Who and what to look out for at the World Championships
All the world’s best and brightest cycling talent will shortly be descending on Bergen in Norway for the UCI Road World Championships. The racing starts with the women’s team time trial on 17th September and closes the following Sunday with the men’s road race. The courses for all events are decidedly lumpy, not least the road circuit, which every field will attack in the road races.
The World Championships week is front-loaded with time trial competitions, all of which take on variations of the same challenging route into Bergen. With the bulk of the kilometres behind them, the trade teams and national riders will have to take on a 3km climb of 6% average, spiking out at 16%. This will be where the race is won or lost. Both Boels-Dolmans and Quick-Step Floors will hope to defend their team time trial titles on Sunday 17th.
After a few days of individual time trials, in which we can expect good things from the Netherlands’ Anna van der Breggen and Bob Jungels of Luxembourg, we arrive at the road races. The women’s event is on Saturday 23rd, and the men take on a longer course – more laps of the same circuit – on the 24th.
The circuit is not so tough that it will completely rule out the top sprinters, nor tough enough to be a real target for mountain goats. But with a 1.5km climb of 6.5% average gradient, the course inspires an incredibly aggressive form of racing. The ramps in the first half of the circuit provide a perfect launch pad for a breakaway and could hold up the fast men enough to give the puncheurs a real chance.
Current world champion, Peter Sagan, can never be ruled out and, frankly, he has a pretty good chance. Handy in flat-out sprints but also more than capable of animating proceedings on climbs, all eyes will be on the Slovakian. Over in the women’s peloton, Amalia Dideriksen will also look to defend her stripes. The young Dane was something of an unknown quantity coming into the 2016 event, but an immense sprint propelled her over the line first in a close finish. If she can get over the climbs with the best, she too will be highly motivated to back up the title.
There are a whole host of other Specialized athletes to keep an eye out for, dispersed amongst nearly every national team to take the start. Teammates Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) and Julian Alaphilippe (France) are two riders of a similar mould who could power away from the pack in the closing kilometres, Spring Classics-style. And, should it come down to a bunch sprint, Fernando Gaviria (Colombia) and Sam Bennett (Ireland) will hope to light up their sprints.
Ultimately, it is a race which is very hard to predict. The route profile tells one story, but rarely does the racebook reflect what actually happens on the day. The only certainty is that the peloton is in for a week of tough, long and aggressive racing.
To finish, let’s take a moment to celebrate the reigning champion, Peter Sagan. Despite a minor hiccup at the Tour de France, he has carried the rainbow bands around the globe with buckets of style and quickly banished the shadow of the rainbow curse. He emerged as champion in 2015 and 2016. Surely, he couldn’t go for three in a row… could he?
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