World Championships Preview

No other country cherishes bike racing as much as Belgium and the men’s road race is the final event in a week of festivities and sport. Only there’s one thing missing so far and that’s a home win, can Wout van Aert deliver? Here’s a quick preview…

The Route: 268km and featuring two different circuits:

  • the “Flandrien” lap is outside Overijse and and dips into the countryside at times includes the Moskestraat – the cobbled climb used in the Brabantse Pijl and Druivenkoers of late – and the Smeysberg, a 16% wall section of tarmac and the Taymansstraat, 16% again but with cobbles
  • the “Leuven” circuit laps the city and features plenty of corners, and short rises and dips, the kind of place where being 20 places behind means having to make more effort just to stay on the wheels. It’s got a lot of pinch points and has seen many crashes so far in the other categories. The finishing straight is slightly uphill.

Today it’s 1.5x Leuven circuit, 1x Flandrien circuit, 4x Leuven circuits, 1x Flandrien circuit and finishing with 2.5x Leuven circuits which makes for 42 climbs. Crucially this makes it more like the Tour of Flanders with different circuits prompting different phases in the race, rather than the usual Worlds format with repeat laps where the pace ratchets up lap by lap like music where the drum beat gets ever faster.

The Contenders: Wout van Aert (Belgium) is the obvious pick given his win rate and versatility, he could win the sprint from a group, a breakaway or go solo. But he’s also the wheel to follow all day, including in the finishing straight. The Olympics showed how others just won’t want him near them in the finish but the TT shows he’s in great form too and so will be hard to beat. Remco Evenepoel is a strong second card, able to go solo from a long way out but often beatable if others are along for the ride. Collectively the Belgians will have a hard time trying to contain the race, van Aert plus home status means a lot is on them. Stuyven is a local while on paper Benoot, Teuns and Lampaert could all be in the mix too but if they’re backing van Aert then they’re likely to get used up.

Salt and pepper, frites en mayo. There are some inalienable combinations and citing van Aert means we ought to evoke Mathieu van der Poel. He’s had a season many riders would yearn for, yet come up short in the big goals, winning in Tirreno-Adriatico rather than a spring classic and that crash in the Olympics. A late entrant because of rehab, the form seems back but can he hold it together for 260km? The Dutch have a strong team, Bauke Mollema could always do his thing but this probably isn’t hilly enough while Danny van Poppel is strong.

Everyone’s tipping the Danes and you can see why. Mads Pedersen? Well he’s won the Worlds already and packs a sprint. Magnus Cort? He’s a crafty finisseur and in form. Kasper Asgreen? He can go solo from afar and rival teams will need to deploy several riders to haul him back. Michael Valgren is suited to long distance races and crucially he’s back in form. But how to win for as good as these riders are, those named above them are surely better? They promise Quickstep-style tactics, firing riders up the road while the others sit back.

Sonny Colbrelli (Italy) gone from someone who’d pop up to win on a cold day to a more consistent winner of late and is suited to this course. He’s a hardman sprinter but increasingly confident, happy to attack on the hills rather than wait. Interestingly the Italian squad is loaded with more sprinters than workers, with the likes of Matteo Trentin, Giacomo Nizzolo and Davide Ballerini. Gianni Moscon is good for a threatening late attack.

Julian Alaphilippe (France) can win again but last year’s course suited his searing attacks. He’s got a tendency to waste energy at times, like a dog chasing its tail, but not when he’s got a clear goal and the Worlds have been in his sights for months now. Team mate Florian Sénéchal can sprint well and is probably a protected rider, ditto Benoît Cosnefroy who will be expected to launch a late uphill attack. Arnaud Démare is curious pick for the team, he’s had a rotten season but often because he’s lost his team in a hectic finish but  after 250km if he’s still there he packs a potent punch.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia) can bide his team, watch others and hope things end in a sprint, there’s nothing to lose here and the form is there, he’s just won his home Tour of Slovakia.

Britain bring young names like Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter. Pidcock’s banked the Vuelta as training while Hayter may not be making the headlines but he was as good as van Aert and Alaphilippe in the Tour of Britain, the question is whether he can deliver after 260km. Ben Swift is often discreet but pops up for a surprise from time to time.

Among some other names João Almeida (Portugal) is versatile. Marc Hirschi (Switzerland) is beginning to look sharp again but would prefer a hillier course. Alexander Kristoff (Norway) can lurk all day, the same for Fernando Gaviria (Colombia). Tadej Pogačar is the star attraction for the Slovenian team and Primož Roglič rides too but surely Matej Mohorič is their ace card, he has the knack of drifting away just at the right moment. Australia have two cards in Caleb Ewan and Michael Matthews and the old 1-2 tactic with Matthews able to cover moves knowing Ewan’s the sprint card.

Wout van Aert
Sonny Colbrelli, Julian Alaphilippe
Remco Evenepoel, Mathieu van der Poel, Magnus Cort
P Sagan, Asgreen, Hirschi, Trentin, Pidcock, Mohorič, Pedersen
Almeida, Kwiatkowski, Valgren, Sénéchal, Ewan, Gaviria, Cosnefroy, Matthews, Hayter, Hirschi, Démare

Weather: cloudy with some weak sunshine and up to 22°C.

TV: the local channel is Sporza and Eurosport/GCN are covering it internationally. It’s live from start to finish, the race begins at 10.25 CEST and should finish around 5.00pm.

37 thoughts on “World Championships Preview”

  1. I watched the last 30km of the women’s race and was surprised at how easy the course looked. I expect there to be a sizable group contesting the final lap with all but the purist sprinters there.

    Caleb Ewan could hide for 260km then pop up for the final 50 metres.

    • They don’t tend to use exactly the same course and in particular don’t include as many climbs. They only need one tough Flandrien hill to be properly selective. They have different attributes so they try to tailor the routes to better compliment the women’s racing scene.

      • I’m under the impression that the course is essentially the same: the only difference is that the men’s race includes an additional middle part which basically consists of riding the Louven circuit four times and the Flandrien circuit once.
        That makes 4 x 4 + 1 x 6 more hills than in the women’s race, but they are the very same hills women rode yesterday. I doubt whether that makes the men’s race more selective by the time we reach the final 30+ km – and those are more technical than selective.
        I’m not saying that the men’s race won’t be tough or exciting to watch…

        • Some of the women commented after the race that the Dutch had not pushed the pace on the Flandrien circuit and that a bunch sprint became a foregone conclusion at that point. I think they put too much stock in Vos’s sprint. I don’t expect the men’s race to go the same way. Not that it definitely won’t go to a sprint at the end, but I expect a lot of riders to be out the back well before the finish.

        • Precisely. Less hills. It is attritional. Even if they did do the same course the women would race it differently on the basis of conserving themselves for the finale. But the longer the race , the bigger the time difference between men’s and women’s race.

    • The route is easy indeed. The hardest is the flandrien loop (same roads as Brabantse pijl with some additions tough). These are short climbs, some cobbled, but nothing a pro can’t easily do. It all depends on how fast they climb them and on how aggresively they race.

      A pity is that after the flandrien loop there are still 2 laps in leuven.

  2. That was interesting to see–such a big group until pretty close to the end. I didn’t see the early part of the race so I have no idea if it was raced slowly early on. That said, Vos sure conked out in the last 50 m so maybe they were really spent.

  3. Maybe it’s time for Sagan again. He is no more the all-out-favourite that everybody watches.
    But I expect a surprise winner without any inner rings. 😉

  4. I hope that this lives up to the billing, but so often it’s a bit of lottery. “Strong teams” are so often exploited to close gaps that it’s quite a thing when the favourite wins. But I’m surprised that Pogacar isn’t a chain ring when he doesn’t seem to need a team.

  5. It’s a strong field and I have no idea who will win but the one that I will be watching to see how he goes is Hayter … there is always someone new coming along.

    • Yeah, I was just thinking yesterday that the pairing of Pidcock and Hayter in the final could cause some real headaches for other teams, but I do feel that this race has arrived about 2 years too early for the pair of them.

    • I agree with others that I don’t see Cavendish in the shake up, or even finishing.

      From a Brit perspective, the course suits Pidcock well, but I’m sure about his ability to handle the length, or whether his preparation has been geared to the race. I reckon Hayter’s a good outside bet: a similar skillset (horrible word) to WvA, just not as good – but he’s clearly in great form and is a very fast finisher. Again maybe he lacks experience at races of this length.

  6. I’m very much with our esteemed author on the point about Belgian pressure and expectation. I wonder if they will really be able to control this race, although if anyone could win this race without team support it’s WvA.
    It feels like one of those most likely to be won by a slightly unexpected 2, 1 or 0 chainring rider. Should be a good one, though!

  7. The only feeling I have is that Van Aert won’t win. If he is to win he needs team mates on the last lap. Otherwise it will be a repeat of the worlds and Olympics, someone will attack and he’ll be expected to do all the work and the attacker will win. Asgreen is the current king of such attacks in Belgian classics, often taking advantage of the presence of team mates for Quick Step. His Denmark team is similarly loaded with top riders, 4 or 5 of whom could be in the finale, but not the top favourite. It could be someone like him or Valgren, or a lone ranger with no team mates who knows they can’t win the sprint so lays it all on the line. Sagan perhaps.

    • It’s funny you reference Sagan at the end. In many ways WvA is in the same predicament Sagan was in a few years ago where everybody looked at him to do the work and he had to chose to work and then lose or not work and lose. And so it came to pass.

  8. As someone else mentioned, it seems a shame the Flandrian loop isn’t closer to the finish. I hope I’m proven wrong, but based on how the other races have finished, it feels likely that a sizeable group will make it to the finish as attacking a strong peloton from distance will be tough. Hope the WVA and MVDP factor encourages aggressive racing though.

    Feel like INRNG might have been a bit tough on the Danes – there seems to be enough evidence from earlier this year (and prior World Champs) that Asgreen and Pederson are capable of beating MVDP and WVA in long 1 day classics.

  9. WvA is such a marked man that I’ll be relatively surprised if he wins. Colbrelli seems to have given up his sprint for climbing prowess, and I think he’d need a repeat of the European Championships to have a chance. He’s in over his head with this field and this course. Alaphilippe appears to have found the rainbow jersey a heavy burden, and he can’t be ruled out but he hasn’t been as spectacular with the jersey as without.

    Cort was blazing at a weak Vuelta, but I don’t see him as having the mindset and skillset to win a race this hard. The length of the course will probably do MvdP in, and Remco might be racing with Eddy’s comments echoing in his head, leading him to hesitate to ride as selfishly as he needs to to win.

    Given their recent history, I think it’s generous to give a chain ring to Kwiatkowski, Gaviria, Hirschi, Matthews, and Demare. And I don’t think Ewan has his “MSR legs.” Trentin is another who seems to have lost his ability to finish a race off and will likely be on team duties. (BTW, you listed Hirschi in both the 2 ring and 1 ring categories.)

    So my pick is Sagan, finally underrated after several years of having a big target on his back. By the way, there’s a small typo in his paragraph. He can bide his time, as he has no team to do his bidding.

    • Well, Kwiato is more of a climber than a punchy classics’ rider from a few years ago and his performance at the Olympics proved that. He was more than capable of keeping with the pace of the front group at Mikuni. Even though he lacks that kick on a sharp climb, he is still one of the most experienced and smartest in the peleton and always capable of a surprise when riding for himself.

      Four chainrings for Colbrelli… Who would have predicted that one year ago? His sudden rise of form at this age really baffles me.

      • To be fair to Colbrelli he was top 10 in MSR back in 2014, podium at Amstel and Copa Sabatini win in 2016, then 2017 win at Brabantse Pijl and Paris-Nice stage. Loads of top 10s in big one day races during that period. He’s in the form of his life and there are fair questions around BV, but he hasn’t come out of nowhere.

        • I’m not a fan of any team bankrolled by petrosheiks or “sportwashers” of any kind, but this team has been under all kinds of scrutiny for awhile now…and so far, NOTHING but rumor and innuendo has been the result.
          As to the World’s, a fine victory for Alaphillipe…a real “trier” who races to win with no fear of losing. This sport needs more like him instead of these watt-counters who stare at their gizmo on the stem or take directions via radio to decide how to race. Chapeau Lulu!!!!
          Tomorrow off to see Giro di Sicilia…last year’s edition, which would have started right here a minute’s walk from my front door has been replaced by one that requires me to ride for an hour to Avola to see the start. We should get back home in time to see the finish on TV 🙂

    • Remco did seem to want to do it all early tho…. I couldn’t quite understand why he drove it so much to just fall away, when himself and Styven could have been covering moves…

      • Because Evenepoel was asked to react on attacks. As the other Belgians were. But Evenepoel was the only one doing his job. But he should have been running on reserves. That was his only mistake. But what was a horrific mistake is that the other Belgians then chased Evenepoel in front of the pack. Unseen, and very low and mean from the national coach and Van Aert.

    • Noel – exactly, Remco wasted all his efforts for the first 3/4’s of the race, so much that he obviously missed the winning group. If he was fresh for the final 50km he could have kept WvA with the lead group.

      • He rode like a junior in his first 3/4/J race promoted by his club.

        Pidcock misjudged the desire of others to close gaps for the chance of rainbow bands and realised too late.

  10. Great day’s racing and Alaphillippe a worthy winner. I was cheering him on from 50kms out!

    Thought Pidcock rode really well (to make up that time, he must have soloed the last lap faster than JA). As he said, had he known the gap, he wouldn’t have let the leaders get so far up the road; indeed, it was strange to see the Moro riders write the time gaps on slips of paper compared with the chalk boards in other races.

    Thanks for the preview inrng – here’s to Roubaix next week! (Looking a bit damp)

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