It’s hard to get the weather forecast right sometimes so predicting the results a 266km race is a lot harder. Nevertheless, for the fun of it here are some thoughts for Sunday’s elite men’s road world championships, starting with some scenario analysis and then a run through of the favourites.
With the junior women’s and U-23 men’s race ending in a bunch sprint, you can imagine this happening on Sunday too. The surprising thing for me with the U-23 race was the sheer size of the bunch at the finish. Now the dynamics of the race meant it was not the fastest race of the year but the circuit seems to allow riders in trouble to get back on and recover. Now 260km are quite different but all the same, a lot of what I’d call secondary riders are going to hang in there for a long time.
In addition with Mark Cavendish as a favourite to win the race teams will realise they cannot eliminate him on the hills but have to send riders in attacks. So we should see some lively racing on the final laps as teams try to test the strength of the British squad, on whose shoulders a lot of work will fall. An attack won’t go clear because of the hills but because of hesitation amongst the chasers.
The sprint itself is a straightforward affair. It’s about momentum, meaning you cannot come off a wheel and surge past in the last 50 metres but you can follow a rider from 400m to 100m and then go past as they fade.
Mark Cavendish is the fastest sprinter and in very good shape right now which suggests the uphill finish is within his reach. When ever people seem to doubt he pops up and win. Note he’s won uphill before, I think it was the Tour of Switzerland in 2009 where he gave a good demonstration of this. Plus his sprinting style is to lead instead of emerge from bunched chaos. His big problem is his reputation, in being such an obvious favourite we will see others plan their race with him in mind, launching attacks and more.
Thor Hushovd the strong silent type, Hushovd lets his legs to the talking and he is a rider who rises to the occasion. I think the uphill finish is perfect for him and he has the chance to play a good one-two with Edwald Boasson-Hagen. The younger Norwegian is another candidate but erratic at times and as a Team Sky rider we’ll see how he rides.
Peter Sagan is the wunderkind of pro cycling right now and in case you forget, he’s already won a rainbow jersey before, the junior MTB title. The Slovakian rider has a decent team with him and has a powerful finishing sprint that allows him to win solo on hilly courses but to win bunch sprints too. With the Vuelta in his legs I don’t think the 260km will pose too much of a problem for him so long as he reminds himself to eat correctly.
Philippe Gilbert has had a year that reminds us of Eddy Merckx, even if Gilbert is – for the moment – incapable of overall success in a big stage race. If Gilbert does not win then who ever else wins will be compared to Gilbert and the Belgian might well end the season as the “moral” world champion. But he has a great chance on Sunday, especially with a team expected to provide great service for him. My only doubt is how he will execute the win. If he attacks it will be obvious and the terrain is hard for a rider, even Phil, to solo away. He has a powerful sprint but prefers to terrorise a small group instead of a whole bunch.
Grega Bole is a stealthy Slovenian rider who won the GP Plouay, he has a good finish and comes with the fast finish Borut Bozic and Jure Kocjan who excels in uphill sprints. If many are watching Oscar Freire, keep an eye on José Joaquin Rojas as he’ll enjoy the finish if he can make to the end. The Italians have a squad headed by Daniele Bennati but watch out for Luca Paolini, often a surprise package and Sacha Modolo. Nobody has mentioned the Germans but they have John Degenkolb, André Greipel and Marcel Kittel, as well as Danilo Hondo for a leadout. Amongst the French Yoann Offredo is a dark horse but if you want random excitement, see Thomas Voeckler although I think the course is too flat for him. Fabien Cancellara is going to try something and the distance is no problem for him. And Japan’s Yukiya Arashiro cracked the top-10 last year.
Possibly the subject of a whole topic but note riders compete in national colours but have obvious allegiances to their pro teams. Just as if you played tennis against your boss you might let him or her win for the sake of your career, Sunday’s race will see certain riders working in the interests of their professional colleagues. Note Gilbert and Hushovd are good friends who train together and will be team mates next year. Keep your eyes open.
Forecasts set you up for trouble; still I sort of called the U-23 result. The most obvious scenario is a sprint finish and a battle between Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Thor Hushovd. Cavendish is faster but the uphill finish seems to favour Sagan who seems in perfect condition right now. But I can’t help feel many will be trying everything for a breakaway, none more so than Philippe Gilbert.
But even the precise weather isn’t known. As much as we might look forward to a finish like this the course is not so selective and in the chaos of the sprint anything can happen. That’s why it’s all so exciting and the final hour on Sunday promises plenty of drama and suspense.