It’s not Martigny but it’ll do nicely. Italy has swept in to replace the Covid-cancellation of the world championships in Switzerland and the substitute course heads to the hills with a tough circuit, a viable replacement that opens up the title to a wider cast of characters. In an unusual year this is one of the few races post-lockdown to keep its habitual spot on the calendar. Only with much of the field coming out of the Tour de France and large portion lining up for the Giro it’s attracted plenty of star names who are in top form rather than flaming out after a long season. Sit back and enjoy…
The Route: Imola but not as we know it, the famous autodromo features but thankfully only in passing, because while a motor racing circuit circuit evokes the thrill of speed, what is sporty at 250km/h feels humdrum at 45km/h. Instead we have a circuit into the Apennine foothills of 28.8km, long for the worlds, to be completed nine times , a total of 258km.
The circuit begins with a gradual drag out of Imola which is chased by a small descent including a tight hairpin. Then comes the Tre Monti climb nicknamed “Mazzolano” this week for the chapel it passes along the way. It’s got a steep start with 10% for the first kilometre and then gradually easing off, all on a narrow road and protected at the start but exposed at the top. There’s a gradual descent to the town of Riolo Terme. From here then it’s flat across to the next climb, there’s a right turn where the road kicks up for 300 metres before levelling off and then its into the second climb to the Gallisterna chapel and a kilometre at 12%. Then comes the descent which is like a staircase at first, a series of downhill ramps and flatter parts before a sustained downhill run into Imola where the race uses part of the famous motoracing circuit to complete a lap with a flat finishing straight.
If Martigny was for the climbers they’re still in with a chance but this is a course for punchy riders too, a route comparable to Lombardia or Liège. Ride the circuit once and it’s ok, do it multiple times and the gaps will quickly open up. There’s 4,600m of vertical gain which is a lot but it’s spread across 258km when a compact mountain stage of the Tour could try to cram this into 158km.
- Side note: you’ll see the vineyards and the grey hills, the race takes part in the Vena di Gesso park, literally “the vein of gypsum” and Italy’s natural construction material site. As well as plaster, the hills are also quarried for clay which is processed and exported around the world as ceramic tiles. What’s this got to do with cycling? Well it’s a busy region for cycling and firms like Ariostea, Flaminia and Panaria have all had their own pro teams and the tiling industry spawned Mapei which had cycling’s superteam in the late 1990s and still sponsors the worlds today
Wout van Aert is the safe pick, the Belgian was second in the time trial earlier this week and as you know by now he can do it all,the picture of all-round dependability that an auto brand trying to promote a new 4×4 vehicle probably craves. It’s up to rivals to make the climbing hard all day, and launch longer range moves, otherwise they might be resigning themselves to silver, or as L’Equipe puts it today in more terrifying terms, “driving themselves to the abattoir”. Greg Van Avermaet has got a climbing test here while Tim Wellens ought to be good on a day like this but missed out on the Tour de France because a crash while training and his been playing catch-up. Tiesj Benoot gives the Belgians more options, he’s good on a filthy day so if the rain comes early his stock will rise but all could equally be pressed into service to control the race.
He can win the Tour de France but can Tadej Pogačar do it on a wet weekend in Emilia-Romagna? He’s yet to win a one day race and that’s perhaps a matter of time but it’s still a different test. Slovenia are the form nation of the month but that’s more a quirk and they won’t be able to control the race. Primož Roglič is a punchy rider who’s won steep uphill finishes in Tirreno-Adriatico before and a win would mark a full recovery from his sacking on the Planche des Belles Filles.
Marc Hirschi (Switzerland) was an impressive U23, so good he was fast-tracked out of Sunweb’s development team. But he looked even more special in his first season as a pro when he was in the early break in the GP E3 Harelbeke and then latched on to the big winning move when it caught him and he stayed with them to show endurance for a tough race. He showed on the Suc-au-May he’s got what it takes to launch on steep climbs.
Michael Woods (Canada) had the Olympics as his big goal for the year and now the Worlds are the substitute. He took a good win in Tirreno-Adriatico recently but how to succeed here, he’s ok in a sprint among a few riders but no certainty so he’ll probably have to launch a knock-out attack on the final lap to go solo.
The circuit is ideal for human jack-in-the-box Julian Alaphilippe (France) if he can contain his restless legs syndrome, to save himself for one spectacular attack and use the descents to build a lead. Perhaps others will follow him but he’s good in a sprint too. Guillaume Martin was fading in the Tour de France, look to see if he’s refreshed and they’re backed by a solid squad of domestiques or rather équipiers.
Alejandro Valverde (Spain) had a good if unspectacular Tour de France and now finds a circuit suited to his skills and experience but so far it’s not been his year, as if time is finally catching up with the 40 year old. He’s only the figurehead of a strong Spanish armada where Pello Bilbao, David de la Cruz, Jesus Herrada, Mikel Landa, Enric Mas, L-L Sanchez and Marc Soler are all conceivable winners.
It’s home advantage for the Italian team, especially as national selector Davide Cassani is from here. Vincenzo Nibali is ideal for a course like this but the Giro’s his big objective and he tends to gradually find form; he was adrift in Tirreno-Adriatico and so he’s not an easy pick today. Mind you he wasn’t when he won Milan-Sanremo either and if it rains it might help him. Alberto Bettiol had a very discreet Tour de France but can be strong in a finish like today but as ever his win rate is low while Diego Ulissi is quietly having one of his best ever seasons, rarely out of the top-10 once the terrain suits him and a crafty finisseur.
Jacob Fuglsang (Denmark) is aiming for the Giro but he’s arguably a better one day racer and on a course that resembles a Lombardia or a Liège he can take over the mantle from Mads Pedersen.
Max Schachmann (Germany) had a great start to the season but a cracked collarbone in Lombardia has spoiled the second half and having battled around the Tour de France might find he’s recovered and fit but how to win, he’s not the punchiest climber for the climbs nor the best sprinter for the flat finish.
Michał Kwiatkowski (Poland) won the worlds on a wet and hilly course, exploiting the downhill run to the finish. Today he probably doesn’t have the punch of old but can win from a crafty sprint instead.
Colombia’s Dani Martinez is probably their best rider today with Rigoberto Uran and Esteban Chaves as outsiders.
Australia bring a big team with Richie Porte as the form rider but he’s never taken a one day win and given a career as a worker at Ineos beckons for the next too years is today his last chance and a few days at home with his new daughter might not be ideal but just with the Tour there’s no pressure. Simon Clarke is the modern version of Simon Gerrans who might have only one match to burn while rivals have a box but all the more reason for him to play things carefully and Michael Matthews is an option in case of a sprint from a group.
Tom Dumoulin started out as a good one day racer and the same for Dylan van Baarle as they look to keep up Dutch morale after their women’s team have done so well.
Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) is handy in one day races and this kind of circuit suits, as ever if he can get ten metres he’ll risk taking a kilometre. Alexey Lutsenko
should look familiar given he rides in Kazakh colours all year although there’s talk he might leave Astana, he’s a chance to make his contract value soar is out following a Covid test. A long shot for the win but Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) is a curiosity, normally a five-chainring pick for the U23 race but there isn’t one so he’s riding and worth watching just to see how long he lasts.
|Wout van Aert, Jacob Fuglsang|
|Julian Alaphilippe, Alejandro Valverde|
|Diego Ulissi, Alexey Lutsenko, Michael Woods, Richard Carapaz|
|Max Schachmann, Vincenzo Nibali|
|Pogačar, Kwiatkowski, Hirschi, Mas, Roglič, Martinez, Benoot|
Weather: a switch from the recent weather, a 20km/h wind will come from the east meaning a tailwind up the Mazzolano climb to Riolo and then a light headwind on the Gallisterna climb and the descent so to attack on the final time up the last climb is to risk launching into a headwind. The breeze will also bring rain for the latter part of the race which matters as much of the circuit has been freshly tarmacked for the race so it’s smooth and could become slippery. A top temperature of 18°C mid-way in the race before it cools.
TV: live from start at 10.00am CEST to the finish, forecast around 4.45pm CEST. Normally the men’s worlds are an attritional affair that make for slow television at the start with the pace gradually picking up until a frantic final lap but this year’s route features a much longer lap.