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Worlds RR Preview: The Main Event

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The biggest race of the year is on Sunday (unless you live in Belgium). It's a very unpredictable race with three climbs in the last few kilometres of the lap.

JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)

This is the Big One. When someone says "worlds," you think of the Elite Men's Road Race.

The Course:

This is not the hardest worlds course ever. It's 259.2 kilometres long, with 1648 metres of vertical climbing, not as many as the last two years. However, it is certainly no flat crit. The three climbs - Libby Hill, the cobbled 23rd Street, and the final Governor street which officially finishes with 300 metres to go, but continues as a false flat, all come near the end, and provide an excellent springboard for attacks. At the time of writing, the junior races have not yet been ridden, but the course does look like it will lend itself to attacking opportunities.

The Map:
Not particularly technical, though there are a few 90-degree bends - in fact, most of the bends are 90 degrees.

The Profile:
Mens RR Profile
Looks less like limestone cliffs than a badly maintained wall, but in its defence, that's only 1/16th of the race. What it does show is that the race barely goes over 50 metres.

The Finish:

Mens RR Finish

Oh, look! The rarest of rarities when it come to these worlds! An informative profile! It shows the last four kilometres of the race, and goes into a little detail on the climbs. Libby Hill, with 3.5 kilometres left of the circuit, is 215 metres in length at 8 percent, and cobbled, and when they're doing it sixteen times at rapidly increasing speed, it's a bit of an ordeal. There seems to be a flat section in the middle, and steeper bits at the start and the end, though they can't be too different if those figures are to be believed. Have a video.

Libby Hill leads on to the most talked-about climb of the race, cobbled, steep 23rd Street. It's no Koppenberg, but it is over 10% in gradient, and it's certainly not smooth tarmac, which is one of the things that just might tip the balance in favour of the bigger, sprintier guys. The only thing is, it's less than 200 metres long -  there's not much time to get a gap when attacking, and a good kilometre and a half before the next bit of climbing.
Valverde Climbs 23rd Street Richmond
(Chris Fontecchio, Podium Cafe)
Finally there's Governor Street, the only road race climb to be used in the TTs. This says it's 295 metres at 7%, but it's looked a bit easier than that in practice - it hasn't troubled the time-triallists too much. However, Tom Boonen calls it the hardest one, so I don't know, maybe I'm overestimating the other ones!

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!

[Chris's Update]

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.
Taken together, a last lap attack would have a great chance of getting away. Before that? I dunno, there's a ton of recovery after the line. Maybe in foul weather someone could stay away for a while, to the finish. But it's pretty flat when it's not on these hills. [/Chris]

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.

The Sprinters:

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.

Sagan and team mate, Richmond

(Chris Fontecchio, Podium Cafe)

No, not the Canadian guy. The other three people in that photo make up the entire Slovakian team, his brother Juraj the first, and Michael Kolar the second, along with himself. While Kwiatkowski owed a lot of his win last year to his eight team mates, Sagan is relying on a 22-year-old rider in his second year as a pro, and his brother, who has only won one race in his career, and that was a 1.2. While Sagan is undoubtedly one of, if not the most talented riders in the sport, his lack of team, and even his reputation may count against him in this race. People will refuse to work with him if he attacks. I also have doubts about him being able to outsprint Kristoff, Degenkolb, or even Matthews after 260 kilometres. While Sagan is undoubtedly a fantastic rider, I just don't think it's his year. Bronze at best.

My third pick of the fastmen is Aussie Michael Matthews. Wearing the maglia rosa for the second season of his career on stage three of the Giro, and wearing it to victory was one of the biggest ins of his career, but there was also a big moment in the Amstel Gold Race, when he was perhaps the strongest on the Cauberg, only to lose the sprint. He had a great Paris-Nice and also a good Pais Vasco, and even though a crash caused him to get dropped on almost all of the Tour de France stages, he took the mental bonus from finishing the race through adversity. Recently, he rode well in Alberta, and won the sprint for second place in Quebec, importantly beating Kristoff, though on a harder finish. However, I think he may not when push comes to shove on Sunday. My pick for silver.
Mike Matthews world champion
After winning the U23 race in 2010, (Quinn Rooney, Getty Images)

John Degenkolb ripped up the spring classics this year. With victories in MSR and Paris-Roubaix he did enough to call the decade a success, but winning the worlds would create a never-before done triple. However, I just don't see it. Despite the fact that his German team seem to be all for him, even though Greipel is there, Degenkolb doesn't have the sprint to equal Kristoff or Sagan, nor Matthews' hill skills.

Andre Greipel, Elia Viviani and Nacer Bouhanni are the real sprinters coming to the race. While Greipel is probably working for Degenkolb, and may find the course too hard, Viviani has named himself a candidate for victory, and backed it up with fantastic sprinting performances in the Tour of Britain. While I don't see him winning, and nor do I foresee Bouhanni celebrating with a boxing stance on Sunday, they will be a factor on the race, with the teams of Norway and Australia needing to drop them for their own riders to succeed.

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.