This is the Big One. When someone says "worlds," you think of the Elite Men's Road Race.
Compared to other years, I've got to say, I'm not convinced. While Ponferrada had two climbs, one long, but not steep enough, and one steep, but not long enough. This has three climbs, and let's face it, none of them are long enough, I don't see any way there'll be a solo victory. I especially loved the Firenze course, and there's no way this rivals that. It's better than Copenhagen, I suppose!
Don't mind if I jump in here. Yesterday we managed to ride the course a couple times, and I am convinced. Here's why:
- Libby Hill is nothing. It's not steep enough, though the cobbles are rough. But coming off a lot of flat, no single rider will be troubled by it. Still might produce attacks, because why not? But in and of itself, it's more sizzle than steak. Even when wet.
- 23rd Street could very well be decisive. It's not long but it is very hard. Like Paterbergish, though of course shorter. I was never in doubt of making it up. Still though. Ouch. Add rain and you could have people in trouble. We saw a couple chains drop there too. The stones are rough, Flanders style, and the sound of the riders attacking and slamming their carbon equipment into them is violent. [Do not EVER buy used gear from a pro.]
- From 23rd street there will be almost no time to regroup. You turn left at the top, then dive down a nasty hill into a left and a right. In another 30 seconds or so you are approaching Governor Street. Add in some rain and those turns will make it VERY hard for a chase group to organize.
- And then there's Governor Street, which will be raced very fast and will take riders practically to the line. Organization will be a thing of the past by then.
Who's Going to Win the Rainbow Jersey?
Before trying to figure out which rider is going to win the race, it's probably best to try to figure out what sort of rider is going to win the race. In my opinion, there's only two possible sorts.
You must understand, this is the loosest possible definition of the word "sprinters." Cavendish wouldn't come close to winning this even if he were riding it, and nor would Kittel. What I mean is what I would normally call, for want of a better word, "climby sprinters."
The first of these is Alexander Kristoff. Kristoff won a monument last year, and another one this year - De Ronde. He has more race wins than anyone this year, including Scheldeprijs and the GP Ouest France to go with his Flanders success, but that Flanders success showcases one of the reasons why he's such a good bet for Sunday, namely that he was actually the fastest up the short, steep cobbled climbs...which describes 23rd Street. He also can hold his own in a flat sprint against pure sprinters, and is good in long races in the rain, which this will be. He's my favourite for the gold medal.
Another "sprinter" is Peter Sagan. Has Sagan ridden a race this year where he wasn't tipped to win at least a stage? He's had a prolific year, winning a Vuelta stage, the Tour Green jersey in a particularly impressive chain of second places during that race and retaining his national championship. Perhaps most impressively of all was his overall victory in the Tour of California, a race in which he finished in the top three of every stage bar the Mt. Baldy summit finish - and he finished sixth on that day to give him the chance to sprint for the yellow jersey. Despite all that though, I don't think he'll win. One of his major problems can be seen in this picture.
The Classics Guys:
The main one being Greg Van Avermaet. And while I'm at it I'll throw in his co-leaders on the Belgian team, Philippe Gilbert and Tom Boonen. There are more words written and said about the Belgian team during worlds week than any other team combined, and I'll just add a few here. Those three are the three leaders of the Belgian squad, with Sep Vanmarcke enjoying slightly less privileged status. Last year, Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert got into the chase group behind Kwiatkowski, and Gilbert pulled the group for him, only for Van Avermaet to finish fifth. Will he be as amenable this time? It remains to be seen. Boonen would be the favourite for this just a couple of years ago, but I don't see it this year. Van Avermaet is my main pick out of these three. He can attack, and win out of a small group. Also don't forget Tiesj Benoot.
Zdenek Stybar is my second pick of the classics guys. The Czech 'cross champion can take his second sort of rainbow jersey on Sunday, perhaps aided by his skill on the sort of small hills that are found on the Richmond course. He has one of the best accelerations in cycling on short climbs.
There are of course some outsiders with a chance of victory. Vincenzo Nibali will have an attack, and I wouldn't discount Julian Alaphilippe. Michal Kwiatkowski will want to defend his title, and Alejandro Valverde always manages to do something or other at the worlds and Rigoberto Uran will have another go at repeating his win in Quebec. Tony Martin will attack sixty kilometres out. Matti Breschel...no, I'll stop there.