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World Championships Road Race Preview

The most open contest in years? With a course that’s hard to define it’s up to the riders to determine their approach to the race and we should get a tense finale with sprinters and grand tour riders clashing.

Here’s the preview for Sunday’s race with the contenders and pretenders plus the TV schedule, weather and more.

The Route: there’s no early jaunt across the surrounding area, just 14 laps of an 18.2km circuit. The roads are wide and freshly surfaced with no particular technical difficulties.

The two climbs are different, the first is gentle and if it has 8% sections these are over quickly. In general it’s a fast climb where riders get sucked along by the slipstream, it’s effect will be cumulative with the fatigue. The first descent has some fast corners and if a circuit race means riders start to corner on autopilot it’ll be awkward in the wet and when riders are fatigued. The second climb is sharper and should force more of a selection in the finish. The following descent is faster but more awkward because it has slower sections, the kind where a rider can slingshot out of the slipstream to get a gap.

The Finish: flat and wide.

The Scenario: it might not be a savage circuit but the repetition and distance will take their toll. Even the gentle Copenhagen course in 2011 shrunk the field to about 100 riders, this will do more damage. So while some sprinters are tipped below there likely to emerge from a smaller group.

The Worlds tend to follow a predictable format where an an early break will go with a motley collection of chancers hoping to get on TV. Then the speed slowly goes up, each lap faster than the last and this circuit should see the same. With no real crunch point to break the field earlier it’s all about attrition to dump the weaker riders out the back.

As for going clear many teams have an interest in a negative outcome, to lock down the race ahead in order to promote their sprinter or fast man on the last lap. But having enough riders left for the final half hour is a big ask, it’s even bigger to assume they’re all working for the same outcome. The second climb is an obvious place to attack just as we saw with Sven Erik Bystrøm’s win in the U23 race… but the sneaky place could be on the descent where some flatter sections could see the pace ease up only for someone to barge clear.

Remember too the conflicting allegiances with riders wearing their national kit for a day when they’re paid by pro teams and work with others for the rest of the year. It’s always worth watching out for riders secretly following orders for their employer.

The Contenders

Fabian Cancellara was the bookmaker’s pick a year ago but, heavily marked, he never got the chance to slip away. This time he’s my prime pick because he’s got a course to suit and when he sets his mind to a race he’s very tough to beat. But he’s first among equals, there’s no obvious section where he can turn on the power and shake everyone off his wheel, the last climb is too well surfaced to equate to the Paterberg. If it comes to a sprint he can take a medal but you’d probably bet on others. To make it harder he’s only got two team mates and one of them, Michael Albasini is an outsider for the race, could be working for Team Gerrans too and if he isn’t the distance could be too much.

Simon Gerrans has what it takes to win and that’s a problem. He can sprint with the best when needed especially after a hard course. He’s also in form having taken a Canadian double and has a strong team backing him. It all sounds so good but he’s got two challenges. First, he’s won big several times but the Worlds have never worked out for him, this can be remedied. The bigger problem is his status, The Sniper can’t catch people by surprise as he’s an obvious contender. I think Australia’s tactics will involve Gerrans trying to give the others the slip, to track an late escapes while Michael Matthews lurks in the bunch sweep up in case of a sprint.

Can this be Greg Van Avermaet‘s day? It’s been a long year. The Belgian is an infrequent winner but a podium regular. It’s strange because he doesn’t throw races away although he can be generous with his efforts and he has a fast sprint. Harmony on the Belgian team matters with Tom Boonen as an outsider, he’s quietly come into form and maybe it’s the new haircut but he’s looking very lean. Plus there’s Philippe Gilbert a pick on status alone but he’s been training for this; he’s won the Amstel this year but otherwise it’s been a quiet year.

Alejandro Valverde has stood on the Worlds podium five times but never won gold. He might be on home soil this time but winning looks a hard bet as the course simply isn’t hard enough for him. Ditto Joaquim Rodriguez who is Spanish, collects podium places and needs a hillier course. What to do? Make the race hard, the Spaniards will have to take control of the race early in order to thin the bunch and treat the final climb as the finish line. All this built on the assumption that they’ll race together as a team, a hypothesis in need of proof. I rate Valverde’s chances much higher but he’s had a long season with a busy spring then the the Tour de France, a win in San Sebastian, the Vuelta and now he could be cooked. But if he was flagging in the highest of the high mountains he was zippy in the medium mountains.

Dan Martin has been targeting this race but not got much media attention of late. He’d probably like more climbing but he’s in the ideal position of being able to let larger teams soften up the race before going clear in a small group and despatching them in the sprint where those spindly legs are faster than you think, often thanks to a cool head. Compatriot Nicolas Roche shouldn’t be ignored, a strong and versatile rider who has a beefy sprint when needed.

What about John Degenkolb? He was in hospital after the Vuelta and had several days without the bike. But rest after a grand tour is just what you need, it’s all about whether the infection’s knocked him back. He was imperious in the Vuelta and even if he’s lost something he should be there. If not the German team might seem orphaned but André Greipel‘s handy on the hills and Paul Martens is a tough cookie.

It’s not been Peter Sagan‘s year. He’s got results others would covet but by his palmarès hasn’t matched expectations. Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow jersey? If there is a cash bonus from Mr Tinkov then this could be what’s needed to slim down since the Vuelta. The Slovak got beaten by Michał Kwiatkowski in the Strade Bianche and the Pole had a great spring before suffering from a mid-season burn out. He’s returning to form and has the class to win and can sprint when needed and comes to the race after a dedicated altitude training camp in Italy.

Alexander Kristoff used to be a rider who’d pop up when you didn’t expect it but now he’s there when you’re waiting for him. The longer the race and the worse the conditions the better he seems and he’s won when it mattered in the spring classics and the Tour de France.

My stealth pick is Britain’s Ben Swift. The British team have been quietly working on Project Rainbow II with the aim of getting Swift into a winning position. It might sound far-fetched but he was on the podium in Milan-Sanremo and his success in the Tour of the Basque Country showed he can sprint when everyone else has been dropped. Look to the Brits to make the course very hard.

Tony Gallopin is probably France’s best pick, he’s been consistent at the highest level now and likes a hilly race before he deploys his fast finish, his downfall could be deciding between a sprint and attacking, using up too much energy to try both. By contrast there’s only one plan for Nacer Bouhanni and that’s le sprint. He’s been building towards this race, he’s one kilo lighter and has even removing the SRM powermeter from his bike to get it as close to the 6.8kg weight limit. But I put Gallopin first. Why? One of the reasons Bouhanni’s quitting FDJ is because he didn’t get to ride a big one day classic and he’s unknown over this distance, he could well fade. The French have a very strong team but a lot of chiefs and few helpers.

Ramunas Navardauskas might not be tipped by many but he was fourth and third in the Canadian weekend and he packs a good sprint, especially from a smaller group, not with a jump but just long power.

Finally three outsiders. Alexandr Kolobnev is like an apple, he only ripens in September; often a threat but rarely a winner. The Italians have a bizarre team but Sonny Colbrelli is in form and finishing fast and the distance is not problem as he was sixth in Milan-Sanremo. And Rigoberto Uran, good if not better in one day races than stage races.

Fabian Cancellara
Greg Van Avermaet, Alexander Kristoff
Dan Martin, Simon Gerrans, Alejandro Valverde, Michał Kwiatkowski
Ben Swift, Michael Matthews, Tony Gallopin, John Degenkolb
Navardauskas, Colbrelli, Bouhanni, Greipel

Weather: cool with rain forecast. Currently there’s nothing torrential to encourage mass withdrawals like last year but it makes for a harder race that will drain more energy.

TV: don’t tune in too early as the action is going to come late. By all means sit down to experience the rising tension but it’s likely the action comes late. The finish is expected for 4.30pm Euro time.

If you haven’t caught a race from Ponferrada so far this week then hunting down a TV channel is very dependent on your location. The PDF on the UCI website which has listings and if not there’s the UCI channel on Youtube plus cyclingfans and steephill.tv for live streams and pirate feeds.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Nicolay Friday, 26 September 2014, 6:22 pm

    In a sprint, Kristoff is my prime pick. But i´m not sure he´s got the best form.

    We saw Norway´s Sven Erik Bystrøm in the u-23 race, very strong rider. Great power in the attack, so i think Cancellara is a good pick.

    Germany and GB will go for the sprint, so that is Kristoffs hope. Watch out for Lars Petter Nordhaug if Kristoff has an off day. EBH will maybe shine again soon? Probably a breakaway from him with some laps to go.

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 26 September 2014, 6:26 pm

      I’m guessing you’re Norwegian. Nordhaug’s back in form after a long quiet period. As for EBH, in the past he’d be a huge pick but I looked at recent results and it’s all been so quiet.

  • Joao Pedro Lopes Friday, 26 September 2014, 6:54 pm

    Shouldn’t you at least consider the ACTUAL world champion Rui Costa?

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 26 September 2014, 7:20 pm

      I know but he’s not had many results, just one second place in Québec which is very promising but it wasn’t enough to convince me. Against the others it’ll be hard but if he does it it’ll probably be in style on the final climb.

      • Joao Pedro Lopes Friday, 26 September 2014, 7:29 pm

        That’s fair 🙂 And also won the Tour of Suisse and had a lousy Tour de France because of a bilateral pneumonia, but I see your point. Hope he shows otherwise, though.

        • Barbieri Friday, 26 September 2014, 9:04 pm

          The classic “everyone forgets about us” comment from the portuguese guy (I was thinking the same :D)

          • Joao Pedro Lopes Friday, 26 September 2014, 9:49 pm

            Hahaha, indeed Barbieri, indeed 😀

  • Thinktank Friday, 26 September 2014, 6:54 pm

    Whoever wins on sunday, we can be pretty sure that he will struggle next year. “The curse of the rainbow jersey” has become a little tradition already.

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 26 September 2014, 7:21 pm

      Rui Costa’s arguably escaped this. He couldn’t buy a win in the spring, for example in Paris-Nice… but his Tour de Suisse win was very good.

    • Augie March Friday, 26 September 2014, 8:22 pm

      I think the “curse” is a bit of a beatup, look at Mark Cavendish who won a swag of high calibre races in the rainbow stripes in 2012. Cadel Evans is another recent winner who escaped the “curse”. In 2010 he won a stage of the Giro, the points jersey and wore the maliga rosa for a day, took out Flèche Wallone ahead of Contador and even managed a Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France; just about any rider in the peloton would take that year if you offered it.

      • Paddy Dunne Friday, 26 September 2014, 8:51 pm


      • Nicolay Friday, 26 September 2014, 9:37 pm

        Thor Hushovd as well. Two stage wins i Tdf, and many days in yellow

  • Alpen Friday, 26 September 2014, 8:00 pm

    I was wondering if you were going to pick Cancellara, he’s my pick too. He’s tried as hard as possible to be very good but still fly under the radar…reminds me of Flanders this year. He’s also, finally, playing the tactics a bit more than dragging riders to the finish. He’s got to be willing to lose, to win. He bluffed his way to Flanders, but bluffed his way out of the cobbled Tour stage. Let’s see where his bluff gets him this time…

  • Chris Friday, 26 September 2014, 8:28 pm

    Regarding my fellow Colombian’s chances, I had high hopes for a good performance given the size of the team and commitment behind Urán. However, given the latter’s recent bout with bronchitis at the Vuelta, I’m not so sure what’s going to happen with them. They have the numbers to make the race hard if Urán is feeling up for it, but there’s no solid plan B, as Betancur and his power belly might not finish the race (I hope he proves me wrong) and Sergio Henao isn’t there. Rubiano can sprint out of a small group but I’m not sure if he’ll be a protected rider. I suppose we’ll see what happens.

  • German Ospina Friday, 26 September 2014, 8:34 pm

    Rigoberto Uran Uran world champ

  • German Ospina Friday, 26 September 2014, 8:37 pm

    Colombia’s backup is Winner Anacona. He is in great shape but he also did both the TT and the TTT, so maybe he won’t have anything left? not sure how hard he did on the TT. He was ‘asked nicely’ by the colombian federation to participate. If he didn’t participate, Colombia will forfeit a spot or something, so they had to have someone on it. As for the TTT, not sure how hard Lampre went, but I know Serpa was there too.

    • Chris Friday, 26 September 2014, 8:46 pm

      Crap, I forgot about Vuelta stage winner Winner Anacona! yeah, he’s a solid plan B but he’ll have to attack from afar. If it comes down to a reduced bunch sprint, he’s not our best card.

  • Stewart Friday, 26 September 2014, 8:39 pm

    I think the real, real wildcard pick has to be Daryl Impey. He has come back from his “forced break” with all guns blazing. Brilliant results at the Tour of Alberta & 4 in Quebec even though he was supporting Gerrans. He definitely doesn’t have the strongest or biggest team to support him, but I feel that he has a point to prove and is coming into the Worlds on good. I do think Cancellara is the overwhelming favourite, followed by Gerrans. But my wildcard pick is Impey.

  • Paddy Dunne Friday, 26 September 2014, 9:02 pm

    Hopefully nations will resort to type . GB only chance is to get some one in the break, otherways they gonna be dragging everyone round till Fabs rides off the front with Kwiatkowski and Poland snag the rainbow bands. Greg vA to re-enforce his grip on the mantle of the new Greg van Avermaet. Always look forward to the WC Road Race . Outside bet Sam Bennett

    • Ian Saturday, 27 September 2014, 11:52 pm

      Sam will do well to win it from Belgium Paddy!

  • Ninetubes Friday, 26 September 2014, 10:13 pm

    I’m sure he has extraordinarily long odds, but how cool would it be if Stybar won the RR to go with his current CX title?

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 26 September 2014, 10:30 pm

      I thinks he can win big but he’s still chasing form after his nasty crash in the Eneco Tour. He was dropped in the recent GP de Wallonie when things got serious on the late climbs and that was shorter distance. It’d be a big ask for Sunday but maybe next year… how he copes on a team with Boonen, Kwiatkowski, Terpstra et al is another story though.

      • Ninetubes Saturday, 27 September 2014, 12:51 am

        Do you think it’s likely we’ll see him on a new team in 2016? Seems like the Czech connection is a valuable one for OPQS sponsors/backers.

  • Matt Friday, 26 September 2014, 10:24 pm

    Spanish curve ball but Daniel Moreno?

  • JohnGadretPartystick Friday, 26 September 2014, 11:07 pm

    Italians will surely try their hand at a move in the hills. Aru going first and Nibali going once the peloton reels him in? Bardet tried his hand not long before the decisive move last year, I would expect him to have free reins to join any late action this year as well.

  • Anonymous Friday, 26 September 2014, 11:18 pm

    Ramunas is a very good joker. INRNG, you don’t give Sagan even 1 chain ring?

    • Othersteve Saturday, 27 September 2014, 12:01 am

      Sagan has showed mediocre form of late, and he will have little help from his “team” he will be beat on early and often as possible as the others will try and isolate him on the climbs. He may also have his mind on his new adventures next year?

      But you never

      Would be nice to have seen Phinney in the mix, led out on by TJ on the first climb on the last lap
      then going Santa Barbara on that downhill.

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 27 September 2014, 9:34 am

      Maybe I should but Sagan was climbing slowly in the Vuelta and if it comes to a sprint there are others who beat him. I suppose it’s frustration after tipping him again and again since the Worlds last year and he didn’t deliver. Now I don’t tip him he’ll probably win. He would make a fine world champion, the rainbow jersey would be very visible.

  • cilmeri Friday, 26 September 2014, 11:21 pm

    I presume since Nibali wasn’t mentioned that he isn’t racing? (or just not fancied….)

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 27 September 2014, 9:32 am

      He’s not in form, he’s said this himself. I know riders might say this but he hasn’t raced much either and crashed recently – nothing too sore but it meant he couldn’t finish the race.

  • ave Saturday, 27 September 2014, 12:34 am

    Sagan should just stick to Fabian. That way he either wins… or not. 🙂
    I know it’s much more complicated, but you can dream…

  • Mark Saturday, 27 September 2014, 1:56 am

    No Evans in the Australian mix? Yes Matthews and Gerrans obvious picks.

    Evans retirement would lead me to think he doesn’t expect to win, but I would definitely put him in hunt.

  • Ankush Saturday, 27 September 2014, 6:42 am

    Gotta be Gerro monsieur.

  • Tom Saturday, 27 September 2014, 8:55 am

    No preview of the Women’s Elite Road Race?

    • Anonymous Saturday, 27 September 2014, 9:56 am

      Cycling Weekly sort of has.

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 27 September 2014, 11:22 am

      No, sorry. Why is a subject I’ll return to another day because it’s worth exploring and discussing.

      See the likes of Velofocus for more dedicated coverage, eg http://velofocus.com/2014/worlds-womens-road-race-preview-2014/

    • gastro george Saturday, 27 September 2014, 11:59 am

      My thoughts exactly. This is no doubt the best blog around, so it’s disappointing to miss a golden opportunity to raise the profile of women’s racing.

  • Dan Saturday, 27 September 2014, 2:12 pm

    Really fancy Kristoff or Matthews to win this. Swift could earn himself a podium, but I don’t see someone like Gerrans or Cancellara being able to get away and prevent a reduced bunch sprint.

    • Kjetil Saturday, 27 September 2014, 6:53 pm

      But Gerrans can easily win from a reduced bunch, and so could Fabs.
      Kristoff wasn’t all that springy in Canada. The patriot in me hopes it was smokescreening by power meter.

      Lovely course by the way. Seems to make the races Sanremoesque. Splendid stuff.

  • Anonymous Saturday, 27 September 2014, 6:26 pm

    Having just watched the women’s race, I think it will pan out the same – 3 or 4 break free in the final 4k. But unlike the women, they will actually race each other to the line. Gerrans, unfortunately…

  • VeloDeMontagne Saturday, 27 September 2014, 7:59 pm

    Kristoff, Swift, Gerrans & Matthews working together, all good picks. Weather is one factor that gives a few riders an advantage as experience in inclement weather can be key. How much rain will fall? Cancellara will be fired up as much as any race he’s contended and his experience with multiple variables has given him an edge countless times. I like Fabian and would love to see the veteran cross the line first, but it’s really too tough to make a call on this race.

    Kristoff also excels in long races and inclement weather is a plus for him, too. EBH and Nordhaug are strong teammates. If EBH had the form and prowess he had a couple of seasons ago, this would be a huge asset, but too many ?s

    Kwiatkowski has had an amazing year, only 24 and primed for this race!

    But the Brits should or could be the big factor for this RR. How fast will the pace be — very “Swift,” no doubt! But again, what about the weather? They could be the riders who rock this race into one that launches Ben Swift to victory, maybe.

    Experience on wet pavement is priceless. If it’s real wet, who will crash by taking inexperienced risks?

    And finally, as INRNG points out, allegiances. This could be the other key to who wins this race.

    Too tough to call, but will be a fantastic race!!

    • Tovarishch Sunday, 28 September 2014, 7:55 am

      Really interested to watch Sky’s (whoops Brailsford’s tactics). I think they will let the Yates twins take the race to everyone to try and burn of the fastest guys. Swift seems to have lost a bit if pace but is climbing better. In the wet it will be a repeat of MSR?

  • STS Saturday, 27 September 2014, 8:38 pm

    Shouldn’t we just post our podium picks? Will be fun to see if someone actually is expert or lucky enough to predict the outcome on this course that makes predictions kinda difficult IMHO.

    If it really rains, Kristoff will make it, if not my money is on Gerro. But, it will rain, so:

    Kristoff, Degenkolb, Cancellara.

    You read it here first 🙂

    • VeloDeMontagne Saturday, 27 September 2014, 11:43 pm

      I don’t think Degenkolb will be able to maintain the fast pace that will be set. Though the climbing is minor, over 14 laps I think he will tire and lose his position. 11% grade max x 14 laps will provide attrition, I’m sure. Tony Martin TT specialist and Greipel just too bulky for this circuit IMHO.

      Wet roads for sure in the afternoon: no problem for Spartacus and Kristoff, though even that cannot be predicted if other riders cause crashes. Position and timing will be everything. Be up front.

    • VeloDeMontagne Sunday, 28 September 2014, 8:29 am

      Okay STS:

      Cancellara, Kristoff, Swift (Milan-SanRemo juggled, with Swift still 3rd)

  • Ian Saturday, 27 September 2014, 11:02 pm

    I fancy an in-form Van Avermaet, a powerful Navardauskas, a stealthy Sagan, Bouhanni wins if he gets to the sprint and big priced outsiders Albasini and Impey!


  • keith_in_Chapel_Hill Sunday, 28 September 2014, 2:27 am

    Nicolas Roche is not only the compatriot of Dan Martin. They are also first cousins, I believe.

  • Tom Sunday, 28 September 2014, 4:56 pm

    Your lead photo is Gerrans, Valverde, Kwiatkowski.

    Close. So close.