The final race of the World Championships is this Sunday and while some riders haven’t made the journey to Australia, there’s a galactic startlist an open course awaits that offers something for grand tour champions and one day heroes alike.
The Course: 267km plus 7km of neutral start and almost 4,000m of vertical gain. After a procession down the coast it’s inland to climb Mount Keira once, this is a big climb but the summit is 226km from the finish. The comes 12 laps of the 17.1km circuit around Wollongong with plenty of corners but the roads are wide and predictable. It’s got two climbs, the unmarked rise of Dumfries Avenue followed by the official climb of Mount Pleasant. This climb is 1.1km at 7% but irregular and has some steep pitches, 12 times up will do plenty of damage. On the last lap it’s downhill and through some bends to the finish, consensus is that a rider only needs a small gap to stay away.
The Contenders: 4,000m of climbing is comparable to a smaller Alpine stage in a grand tour or a hilly one day classic, making the Wollongong circuit is accessible to many. The defining aspect should the reaction to the circuit and the tactical plans different teams bring, some will want to put a lid on it, others need to blow the race apart.
A year ago the Belgians were schooled on their home course. They had a viable plan to get Wout van Aert to the finish so he could unleash his sprint but others, including Remco Evenepoel, launched very early which shredded the field and made for an uncontrollable day. This can they deploy the same tactic again with van Aert a strong card to play in the finish as he can hope to clean up in a sprint but also go with any attacks, he’s sat out the time trial and is all in for this. Evenepoel can also attack but this time as late as possible, only before the others and as ever his best chance of winning is riding the field off his wheel to to go solo. Belgium have a strong team with the likes of Jasper Stuyven being deployed as a helper but he can always have his say as well.
The Netherlands can try a similar plan with Mathieu van der Poel as the sprint-late move plan and both Bauke Mollema and Dylan van Baarle as late breakaway cards who can attack when others least expect on some unheralded part of the course and leave the chasers in a stand-off behind. Van der Poel can win on this course but it’s towards the top end of his range, he’ll want his team to smother the race before he makes his move and that’s also a risk, that he goes too soon or too big.
Julian Alaphilippe has enjoyed two years in the rainbow jersey and openly talking about how happy he’d be to see a French team mate wear the jersey, both because he would but the topic arises because he’s had a torrid season and is short of form. He’s still an outsider given his punch but Benoît Cosnefroy is a better form pick and Valentin Madouas a long range card to play with Christophe Laporte a sprint card as well but all are outsiders rather than.
Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) can do it all and to win, he almost has to because he hasn’t got a big team even if Tratnik and Polanc can help late into the race. Now he’d prefer laps of Mount Keira rather than Mount Pleasant but still packs a big sprint, especially after a hard race. If he could replay the Ronde again he might well have won it, such is his range.
Biniam Girmay (Eritrea) has an even smaller team than the Slovenians and they can’t shape the race either but they’ll be able to provide ample support, shielding him and fetching supplies. Second in the U23 race last year, he’s versatile but still inexperienced but this is less of an issue for the Worlds which is “just” a circuit race, there’s not the same imperative to learn the lay of the land, young winners often triumph in the Worlds when it can take years to master a Monument classic.
Home hopes rest on Michael Matthews (Australia) who remains a formidable rider and has had this race in mind for a long time. But how to achieve the alchemy of turning bronze into gold, because you can see him placing but if there’s a sprint can he play it cool enough to beat van Aert, if there’s a late attack can outfox Pogačar?
Ethan Hayter (Great Britain) lost out in the time trial thanks to a mechanical and is a versatile rider but untested over such a long distance. Fred Wright keeps making top-10s but would swap all that for a win today but how, it’s like the Tour de France stage to Saint-Etienne when he was powerless to contain Mads Pedersen.
Italy’s got more dark horses than a paddock during a powercut. Andrea Bagioli has a good sprint, Alberto Bettiol can barge clear à la Mollema and Lorenzo Rota is a stealth pick but the Intermarché boys are unstoppable. Against them this is a difficult circuit for sneaky outsider moves with the wide roads and visibility along sections.
Among the others, Magnus Cort (Denmark) is what Australians call a “smokey” and compatriot Mathias Skjelmose is moving well. Spain have Ivan Garcia Cortina and Marc Soler, one to go all in for the sprint from a reduced group, the other to go loco. Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan) can do what team mate Feodorov did the U23 race and win by brute force, he won the U23 race himself atop the Cauberg years ago and some liken Mount Pleasant to the Limburg launchpad.
|Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar
|Remco Evenepoel, Mathieu van der Poel
|Girmay, Matthews, Cosnefroy
|Bettiol, Madouas, Cort, Bagioli, Stuyven, Alaphilippe
Weather: sunny and a top temperature of 20°C, Sunny. Light SE wind of 15-20 km/h.
TV: live from start to finish, the race begins at 10.15am and finishes around 4.50pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. This is 2.15am-8.50am CEST in Europe and 8.15pm-2.50am EST in the US.
The Worlds is a prestigious race but normally – but not always, see Leuven last year – the race ratchets up lap by lap so you can tune for the final hour or two and usually catch the decisive moves.