After plenty of exciting races this week, the final event and one probably better enjoyed from the sofa or a local pub given the harsh weather forecast and almost 300km from neutralised start to the finish. Mathieu van der Poel is the obvious pick but can he concentrate all day long?
280km plus a twenty minute neutralised roll out from Leeds make this a challenger to Milan-Sanremo for the longest race of the year. There’s 180km across the Yorkshire Dales, first north and then back south and often on hard roads that rise, fall, twist and turn and are exposed to the wind. It’s tempting to see all of this as a long transition phase but squads without a house sprinter need to exploit this section to toughen up the race and it contributes plenty to the 3,500m of vertical gain.
A revised course of 261km because of the heavy rain and weather alert, the race still starts in Leeds but cuts out plenty of the Moors section. Then come
seven nine laps of a 13.8km circuit around Harrogate. The circuit has two climbs, Harlow Moor (1km at 5.2%) and Otley Road (1.5km at 3.2%) which don’t sound like much but they tighten up at the top with steeper gradients and the whole circuit is lumpy and technical at times. The finish includes a rise in the final kilometre before flattening out to the line.
The Contenders: Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) is the talk of the town. Each time you think of a problem for Sunday, he can show an example of where he’s come out on top. The long distance? See his Amstel Gold Race where he deployed his now infamous long sprint after 265km. The technical circuit, he’s got skills to rival Peter Sagan. He’s in form after winning in several different ways in the Tour of Britain, this versatility gives him options as he needn’t wait for the sprint. TAphe Netherlands bring a team in his service although Niki Terpstra and Mike Teunissen could be cards to play too. Still, he’s far from invincible and if he’s in the mix for the sprint he’ll have competition to the point where the Dutch team will need to work hard to ensure rivals, the pure sprinters, are dropped or just too tired at the finish.
Enjoyed the racing so far this week? Along with Nils Eekhoff – DQ’d after winning the U23 race – someone who might not have is Alexander Kristoff (Norway) because all the attacks and small groups contesting the finish in Harrogate are not his cup of tea. He’d like a bunch sprint from 50 or more riders where he’s still in contention, preferably at the end of a grim day’s riding. Bad weather is likely but so is a lively race although the pros tend to ride a more controlled race and if you’re thinking Yorkshire’s too hilly for him, you could be right but Bergen in 2017 had more climbing metres. In case of a sprint Sam Bennett (Ireland) is an obvious pick too, he’s had a great season and become a very dependable sprinter and he’s versatile too, he can cope with some climbing. A sprint finish? Then Pascal Ackermann is one to watch but it’s up to to rivals to make the race hard and German team mate John Degenkolb is perhaps more versatile for this course but less of a bankable pick.
British hopes rest on Ben Swift. He’s got a low win rate but can pop-up for high finishes in target races like Milan-Sanremo so he’s a contender but a long shot, a possible top-5 but hard to see the win.
Staying with the sprinters brings us to Peter Sagan (Slovakia). He lost out last year… when they designed the course for Innsbruck and now he’s back to a circuit that suits. He’s had a season like others, strong in the classics but short of expectations before a seemingly inevitable green jersey in the Tour. Which means a rainbow jersey seems logical and he’s starting to show form with a good result in the GP Québec. Michael Matthews (Australia) can often do what Sagan does and more. Perhaps it’s just anecdotal but he often seems to thrive in sunny conditions.
Julian Alaphilippe (France) was a big favourite last year but cracked on the final climb. Apparently his late season flourish at the Tour of Slovakia and the Tour of Britain left him rinsed and so this time he’s come to the worlds with less racing of late although after a packed season that started with a win in January, included Milan-Sanremo, Flèche Wallonne and of course, that Tour de France. You’d forgive him for putting his feet up but this means less pressure. But how to win? He says he’s in “perfect” form and is quick out of a small group and can go solo too but needs a hard race but if the bunch shrinks then there’s still plenty of competition. Tony Gallopin and Benoît Cosnefroy are long picks but the team is all for one here.
We’re back to the Greg Van Avermaet of old, rather than “Golden Greg”, his story this season has been one where he’s shaped races and been in the mix but the wins have been hard. Still he’s just won the GP de Montréal and took a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire too. But he’s still a rider who should feature and it’d be a surprise if he’s not in the top-5 but how to win? There are faster finishers and he rarely goes solo, he needs a very tough race to grind down his rivals but on a circuit it’ll be hard, especially as the Worlds rarely gets lively until the final hour. The same for Philippe Gilbert who wins less these days but is still capable of big results especially by attacking from far out and the Belgians have more cards to play, Oliver Naesen is strong but a loyal team mate while Dylan Teuns is punchy and Tim Wellens often thrives in the rain. Remco Evenepoel is a big interest too and keeps surprising, worth remembering given today is surely the longest ride he’ll do but to cover myself he gets one chainring below… just in case.
Alexey Lutsenko is in form and a tough rider to beat. His problem is his “route 1” strategy, he’s not the craftiest of types nor the best on a technical circuit but for brute force the Kazakh is one to watch.
Alejandro Valverde is an outsider, this isn’t a circuit for him but he’s still capable of winning on multiple terrain and Spanish team mate Ivan Garcia Cortina is a long shot.
Italy bring a strong team with the versatile and efficient Matteo Trentin as their best shot and he’s good at picking off tough races and in form too. Alberto Bettiol will like the long distance too.
Among the others Michael Valgren (Denmark) has had a discreet season but one to watch for the way he can power clear late in the race and Denmark have more options with Magnus Cort and Mads Pedersen. Tanel Kangert (Estonia) is not someone to gift a gap to.
|Mathieu van der Poel, Peter Sagan|
|Julian Alaphilippe, GVA|
|Trentin, Gilbert, Matthews, Bennett|
|Evenpoel, Kristoff, Štybar, Lutsenko, Valgren, Swift, Ackermann, Wellens, Colbrelli, Garcia Cortina, Pedersen|
The Weather: wet and cold, it will rain throughout the day with a top temperature of 12°C with a northerly wind which could reach 25km/h in the final hour of the race.
TV: live from start to finish, 8.40am t0 3.40pm UK time / 9.40am-3.40pm CEST.