After yesterday’s rest day, which gave everyone an opportunity to pre-ride the course on closed roads, the racing resumes with the road races, starting today and concluding on Sunday.
What kind of races are they?
All the road races are run on a similar circuit – just the number of loops, the start towns and overall distances differ. They all terminate once more in the Nelson Mandela Sports Forum in Florence.
- Friday am: Junior girls: Florence Cascine to Florence, 82.85km (five laps of the circuit)
- Friday pm: Men’s under-23: Montecatini Terme to Florence, 173.19km (seven laps)
- Saturday am: Junior boys: Montecatini Terme to Florence, 140.05km (five laps)
- Saturday pm: Elite women: Montecatini Terme to Florence, 140.05km (five laps)
- Sunday: Elite men: Lucca to Florence, 272.26km (ten laps)
The men’s road race starts in the beautiful fortified town of Lucca, whose ramparts were built between 1504 and 1645 to withstand attacks from the Florentines.
After the start, the men tackle a couple of bumps, the first at 14 km in Montecarlo (3.75km, 3.5% average, 9% maximum). Next up there’s a small rise in Collodi, birth place of the mother of Carlo Collodi, the spiritual father of Championships mascot Pinocchio. The route passes through Montecatini Terme, start of all the other races except the junior girls, before heading over the highest point in San Baronto, at 341 metres (3.9km, 7.1% average, 11% maximum).
Having ridden just over 100km to Florence, the riders hit the 16.6 km circuit which they complete ten times and which features the 4.6km climb to Fiesole whose summit is just 10km from the finish line.
After every descent of the Fiesole, the riders face a short fierce climb at Via Salviati – only 600 metres long but with an average gradient of 12% and a maximum of 20%. This might provide the launch-pad for the winning attack.
From this point it’s only 4km to the finish, not forgetting the drag up Via Trento – 300 metres at an average gradient of 10%.
Okay, so there are no giant climbs but riding over all those smaller ones adds up to 3,373 metres making it a long, hard day in the saddle. A number have commented that the parcours is akin to Liege-Bastogne-Liege and most reckon it’s the hardest route since 1980 when Bernard Hinault won in Sallanches, France.
What happened last year?
Marianne Vos (Netherlands) didn’t disappoint her home crowd as she powered to an imperious solo victory after a remarkable but frustrating run of five successive silver medals. She attacked with gusto on the final climb of the Cauberg to win by ten seconds from Rachel Neylan (Australia), while Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) came home a further eight seconds back in third.
Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert was crowned King of the World after his perfectly timed and devastating attack on the last ascent of the Cauberg – the 12th consecutive World Champion to have used the Vuelta to ride into form. Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alejandro Valverde respectively claimed silver and bronze.
1. Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) 6:10:41
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) +0:04
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) +0:05
4. John Degenkolb (Germany) same time
5. Lars Boom (Netherlands) s/t
Who to watch?
Ms Vos will be back to defend her crown on a parcours that once again suits her characteristics. While there will be plenty of riders hoping to spoil her party, it’s hard to see anyone succeeding, particularly as the one other rider who’s been prominent in recent races is her teammate Ellen Van Dijk. However, I would expect the teams from USA, Australia, GB and Italy to mount a strong challenge and, maybe, if they combine resources they might just defeat Queen Vos.
There’s rather more contenders in the men’s race. Reigning champion Gilbert didn’t have much to show for this year, until he surfaced in La Vuelta and won a stage but then this was exactly what he did last year. Is PhilGil going to retain the rainbow jersey? You wouldn’t bet against him.
Another fancied rider is Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Britain). The World Championships is one of his goals this year but it’s hard to maintain that competitive edge post-Tour.
Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) was superb in the Giro and fought to the death in the Vuelta. Will home advantage tip the scales in his favour? He’s climbed on to the podium four times, but never the top step. Could this be the year that Valverde (Spain) finally cracks it?
The French enjoyed a cracking Vuelta. Could that form translate into a rainbow jersey for one of them? Or will Boassen Hagen, last year’s runner-up, despite only having two teammates, repeat Thor Hushovd‘s feat in Melbourne 2010? Nor can one discount Bauke Mollema (Netherlands), a climber who won a sprint stage at the Vuelta having been invisible for most of the day: stealth tactics which might serve him well in Tuscany.
After his recent win in Canada, one can’t rule out the irrepressible Slovakian Peter Sagan. If he survives all the fiery climbs, no one can compete with him on the finish line. Or what about Vuelta winner Chris Horner (USA)?
As always there’s plenty of potential candidates but no dead certs and anything can happen on the day. The larger teams have the benefit of numbers plus there’s always a few who support their trade team leaders rather than national ones. If the favourites all mark one another out, someone could slip away on the Via Salviati and surprise us all.