Worlds Race Preview: There are probably four ‘Top Favourites’ for Sunday’s men’s road race, but this is the World championships and the strangest things can happen, a ‘nobody’ never wins the rainbow jersey… there can be surprises. Ed Hood looks at the course and who might be the protagonists for the rainbow race in Wollongong.
The rainbow jersey, perhaps to ‘civilians’ the yellow jersey is more famous; and of course most Italians would sooner win a Primavera than a Worlds [I can relate to that, it’s the most beautiful race in the world] – whilst the Worlds is a poor second to de Ronde if you’re Flemish. But for many riders it’s the pinnacle.
Still a big thing… Even in Flanders
For a whole year you get to wear that beautiful jersey that gives you mega respect in the peloton, which parts like the Red Sea when you want to move up – no helmet butts, shoulder leans or pointy elbows for le maillot arc-en-ciel.
Australian World road champion – Cadel Evans
This year we travel to the other side of the globe to a country which has bred some great riders BUT only one Worlds winner, ‘Super Grump’ Cadel Evans who wasn’t shy in telling us how little he owed to his team on that famous day. Moving on. . .
With no thanks to his team… Apparently
The Elite Road races start in Helensburgh, about 30km north of Wollongong before a 34km loop around Mount Keira (climb length of 8.7km, average gradient of 5%, maximum incline of 15%). The race will end for some here, before it’s even become serious.
Map and profile
The Elite Road races then take in a dozen laps of the Wollongong City Circuit. This 17.7km circuit has 220m of climbing elevation each lap including the incongruously titled Mount Pleasant climb (climb length of 1.1km, average gradient of 7.7%, maximum incline of 14%).
Mount (un)Pleasant circuit
Elite Men will climb 3,945m – the same as a Grand Tour mountain stage but in lots of small doses, meaning it’s not one for the ‘pure’ climbers – over a race distance of 266.9km (one Mount Keira loop, 12 x Wollongong City Circuit). It’s a race for ‘puncheurs’ or a man with a big finish who can survive all that altitude gain.
Mount Keira circuit
Let’s have a wander through the nations I think will be in the mix. . .
Australia: Appropriately, let’s start with the home nation, who have, as I mentioned above, have won the title once with Mr. Evans – just don’t step on his dog. . . Who isn’t here has been getting a lot of attention, namely small but very quick Caleb Ewan, he can get over the climbs but the Aussie selectors must think that wearing on for 4,000 metres of altitude gain is too much for him. Or is it they want no divisions within the team, ONE leader, NO confusion? Their man then is Michael Matthews, a good choice for this circuit; that magnificent Tour stage win this year and a recent second place in hilly Quebec – a race he’s won twice in the past – endorse his credentials. Buoyed by huge home support and a very experienced and focused team, a podium is very possible.
Michael Matthews – Australian hope
Belgium: Despite their 26 wins making it the most successful at the Worlds – albeit a decade since last they won – like the nation, the team always has divided loyalties, the management has to deal with having two of the world’s biggest talents on the same team with both coveting that lovely maillot – WVA or Remco? Both would be good worthy winners but only ONE can win. . . When discussing your ‘average’ top line pro one might think that Remco may be ‘worn done’ from his Vuelta exertions? But Remco isn’t average, he’s ‘special’ – but then so is Wout. Both have the ‘super favourite’ stamp on their PEZ files.
Wout and Remco – Frosty?
Denmark: Their man who would have been a red hot favourite – and gave Denmark their one previous win in the event – for this race hasn’t made the long trip to the Antipodes. But then Mads Pedersen thinks that stage wins in the Étoile des Bessèges, Paris-Nice, Circuit de la Sarthe, Tours of Belgium, France and Spain – where he netted three, is enough for one season. Their man then will be Tour de France baroudeur and stage winner, Magnus Cort. A podium is difficult to see though.
Magnus Cort – Denmark’s best?
Eritrea: A year or two ago I would never have thought I’d be writing that nation’s name in a Worlds preview; but a certain Biniam Girmay has changed all that. A Classic and Grand Tour stage winner, his recent form is excellent – sixth at Plouay, fourth in the Tour du Doubs, third in Quebec and second in Wallonie. His team will work until the drop for him but he’ll be alone late in the day – however, the man is ‘special.’
Biniam Girmay – A top favourite
France: Third in the list of winners with 10 successes, behind Belgium and Italy, there’s a big question mark around their line up this year. . . Has crash prone double and reigning Campione, ‘Ala’ recovered from his last encounter with the tarmac? If he has then the parcours suits him to a tee; if not look to men on form Valentin Madouas and Tour stage winner, Christophe Laporte. If I was a French selector then I think I may have found room for Quebec winner, Benoit Cosnefroy?
Madouas, Laporte or… Alaphilippe for France?
Germany: They have two wins but it’s a long way back to 1966 and Rudi Altig.
At time of writing I’m surprised not to see Messrs, Schachmann and Politt on the start list – but it’s a long season and some guys are already on the beach in their heads.
Tom Simpson, Jacques Anquteil, Rudi Altig and Eddy Merckx – Three World champions out of four
Great Britain: My hero, Tom Simpson was just a little bit before my time in 1967 but I was there when Cav and GB dominated the race in Denmark in 2011 to give GB their second rainbow. They field a very strong squad with versatile and talented Ethan Hayter the leader; but in Fred Wright they have in my eyes a realistic podium contender, if he’s recovered from his massive Vuelta exertions. They’re backed by a very strong team with the likes of Swift’s, Ben and Connor and Ben’s, Turner and Tulett.
Podium for Fred Wright?
Italy: Only Belgium have won this race more times than, la Bella Italia, 19 victories; but time is rolling on, 2008 and Alessandro Ballan seems like a different era.
Matteo Trentin has been second and fourth in this race and whilst at 33 years-old, he’s no spring chicken, the form is there, strong in Limousin and Luxembourg he has few peers when it comes to foxiness and it’s not difficult to envisage him on the podium. Then there’s Alberto Bettiol, a man who’s either average or awesome, which will it be? And unlike some nations the Italian team is famous for unity and riding as a TEAM – whilst there are ‘I’s’ in the Belgian spelling of ‘team.’
Matteo Trentin has a good World’s record
The Netherlands: The orange jersey has triumphed seven times but ‘Joopie’ and 1985 is ancient history if you’re not a dinosaur like me – and ‘yes’ Dave and I were there. Another hugely strong team; MVDP is coming back to boil with three straight wins in his last three races – Gerardsbergen, Izegem and Wallonie and must be viewed as a ‘super favourite.’ But then there’s big Bauke Mollema, the harder the better for that Dude. And don’t forget Paris-Roubaix winner, Dylan Van Baarle, he wasn’t doing a couple of hours which included big efforts on the Vuelta rest days because he’s a sadomasochist.
Mathieu van der Poel – Must be one of the top favourites
Norway: The last time the Worlds was held in Australia, it was a Norwegian who gave the nation it’s one win in the event – Thor Hushovd in 2010. I’ve checked the weather for Wollongong and there’s no chance of snow, gales and only a low percentage chance of rain – all the things that make Alex Kristoff a happy camper. However, he’s another ‘harder the better’ man and 12 laps over that urban circuit will be super tough and selective – a podium? It’s possible.
The weather will be too nice for Alex Kristoff:
Slovenia: Have one Worlds medal, courtesy big strong Andrej Hauptman who took bronze in 2001 in Lisbon. BUT this could be the year that changes, Tadej Pogačar announced his return by beating WVA in Montreal; with the likes of Tratnik, Polanc and Novak he has strong support. Mark that man down as a ‘super favourite.’
‘Super Favourite’ Tadej Pogačar
Spain: Six times winners with the most recent in 2018, courtesy Alejandro Valverde – this Worlds won’t be the same without the race’s most consistent performer with four bronze, two silver and a gold medal to his name. But Movistar need them UCi points, BAD. Marc Soler has to be their man if they can calm him down and get him to remember that the Worlds is ALWAYS about the last lap.
Soler is no Valverde, but…
Switzerland: The nation that gave us cuckoo clocks, Toblerone and Fabian Cancellara has big ‘Classicer/Chronoman’ Stefan Küng as their man, the team is good with experience in Silvan Dillier and strength in Stefan Bissiger. Küng was on the podium in Harrogate, don’t forget.
Stefan Küng – He’s big and he’s strong:
United States: Have won three times, 1993 with that Dude from Plano being the most recent. They have two handy men in their line-up, fifth in the Worlds last year, Neilson Powless and precocious 20 years-old INEOS talent, Magnus Sheffield who has already won a Belgian semi-classic in Brabantse Pijl.
Neilson Powless – 5th in the 2021 Worlds
Four super favourites then: Remco, Wout, Mathieu and Tadej; BUT you know what the French say about ‘le troisieme larron,’ – the ‘third thief’ – who grabs the jewels while the big villains squabble over the spoils. . .
Could one of these riders be in the rainbow jersey on Sunday?
# Stay PEZ for all the news and race reports from Wollongong and catch-up in EUROTRASH Thursday and Monday. #