World Championships Road Race Preview

Three times in a row for Peter Sagan? He’s in form, he’s versatile and he’s got nothing to lose so it makes sense. But there’s a deep field and course that makes the rainbow jersey accessible to many pretenders including sprinters, classics contenders and some of the Vuelta’s recent heroes too.

The Route: 267.5km beginning with a start on Rongøyna, a tiny island among the Norwegian polynesia. It’s 40km to Bergen and then 11 laps of the 19km circuit.

The main feature of the circuit is “Salmon Hill”. It’s not really called that but the Norwegian fishing industry is heavily sponsoring the event so they get to rename the roads for the week. It’s 1.5km long at 6.4% average and maxes out at 7.4%, a steady climb with good visibility where the real feature is repetition, it’ll feel like nothing the first time but come the money time on the final lap it’ll burn. The now-familiar circuit features wide roads with a decent surface and some cobbles in the Bryggen district of Bergen. As ever the distance counts with the speed going up and up on the final laps and the race becoming highly selective. Some fear a bunch sprint – nothing against the sprinters it’s just after 7 hours some more action would be great – but the circuit should be decisive enough to split things up.

The Contenders

Peter Sagan Richmond 2015

Peter Sagan has already showed us how can win. Last year in Doha he won the spring from the reduced group. The year prior in Richmond he launched a late attack and took a solo win. It’s this versatility that makes him hard to beat. Slovakia are not a strong team but can play off the others.

Who to pick next? Two riders come to mind as Sagan’s frequent rivals. Michał Kwiatkowski (Poland) can pick his way through a group to win a sprint, see his Amstel Gold race win or his triumph in Sanremo this year. He’s been building up to this race and seems more shrewd tactically than his long-term Slovak rival but perhaps he has to be given his sprint isn’t as powerful.

Greg Van Avermaet leads a strong Belgian team. If yesterday’s women’s race saw the Netherlands as the strongest team, arguably the Belgians are for Sunday. GVA is an expert at picking off big wins but his team mates could profit from the marking too. Philippe Gilbert had a terrific spring and knows how to sniff out a big win. Tim Wellens is dynamite incarnate but often a frequent winner in the wet only it’ll be dry. Dylan Teuns would prefer an uphill finish but has been in great form. Tiesj Benoot is versatile and in need of a result to mark his season while Oliver Naesen isn’t necessarily an A-list rider but was keeping company with the very best this spring. Jasper Stuyven was quietly impressive in the Tour of Denmark, helping to set up Mads Petersen’s win.

Don’t call Julian Alaphilippe France’s leader. New team manager Cyrille Guimard says Alaphilippe is their best rider but doesn’t have the palmarès or seniority to be leader. Linguistics aside he’s their main rider but Tony Gallopin should be active in the last two laps and others too.

Fernando Gaviria is a strong pick for a bunch finish, he’s able to cope with the distance and the climbs and the ace from Antioquia seems destined to win the rainbow jersey one day and it could be here given his excellent form. Jarlinson Pantano brings more options and until July arguably Rigoberto Urán’s best results have come from one day races. Gaviria’s problem is his sprint is so good he might sit back and miss the move and the Colombian team is not famed for its ability to grab control of a race…

…La squadra is, or at least has been, and Matteo Trentin is in great shape having picked off four stage wins in the Vuelta and he sprints well when others have been dropped over a hilly course. But Trentin is only one option as Sonny Colbrelli sprints well after hilly courses too and surely it’s too hilly for Elia Viviani but he just has to sit tight just in case it’s a bunch sprint? Diego Ulissi will want a lively race and is good from a small group while Gianni Moscon can continue to surprise.

Edvald Boasson Hagen is the local hero and in with a good chance. He took an excellent stage win in the Tour de France and surely these worlds have been on his hitlist from the day they were announced. But he’s not the invincible force he seemed destined to be and is sharing the Norwegian team with Alexander Kristoff who may find the course too heavy but will have likewise tailored his training for this domestic appointment.

Michael Matthews only seems to win big, his palmarès is packed with quality and he has been targeting the Worlds. He’s versatile but on paper isn’t certain to outsprint Sagan or outfox Kwiatkowski even if has got the better of Sagan in some sprints and leads an Australian team likely to be in his service now that Simon Gerrans is sat at home.

Tom Dumoulin‘s taken two wins so far in Bergen so what chance a third? He’s in perfect form for starters. He’s been seen as a time triallist before becoming a grand tour contender but has always been a punchy and crafty rider who could well win his home Amstel Gold Race. He’s got nothing to lose and a cohesive Dutch team behind him with Lars Boom as an outsider too and Bauke Mollema had a good result in Montréal two weeks ago.

Denmark have a good team with no obvious leader but Mads Petersen in top form having just beaten compatriot Michael Valgren but maybe the latter gets the nod now given the distance. Søren Kragh Andersen an outsider for a sprint or late attack, the same for Magnus Cort Nielsen.

Finally some more stealthy names to mention. Michael Albasini (Switzerland) is good for a sprint, ditto Jempy Drucker (Luxembourg) and Ben Swift (Great Britain) but Swift’s form seems off given recent results. Petr Vakoč (Czech) is a powerful rider, Jack Bauer (New Zealand) a tough rider able to race for himself for a change and Rui Costa (Portugal), remember him?

Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews
Michał Kwiatkowski, Fernando Gaviria, GVA
Alaphilippe, EBH, Dumoulin, Trentin, Gilbert
Colbrelli, Ulissi, Albasini, MCN, Moscon, Gallopin, Wellens

Weather: sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 18°C.

TV: it’s live from 10.05am to 4.45pm CEST. You’ll find it either live via the UCI Youtube channel or if that’s geo-blocked then supposedly on TV where you live and the likes of cyclingfans and steephill can point you in the right direction.

65 thoughts on “World Championships Road Race Preview”

  1. Having watched the races so far I’m tempted to go out on one and say the course is too hilly for… Sagan. I’m probably setting myself up though. It seems perfect for GVA, Alaphilippe, Kwiatkowski, Gilbert et al. I think a small group of 3/4/5 will sneak in front of a main group by 10-15 seconds, Salmon Hill being decisive. If i were say Alaphilippe I’d go from the bottom in the hope that it’s a little too long for the bigger guys. You don’t want to let Sagan rip it up near the top like he did at Milan-Sanremo. It should be an absolute cracker. The course, scenery and spectators have been great so far.

    • This afternoon saw Blaak finish alone but behind was a big group. It’s not the most likely scenario but it could very well be a bigger group than 3-5. A lot probably depends on which countries have which riders in a group. On these roads an organised chase could pull a small group back I think, especially if they are not working well or attacking each other.

      • That is my conclusion on basis of the women’s race too. A couple of riders can take a small gap on Salmon Hill, but the climb is too short and not steep enough to make a difference that cannot be closed on the descent towards the finish by an organised chase. Slovakia can’t organise that chase, but Sagan can probably count on the Aussies (for Matthews) and Italians (for Trentin and Colbrelli) to do that.

      • Have you watched the other road races? Every one was decided by individuals going clear. There will be no bigger group finish. There was only a bigger group at the women’s race cause the two Dutch of course sat up, the only reason why the rest of the peloton caught them in the last corner.

        • I hope you’re right but the male pros are used to controlling a race more than any other category and with several large squads and possibly added help from others from their pro teams it could be a sprint. There’s a touch of the Sanremo here with the hill as just enough to help a move go clear although once over the top it will be easier to chase than down the Poggio.

  2. Apparently Sagan has been ill so his form might be off. It could be a smokescreen but that is more Contador’s style than Sagan’s.
    Very curious to see how it pans out. I think it will be a good race tomorrow. The course and the composition of the teams at least promise some good action.

    • I’d say Sagan’s ‘illness’ has been a useful way to deflect attention and pressure. And notice he didn’t turn up to Norway till yesterday – he’ll have been training in anonymity away from the buzz of Worlds Week.

      But either way he’s going to have his work cut out. Interesting in Canada how visibly frustrated he was with others not collaborating. Obviously the Worlds will be different – with different riders and team combos – and a much bigger goal.

      I’d love him to win because 3 in-a-row would be incredible, but I’ve a feeling he gets pipped by GVA or Kwiatek. Or Gilbert goes long.

  3. I think that there will be a selection of multiple riders on the penultimate hill maybe even a group of 20 and then the final time either it will be reduced further or a solo rider, which I think is most likely looking at all the other races, or a group of three. I think that for a solo TT effort at the end EBH, looking at his form, wellens, looking at GP wallonie, Teuns, looking at the final stage of the artic tour of Norway except that many of his wins have been in smaller races with fewer bigger names, or Mads pedersen, looking at his stage win in post damsel rundt. For a very reduced sprint I think dumoulin, just looking at everything this year but looking at San Sebastian it seems a podium is most likely, GVA, again looking at everything, kwiatkowski, looking at Milan San remo, and perhaps alaphillipe. I think that in a reduced bunch sprint either Sagan, Matthews, trentin or GVA. For the others: I think that Viviani, Gaviria and any of the Danish sprinters just won’t climb well enough. While I think that Gallopin, ulissi are off form, and some of the Belgians won’t step up/be overwhelmed including Teuns. I personally fancy the chances of Tim wellens going solo or kwiatkowski winning from a reduced group. Just my little input

  4. Heart says Dan Martin. But I’ve had a feeling that Phil G may try and get away and solo it to the line. If he is in the sort of form that carried him over Oude Kwaremont back along. He was immense that day.

  5. How long since the almighty Spanish team have failed a mention in a World Championship preview? Nor do they warrant one. So dependent on the mercurial but absent Valverde.

  6. If Sagan is the favourite, it’s his strategy that interests me.
    He was able sit in and hide at Richmond; in Doha he knew the wind would do the damage; but what to do here?
    If he’s too visible, he risks the 1-2 even 3 that the Belgians could dish out a la Quick Step at Roubaix.
    If he sits too far back, they’ll surely look to break.

    The strongest team won the women’s race, and it looks like a course that needs teamwork. It doesn’t offer enough for an individual or a lesser team.
    Sagan is going to get filleted on Salmon Hill tomorrow.

    • Looks like he was able to hide all day in the end. No camera time until the last couple hundred meters (although, spotted him at the back a couple times). Maybe it was his illness after all, and he figured the only way to win was sit tight and let others do the work.

      • Unbelievable.
        I guess a few of the bigger teams just didn’t have the legs. The Alaphilippe break needed another couple of riders in there, but none of the Belgians could go with it.
        Right course, wrong time of year?

  7. Thanks as always INRNG for the fine preview and forum for discussion, very much appreciated.

    Looking forward to an open, unpredictable race. Lots of potential scenarios, but in the spirit of conversation Gilbert to get away, GVA to mark the chasers, Sagan to get frustrated and EBH to go clear late, catch the solo break and prevail at the line. Gilbert to hold on for second and Matthews, absent of support, to lead in a reduced bunch soon afterwards.

    Three different names for an alternative reality of outsiders – Naesen, Wout Poels and Peter Kennaugh.

  8. I’m going for Dumoulin. the climb is pretty long, too long for the Sagan and GVA types, maybe Kwai can do it but I’m
    not sure he’d stay away.

    the whole finale strikes me as a TTer’s course: a climb not too long nor too punchy, not really steep either, and 10k can be enough with a 20-30 second gap. I think Dumoulin is a real sleeper here and if he gets away he’s not coming back.

    Gaviria will win the bunch kick for second unless someone like Uran or Kwia stick with Dumoulin.

  9. it’s a lot of fun predicting in the lead up to a race with so many great riders featuring. i think the super strength of the belgians, dutch, and italians combined with so many less demanding kilometers between the penultimate salmon hill and the final ascent means some very strong teammates of the favorites can get away (provided all 3 of the biggest teams are represented and willing to make others chase – like the dutch women). what belgian (besides the big favorite GVA) isn’t a great pick? i’m going dutch stealth just cuz – wout poels. if, like the u23s there are just too many interested in chasing, that downhill sprint with two tight bends will be frenetic. i’d pick bling to get around sagan in that scenario. thanks for the preview.

  10. Can’t see Tom D or anybody else being given any leeway on the final climb (maybe before it?!) There will be too many savvy and strong riders pulling him back or fighting to get towed to the line. However we often see that a gap gets everyone in a small group bluffing for someone else to respond. If it is a small group in the finale I can see somebody without a sprint pedigree pulling away with 2 to 1 km to go and everybody looking at the next rainbow jersey ride up the road. Course doesn’t appear as selective or attritional as the Rio RR or Mendrisio.

    Moscon has looked strong at the right times all year but team duties will probably override his chance. For me Gaviria must be the rider all the others mentioned will not want to see in the final 500m.

    Whatever the outcome the final 2 hrs should be compelling as ever.

  11. Well with team GB not being in the favourites I hope that we can see the riders getting themselves into winning moves. Stannard we know can make a selection and win with the best of them. Froome can certainly sit in the wheels, but will need to go long for a win. Hopefully the ‘bigger teams’ will waste themselves in keeping the race together as the British have done previously. Though the lack of a ring for a British rider says it all.

    Sagan to be 3 times winner for me.

  12. That climb is not hard enough to make the strongest guy in the race win by default (que to next year for that…). If Sagan goes, GVA, Trentin and some others will be able to follow, and vice versa. If Alaphilippe goes early on the climb, Kwiat, Dumoulin and some others will be able to follow, and vice versa. This race will be decided by choosing the “moment décisif” – that millisecond when the others doubt and start looking at each other. For that reason, outsiders who can time trial over the top and down a hill have a good chance. Going out on a limb, I predict (but won’t put any money on) a glorious win for Roglic!

    • I also wonder if we’ll see as many crashes as in the other categories. People have suggested the pros are better bike handlers, but it’s a nervy course, and one or more favorites could well meet an early doom…

        • I don’t see the point of your comment. Do you mean to say that crashes never cost any rider a race, because Blaak came out of a crash unscathed? I could come back with plenty of historic crashes (some from these very championships) to prove you wrong, but that’s so obvious I don’t really see the point of it 🙂

  13. Can someone explain country and team who pay your wages dynamic works in the World’s? For example surely a team would love the extra exposure of rainbow jersey in their team for sponsors etc. So what is to stop a team fully controlling race and using tactics forgetting country lines?

    • Sagan thanked his teammates and “friends in the bunch” today by which he obviously meant Bora riders. I doubt their national bosses will be too happy with them though, so I suppose that’s a reason not to work for another country as you might not be selected again. I think it was Athens 2004 when Charlie Wegelius worked for his Italian teammates and was never picked for GB again…

  14. Let’s assume that selection happends in the last climb. and small group gets away.
    Key of the small group is of course co-operation.
    Riders like Sagan, Kwiatkowski, Gilbert and GVA are key that kind of break because they
    are not afraid to work hard (and maybe lose), even there are other good riders with them.
    (well they have already WC/Olympics in their pockets)

  15. I do feel that some who say the climb is too little to be selective are thinking of it in the singular. At the sharp end of a long race with many repetitions of the effort in everyone’s legs I think it might be a very different prospect and have more impact than some say they expect. Much as I’d love Sagan to get the win, I think he’ll be worked over by countries with larger teams, get frustrated and not contest the final run to the line.

  16. Wow. Just Wow. Three in a row. All that drama and then at the end you wonder if it was ever in doubt?
    So many questions… why did more riders go for it on the climb? Where was Dumoulin, where was Gilbert, what happened to Gaviria in the sprint? And Matthews and Van Avermart…

    What’s the course next year? Does Sagan have a 4th?

      • Also, massive kudos to Alaphilippe for animating the final lap.

        I’m curious about the Dutch team’s tactics. Were Terpstra and Dumoulin too well marked? They are suited to a long range move… did they give it a go?

      • Kwiato said he didn’t have the legs to split the bunch like Alaphilippe did, so he sat tight and was right behind Sagan and Trentin with 500 m to go, but then got boxed in before the last corner, and that was it for him. He surely is disappointed.

        As for Sagan, three in a row is just nuts 😀

    • not sure, but reportedly Sagan said that Gaviria was the one sacrificing himself to close the gap in the last 4 km or so, hence his modest sprint

    • Innsbruck 2018…? Look for it 😉
      For once, Sagan should have quite a hard time… (and most of the rest too).

      Yorkshire and Vicenza might be fine for him, though. Not that the last three Worlds were that similar among them, nor was it Sagan’s riding style in each occasion… Vicenza could be a little too hard if the final course will actually be the harder version they’re working on, but even so Sagan should be the favourite if he prepares for it.

      • Sagan. Immense.
        I’m just goading here by mentioning Froome, but it’s funny, Sagan’s first victory was spectacular, and the follow ups have been more calculated with less fireworks as his own racecraft/awareness of his talent has improved – similar to Froome’s TDF’s which for me have become progressively less exciting over the years (not in terms of repetition, in terms of lack of big attacks, more accumulative time gains and rival asphyxiation)

        Hard to see Sagan not winning more which is quite amazing. Never imagined someone could/would win three on the bounce, although the last world championship I actually really enjoyed for more than the final lap was Cadel Evans win. 5/6hours leading to 30mins of interest is a poor return – the Olympic Road Races back to ’08 have been much more interesting.


  17. We have seen Sagan for 5 minutes in 3 years WC. 4:30 in 2015, 0:15 in 2016, 0:15 in 2017. For obvious reasons 2016-2017 feels not really satisfying. not Sagans problem, I know…

  18. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s article “the moment the race was won” which I assume will be a photo of Sagan getting on his bike to start the race 🙂

  19. HUGE spectator crows in Bergen today, many tens of thousands seems a conservative guess.
    Granted, two elite home boys — EBH and Kristoff — in the race.
    In general, is competitive cycling (amateur or pro) popular in Norway?

  20. Could not be happier than to see Sagan win and then cough a splutter in the media room. What a star what a star performance he didn’t animate the race and then he did, fantastic

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