception. I mean, look at it! It includes a loop through the Dales national park, passing through some climbs that were present in the opening stage of the 2014 Tour through some steep climbs and narrow roads to set the race up.
Just a note, 285 kilometers. Yes, 285, your average Sunday ride. And to make matters worst there's over 3500 meters of climbing. If the weather is hard, and if we take pretty much any day from this week as an example, it's just set to be a gruesome hard day.
Cray hill is the first real challenge of the day. There's still 218 kilometers to go from the summit, nobody will be attacking but the fatigue will surely be starting to set here, and some teams that are more climber-oriented may try to put in some work early in the day.
Butterbubs hill, it's still very far sure, but it's a hard climb, a proper hard one. As a classic Yorkshire climb, the average doesn't represent in any way what actually happens. The gradients go well into the double digits, there's lots of turns which may stretch things out so again some teams may turn up the gas. It comes with 181,5 kilometers to go.
And the final climb of the first section of the race is the Grinton Moor. 155,5 kilometers to go the riders will face the summit of what is another nasty climb. 5.5% average gradient but a couple of very steep sections, the entrance included so the fight for positioning alongside the early ramps may see some action once again in the front of the peloton. Also if some teams will be looking to put on some pressure this is definetely the launch pad and things will consolidate more after this climb and the opportunity to save the legs will arise.
And the final circuit is where everything will be decided. It's a very rolling once, it's never truly flat is it? Rolling in false flats up-and-down around Harrogate looks harder and harder the more I look into it, there's some sketchy roads like that quite steep descent in the first kilometers, that match with a dangerous chicane bend. After it there's a technical section, the roads narrow and the ramps get a little steep before then getting a little flatter in for the final kilometers, where it can't be ignored that even in the final straight there's quite a gradient up in it, will come after a turn so it will be necessary to put in a sprint with around 500 meters to go.
In a more detailed view you can really see it, it's a roller-coaster both in terms of gradients but also in the technical side. If the roads are wet it will be a whole different challenge, but even in dry conditions this route would be hard, it will be an affair of constant accelarations, constant tension and stress to be well positioned. It will be chaotic, unfortunately I foresee crashes will come aplenty.
Horrible horrible weather. Sorry I meant classic British weather. Rain, a lot throughout the morning which will get the roads very wet but throughout the race itself it will keep falling down.
The wind will be blowing very hard, around the 30Km/h mark from the north throughout the whole afternoon. This is important, it will mean there will be a tailwind in Grinton Moor and the whole approach to Harrogate which will further motivate any attacks to come, look no further from the Belgians.
As for the final circuit, well it changes direction constantly so it will make it harder but not necessarily favouring anyone, although if there's any hint to be given, the final 1.5Km are in a tailwind, long-distance sprint anyone?
Puncheurs and the nation dillema
The world championships, a race where teams don't work as much as a block and the individual goals may take over the riders' strategy at some point of the race. This is specially important when looking at the Belgian team, the main favourites for many but not any particular rider. Tim Declercq is there to work, and to a point I would say Remco Evenepoel and Yves Lampaert will race with the thought of helping out Philipe Gilbert winning as he's shown prestine form and the race suits him perfectly. However the same can't be said about Tim Wellens, Greg van Avermaet, Dylan Teuns and Oliver Naesen, all of them have more than proven to be worthy of a leadership and a world title, and these won't be working for sure they'll hunt their chances. The most important in this team is that no-one is a real sprinter, so inbetween all these riders it's expected that they will all have intentions of attacking, and likely Belgium's strategy will be to take turns in the offensive racing.
The other punchy men, the main riders are here. Julian Alaphillipe looks back in form after a great weekend of racing in Canada, with Benoit Cosnefroy and Remi Cavagna inbetween others the Frenchman will have the support needed, but perhaps not the riders to match Belgium, but let's be honest who has? Then there's the Netherlands, Mathieu van der Poel, he needs no introduction, his preparation for the worlds topped in the Tour of Britain itself where he won the GC and three wins. He has no problems with the distance, the technical, wet and very punchy circuit should suit him like a glove, and unlike Belgium he is the pronounced leader, and has riders like Bauke Mollema, Mike Teunissen and Dylan van Baarle there's quite a lot of power within them.
The other two punchy names I would like to mention as top favourites are, firstly, Alexey Lutsenko. He only has four teammates but coincidently they're all Astana riders, but as for him he's had a scary strong season and is perhaps one of the most underated riders in the startline. He has 10 wins this season including overall at Oman and Norway and last week he won two Italian classics in dominant and convincing fashion. He, like Sagan can't afford to have team chasing but if he finds himself in the right spot and is able to make use of his strenghts he's a candidate for the rainbow. And finally the Denmark national team are too to watch out, with Jakob Fuglsang coming after a huge season, Michael Valgren back in form, Kasper Asgreen who is a multi-tool and can virtually do anything that's needed and Mads Pedersen coming in flying form the Danes have very high expectations and the cold harsh weather should be no obstacle for them.
Sprinters in the midst of it
Of course the sprinters need a big mention, with the modern sprinter in need to climb better, some rare riders come across as a mix of puncheur/sprinter and in here we have lots of them. Peter Sagan the most obvious example, after his riding in Canada it's not hard to imagine him taking a fourth title but he will have to do it on his own essentially, however some others don't have the same problems. Sam Bennett has Eddie Dunbar and Dan Martin who despite being punchy will likely try to play for Bennett as he is Ireland's best option, Germany has Pascal Ackermann, it shouldn't be easy to see him up there but he can't be discarted specially with such a big team full of powerful riders such as Nikias Arndt and Nils Pollit who are big fans of rainy and roling races. But wait am I talking about all sprinters or just the Bora riders?
Matteo Trentin leading in Italy, it's really hard to see him out of the race unless bad luck hits him, he has virtually no weakness and we can also expect him to be on the attack if he finds the opportunity. Sonny Colbrelli and Davide Cimolai are also fast men who deal with this type of race quite well, Tour de Flandres winner Alberto Bettiol, Diego Ulissi who is back at his best this year and even Giovanni Visconti who is having a surprisingly good season so far. There's Norway, the distance will be to Kristoff's liking, it is completely his ground and he has proven this year that he still has it in his legs with some solid wins, Amund Jansen, Edvald Boassen Hagen and Carl Fredrik Hagen will be his main support and maybe he can repeat a performance as in Bergen where he was ever-so-close to the world title.
Finally there's Australia featuring the recent time-trial world champion Rohan Dennis but the team's options should lean more towards Michael Matthews, after his win in Quebec he will be on people's heads when considering the winner and Australia has the cards to play, Simon Clarke is a very plausible one to play but Jack Haig too is capable of being there until the very end.
What other faces may surprise?
I can't say the names I'll mention are natural outsiders, they aren't, but the quality in the startlist is so immense and some teams are just so strong that these names will struggle to be in the fight for the win, but will be filling in places in the Top10.
There's some strong teams, Spain arguably with the defending champions Alejandro Valverde but as a lightweight he won't deal well with the parcours, I'd have Ivan Cortina and Marc Soler with equal co-leadership roles if I was their DS. There's Colombia with a team of climbers, it's a somewhat narrowed down team with no real candidate, Quintana and Betancur should be leading, there's Slovenia with a multi-rider aproach, Matej Mohoric should be the leader but the route isn't exactly his speciality, he would need longer climbs and some descents to really make use of his legs, but with Roglic, Pogacar and a team of 8. Switzerland has Marc Hirschi and Stefan Kung as dangerous outsiders in the right circumstances, Austria has a solid approach with Konrad/Postleberger/Haller covering all terrains with a strong diverse team.
Czech comes with Zdenek Stybar, another rider from Deceuninck with a course designed close to his favourite alongside Roman Kreuziger and Petr Vakoc, Portugal comes with former WC Rui Costa who was also a big time winner in these weather conditions so he is not to discard, but also Ruben Guerreiro who is coming from a superb Vuelta. And despite only having three riders I'd have my eye on Latvia as they have Toms Skujins and Krists Neilands who is in great form and likes these rolling circuits.
Several other names come in the list, some that come as sole leaders essentially and will have to do a lot of work on their own, there's Rafal Majka, Richard Carapaz and Pavel Sivakov in the climber side of the list, also Michael Woods who was second last year but would like steeper climbs in the finale, Daryl Impey and Patrick Bevin as puncheurs that can definetely sprint if needed, Bob Jungels as a prestine rouleur and the ultimate wildcard for the race for me is Alexandr Riabushenko, winner of the Coppa Agostini two weeks ago and a long-time developing rider who has had good results when in good form.
⭐ Kristoff, S.Bennett, GV.Avermaet, Valgren, Stybar, Ulissi
I'm going for van der Poel. I saw this guy for the first time whilst watching cyclocross, I saw how impressive he was and seeing his progression in the road has been one of the most exciting subjects of the year and tomorrow, maybe it's too early, but I think he has everything to take the world championship.
Rain, steep climbs and descents, a very technical and rolling final circuit and a slight uphill finish, this has him written all over and the way he rode in the Tour of Britain may have been the sign we needed. Habemus Mathieu!
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