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Worlds Preview: Another look at the 2019 courses

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This article originally ran in September 2018. With the Worlds beginning this weekend, we’re pushing it back to the top of the page to give us a chance to look again at the parcours still to come. So far, the para-cycling has begun (and I’m sorry not to have covered it, though my utter ignorance would have done a disservice to the athletes involved) and I’ve also missed the mixed TTT. I’m not sorry about the latter, as I’ll start taking it seriously when the teams do. If Australia don’t enter a squad, and the teams that do take part send weak teams, why should the rest of us bother.

Re-reading this article, and the comments below, I’m pretty happy that we’ve got this covered - though the emergence of young stars since I wrote it changes the list of possible winners somewhat. I still think that Quebec is the best point of comparison, as a course that looks tough but almost always finishes with a tough sprint. I still think Sagan is the favourite. I still think that the inherent attacking nature of the women’s peloton and the sheer length of the men’s race marginally decreases the chance of sprint finishes, but that’s what I’d expect. Early sighters of the circuit duing the Tour de Yorkshire have changed nothing for me.

Oh, and I’m sorry that I won’t be there. Hopefully you guys can use the space below to arrange a meet-up, but fatherhood will keep me off course.

Follow half of Liege-Bastogne-Liege with two-thirds of Quebec, and make the weather worse.

I have just done some maths and realised that I have lived in Yorkshire for just 12 of my 35.5 years on this Earth. That’s as near to a third as makes no difference. If you work by birth, by parentage, by current location or by length of time, I’m not really from Yorkshire. I don’t really sound like I am (although I pronounce words like “bath” and “grass” correctly). Still, York is where I spent my formative years and, insofar as anywhere feels like the place I have roots, it’s Yorkshire. I support the Tykes in the sport that dare not speak its name. I have strong views on Parkin cake and Parkinson.

All of which is to say that I’m excited to see the World Championships come to “my home” and I feel a strong and perverse sense of responsibility that the organisers put on a good show. Based on the Tour grand depart and the success of the Tour of Yorkshire, I thought they would. Yesterday’s release of course details has only encouraged me further. Let’s have a quick look at what we have in store.

The plans

The UCI and the 2019 organisers have a pretty good website, which in 2018 should be a given, but really isn’t, as anyone who’s tried to find route details for cycling races can attest. The “macro” planning makes a great deal of sense to me. They’ve based the races in Harrogate, where all the races will finish. This puts them in a pretty bit of the county that gives good access to hills and lots of accommodation. The access by road is okay and by train is poor, but I’m sure everyone will cope. Once people arrive in Harrogate, things will be great. It’s a very nice town with a Victorian sort of a vibe.

The Stray, Harrogate’s large and lovely park
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The various “run-ins” to the finishing circuit mean that a large percentage of England’s largest ceremonial county will be able to see the race. As with the Tour of Yorkshire, I would describe the juggling of geography, city populations, road closures, accessibility, racing interest, TV requirements and politics as “masterful”. No, they don’t go to Sheffield (or York, or the coast), but they cover a lot of ground and get pretty close to most people, without making life impossible for the riders or TV crews. That stuff isn’t easy.

Yorkshire can’t take credit for the new team relay, but it’ll be fun to see it for the first time. It’ll take a while to digest the details but for now, colour me intrigued. I watched precisely none of the TTT so this will be progress (though I fear that we’ll be watching a race for second place, with the Dutch team showered and propping up the bar at The Fat Badger* before the rest of the field come in). I’m also delighted and a little proud to see that for the first time the C1 para-cycling Worlds will be incorporated into the festival. This is also progress, of a much more profound sort. Equally good news is that, although all the courses differ in route and length, there’s no obvious sexism at play – the women’s courses are, on the whole, every bit as exciting and challenging as the men’s.

* yes, really. Nice little bar. Perfectly sensible name. Hush.

Para-Cycling and The time trials

We start off with para-cycling, four races on a flattish route across the southern fringes of North Yorkshire, through the Vale of York and into Harrogate. The longest route is 93km, with different classifications covering varying lengths of race. For all of them, expect the roads to be packed. That last statement holds true for the entire week, but this is a Saturday and the only chance that most fans on much of the day’s routes will have to see an event close to home.

Next up is the team relay and the two junior time trials, all of which use the finishing lap, more of which later. The U-23 men and elite women ride into Harrogate from Ripon, finishing with a lap of the finishing circuit.

Fun fact about Ripon – In my opinion, there is nowhere drunker than Ripon racecourse on a summer’s day. I went there once and met a coach driver outside, who’d driven up from Leeds to Ripon (no distance at all) to drop people at the pub at 8.00. The first race was at 2.15. Carnage ensued, which came as no surprise to anyone. Pretty course, though.

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The men’s elite time trial comes in from Northallerton on a straight route, and doesn’t take in a lap of the finishing circuit. At 54km, it is long enough to be very tough, and don’t underestimate the early climbs, particularly into Masham. Not quite as climby as the 2018 course, but the climbing is earlier and more spread out (the course is also slightly longer).

Fun fact about Northallerton – nope, that isn’t something I know. It is the County town of North Yorkshire, which is handy in pub quizzes, or if you work for the Council, and for no other reason. It has a train station. I went to school with a guy from there. That is about as much as I know about the place. Still, the route to Harrogate is a pretty one and they go through lots of nice places. I’ve talked about Masham before.

The road races

First up is the men’s junior, which starts in Richmond follows a course of steep hills in and out of the dales, ending with three laps of the finishing circuit. This might be the prettiest of all the routes, and probably the most useful yardstick for the two elite routes, as the course geography is quite similar. The climbs and some of the exposed roads on the moors (the flasttish hills between the Dales, which are valleys) will be familiar to watchers of previous Yorkshire races. There will certainly be a chance for climbers to get clear, the question is whether there’ll be enough challenge at the end to stay clear.

Fun fact about Richmond – one of my favourite school trips went to Richmond. It has a Georgian theatre that is simply stunning and was the first place I ever went on stage. Didn’t say or do anything, but I stood on a stage, which felt cool at the time and still does, as it happens. This was also the constituency home of former Leader of the Opposition and Foreign Secretary William Hague, and the place he allegedly drank 14 pints on a standard night out.

The Georgian Theatre
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The women’s junior takes a different route, coming into town from Doncaster and without a finishing loop. This will be a steady drag uphill on exposed roads, but in truth it is the least interesting course of the week. Still, you can’t expect there to be exciting roads in every direction of the compass.

Fun fact about Doncaster – In 2012, my beloved racing binoculars broke on the bus from the train station to Town Moor, which hosts the world’s oldest classic horse race, the St Leger. I was unable to watch in detail as Encke won with my money aboard, at 50/1. The strap from those binoculars, adorned with all my entrance badges, still hangs in our spare room. I think of the binoculars every time I go through Donny station, which is a frequent occurrence.

The ante-penultimate race is the men’s U-23, and if you’re watching from the US/Canada, this is a day you can safely sleep in. This race leaves Doncaster and heads north on undemanding roads to Ripon, before swinging back South by a tougher route, into Harrogate, and finishing with three laps of the circuit.

The next day sees the women’s elite, and this time you’d better set an alarm. This will be fun from the word go. The word “go” will be said in Bradford, and will send the riders north into the Dales through Otley (home of Lizzie Deignan) and on to Masham, before heading back on equally tough roads for three laps of the finishing circuit. This is, I think, the most interesting and consistently challenging course of the week.

Fun fact about Bradford – The first few kilometres of the depart fictif will take the field from City Hall out past Lister Park. It is named for Samuel Lister, who’d become the First Baron Masham. He was the sort of man I studied at school, a moustachioed industrialist who aided the textile industry with the invention of the Lister nip comb. It is a tribute to a patriotic Yorkshire education that I haven’t yet had to use Wikipedia. Resorting to research, I see that Our Sam was also, as they say in these parts, a bit of a lad. He had five daughters (that we know of – from his general behaviour it’d be a surprise if there were no others) and went in for coursing, when that was the sort of thing that gentlemen did. Good lad.

The finale, then, is the men’s elite. At 285km, it is the longest, and it is also the loopiest (with seven circuits of the finishing loop). Before they hit that loop, they leave Leeds and, like a final exam, show you lots of what you’ve covered before and a bunch of new stuff. The route heads north and West through Skipton, and then further north than any other event, taking in some of Wensleydale and over Buttertubs pass into Swaledale, a beautiful spot, and back to Harrogate through Masham and Ripon. It is a lot of stage one of the 2014 Tour, for those of you with long memories.

This will be tough riding, no doubt, and there are plenty of spots for the race to break up. The finishing loop, though, is taken so often that it’ll be decisive in this race.

Fun fact about Leeds – This is the biggest city the Worlds will incorporate and is a fun place for a night out. Whitelocks, in particular, is a pub worthy of your attention, but I’ve mentioned that before. For something different, and more accessible around the world, if you haven’t already seen The Damned United, you should. It is the story of a legendary football/soccer manager’s one unsuccessful season running Leeds United, sandwiched between glory with Derby County and Nottingham Forest. It is also much more than that, and I promise that you don’t need to like football to love one of the best-acted films I’ve seen. You’ll like Leeds more after watching it, too (though much of it is filmed elsewhere).

The finishing circuits and the winning riders

For the time trials, this looks slightly more straightforward than Innsbruck or Bergen but is not an entirely straightforward, power course. Round up the usual suspects, and let the chips fall where they may.

The road races are, in a word, open. Yes, the men’s course is close to stage one of the tour, which finished in a bunch sprint, but is much longer and has a challenging loop bolted onto the end. The women’s course, similarly, is tough throughout but there’s nothing that will definitely throw the sprinters off the list of possible winners.

As ever, much will come down to how the race is ridden. It’d also be foolish to ignore the possibility of weather playing a role. At the end of September, the official forecast for Yorkshire is “stuffed if I know”. We could conceivably see some races in twenty degrees, sunshine and calm, and others in torrential rain and gale force frozen winds. Certainly you can’t yet say with certainty that there won’t be echelons on the tops, which is an interesting idea.

What about that final loop, then? It is a technical 14km, with plenty of tight turns, especially in the closing kilometres. It also features multiple upslopes. The first and biggest is a long, steady slope up to Beckwithshaw, but there are plenty of shorter sharp climbs. I went searching for a comparison from previous years, and struggled. Perhaps the worlds course in Geelong, but with a much tougher intro and a more technical finish? A better comparison would be to follow half of Liege-Bastogne-Liege with two-thirds of Quebec, and make the weather (potentially) worse.

So, who wins? Too soon to say, but let’s have a look, purely in the interest of thinking about the type of rider who’ll enjoy the course. I think our winner will be somewhere between a very tough sprinter and a fast-finishing classics rider. I can see Sagan making it five, with Matthews, Alaphillipe and Kwiatkowski also licking their lips at the parcours. For the women, local girl Lizzie Deignan’s little girl will have just celebrated her first birthday, and if she’s back to riding I think Mum has an excellent chance on roads she knows well, but she’ll have to see off the Dutch challenge, of course. They might not have shifted the likes of Longo Borghini either.

Anyone want to start booking accommodation?