Road world championships: Elite men’s road race preview

A tricky little tester of a circuit looks like it will provide us with the most open and fascinating World Championships road race we have seen for a while. The parcours is tough but the climbs are not quite tough enough to either rule out the sprinters or favour the climbers. The final kilometres are composed of a technical descent and flat run into the finish. It’s all very Milan-San Remo, and everyone loves the unpredictable La Primavera, don’t they?

The parcours

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Details of route for the Road Races at World Championships, Ponferrada

  • The 254.8km race for the rainbow stripes takes place over 14 laps of an 18.1km circuit.
  • The parcours includes two climbs, which are quite different in character.  All the road races have been held over the same circuit, with the number of laps varying according to each category.
  • The Confederación comes after about 4km. It’s a 5.2km ascent to the summit, with the steepest 8% sections coming at the beginning. This is one of those climbs that seems easy on the first few laps, but it will test the stamina as the race enters its closing stages, with positioning being important as the peloton will string out.
  • It’s a tricky descent from the summit, particularly the right-hand corner as the riders approach the bridge crossing for the Bárcena dam. There have been several nasty crashes here already.
  • Almost as soon as the riders cross the bridge they hit the lower slopes of the Mirador. It’s a different sort of climb and more selective: short at 1.1km, with the gradient kicking up to 10% at the bottom and again towards the summit.
  • The descent is steep and technical, favouring a rider with great bike handling and descending skills.
  • Once off the descent, there is a wide, flat run-in to the finish line. There are a couple of roundabouts to be negotiated, but the last of these is at 600 metre to go, and from there it will be fast and frantic.

Fast facts

  • There will be teams from 44 countries on the start line, varying in composition from one to nine riders.
  • Ten teams have the maximum of nine riders, while five have only a single representative.
  • Belgium has the most wins with 26, the last being Philippe Gilbert in 2012. The only other nation to have wins in the double digits is Italy with 19.
  • There are 203 riders on the start line, with 60 making their debut in the elite race.
  • Watch out for the beautiful Knights Templar castle, 3km into each lap.

Who to watch

This is going to be an open race and there are many riders who could challenge depending on how riders choose to ride the race.

Several teams will look to keep the tempo steady over the climbs and bring their fast men home for a bunch sprint, while others will seek to make a breakaway and hope to hold the advantage down the descent and away to the finish line.

Some strong riders, for example Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), have a small team to support them and will have to rely on race smarts. Others such as Simon Gerrans (Australia) will have a huge team to support them and control the race. There are of course some teams who don’t appear to cooperate well at all: Spain is a classic example, a traditionally strong team who have not had a winner since Oscar Freire in 2004 – and we all remember last year’s controversy featuring Senors Valverde and Rodriguez, don’t we?

We also often see cooperation from riders on different national teams who are teammates on their trade team for most of the year.

The Worlds is always special, and seems to play out just that little bit differently. It’s a hard task to pick a winner, but here are ten riders I think might just be up there at the end. In no particular order…

  • Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland): Fabs has concentrated fully on the road race this year. It’s the one item missing from his impressive palmares. He showed good form at the Vuelta, and if he can make one of his trademark breaks on the final Mirador climb, he’s the sort of rider who can keep the pack at bay.
  • Simon Gerrans (Australia): Has been on top form recently, winning both Canadian one-day classics. This is just the sort of scrapping race he excels at. He’s backed by a strong Australian team which includes a strong plan B in Michael ‘Bling’ Mathews.
  • Alexander Kristoff (Norway): It’s a Milan-San Remo-esque finish, so who better than the La Primavera winner? He loves a long, tough race, especially if the weather turns nasty.
  • Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium): For so long the bridesmaid with a string of second places, he’s in a rich seam of form currently. His strength and stamina will hold him in good stead, and the Belgian team is packed with potential winners should it turn out not to be his day.
  • Peter Sagan (Slovakia): Hard to write off despite indifferent form at the Vuelta. If he gets his tactics right and he’s on song, this is the sort of finish he thrives on.
  • Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland): Lively at GP Plouay and the recent Tour of Britain. He climbs well, is superb on the descents and is fast when he needs to be in the smaller group sprints.
  • Dan Martin (Ireland): The Worlds has long been on his list of races to win. He came back after his awful crash at the Giro to take a fine seventh place at La Vuelta. The climbs may not be quite tough enough, but if he gets away with a small group he has a decent sprint.
  • John Degenkolb (Germany): Would have been a top favourite if not for his illness after the Vuelta. We shall have to see how he goes on the day. If not Degs, then Germany could look to Simon Geschke.
  • Alejandro Valverde (Spain): Five times he has stood on a World Championships podium, but never on the top step. You can’t rule him out, particularly after his win at San Sebastian. Personally, I don’t think the race will be hard enough for either him or his compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez, but they do have home advantage.
  • Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania): The Honey Badger is my dark horse pick. I never seem to notice him in a race until suddenly he’s there and fighting it out for the win. He was third and fourth at the two Canadian classics, fourth at the Tour of Alberta and took a stage at the Tour de France.

Live action and highlights will be shown live by on BBC2 from 1320 in the UK. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website

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