World Championships Preview

The men’s world championship road race is this Sunday and features a scenic spin from Edinburgh to Glasgow and then 10 laps of a circuit that has to be seen to be believed.

The Course: 271km and close to 3,500m of vertical gain. It starts in Edinburgh and crosses over to Glasgow via the Firth of Forth to Falkirk and then the Campsie Fells for some Highland scenery with the Crow Road climb, all scenic and gentle.

Then come 10 laps of 14km circuit around Glasgow, an urban course. We could explore every corner, nook and cranny of the course but we’ll see it ten times in the race. There’s the 13% wall-like climb of Montrose Street, it’s short at just 200m and the road is wide but it’s entered via corner and exited at the top by another corner so positioning matters and it comes about 1.5km from the finish line in George Square so it’s important. The rest of the circuit has its ups and downs too, Scott Street has a 20% warning sign, but it’s more 15% average.

The defining characteristic of the circuit is a cornucopia of corners. Without getting stuck over the definition of a corner – can it be rounded? – there are at least 40 (forty, no typo) corners, bends and turns on each lap, which works out as a bend every 350 metres on average but some are in close formation and you can count more if you try too. Also some of the streets are narrow, parts have not been resurfaced with raised and sunken inspection covers in places; parts that have been resurfaced haven’t been done that well either. All this means being able to chose the line matters and there’s a premium on being towards the front of the group as nobody can sit on the back for free, instead the elastic/concertina effect will be in full effect. In short it’s very unlike any world’s course, a kermesse, a criterium and this morning’s L’Equipe calls it “le labyrinthe“.

In a standard worlds week the men’s race is the final event and by then the course is familiar and a consensus emerges about where the winning moves will go. Now there’s the junior race today (Saturday) and the men’s race on Sunday. So there’s less time to get the feel of the course but here it’s feels like the whole circuit is awkward, there’s no easy section. It means riders can’t lurk at the back because if a danger move goes they can’t react if they’re stuck behind in traffic, everyone will want to be at the front creating a self-reinforcing selective process. Plus it’s hard to organise a chase on a circuit without long straight roads.

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The Contenders: Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) is the first pick, assuming he’s had a restful night’s sleep. He packs a sprint, he can go solo, he’s technically proficient and all those stop-start efforts can suit, plus he likes to win big to the point where he was sitting back or helping out in the Tour de France. Team mate Olav Kooij is an outsider but it means MvdP can go in moves with Kooij as a back-up sprint card to play although the circuit means there won’t be a waiting bunch of riders biding their time.

One of the things to look forward for the Worlds in August was a field full of Tour de France stars surfing their peak form. Only Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) is the only rider from the top-10 overall to show up. He doesn’t need much of an introduction, he can outdo the Flandriens in their own race and he’s got a decent sprint although against some of the names here it can get him a medal but a rainbow jersey is a tough one on this course. There’s not even the star of the Tour de Pologne Matej Mohorič here despite him being so suited to the course and the Slovenian team all in for Pogačar. His challenge is both coping without a strong team and finding the course hard enough to attack so that he can be away from faster finishers.

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The Belgians have three ace cards in Remco Evenepoel, Wout van Aert and Jasper Philipsen but would you like to be the national selector? You have to manage the competing ambitions of these three and then explain to a waiting nation in case you don’t win. Evenepoel has his eyes on the time trial title and the stop-start course isn’t what he’d pick but he can go in a move relatively early and then carve his way through the corners to leave the others floundering and his sprinting’s improved too, he can channel the power better and is wiser. Van Aert should be a match for Van der Poel right down to having had a discreet Tour results-wise but this is his big goal – he’s been trying hard since 2020 – and the course with its cyclocross-style routing is ideal although one hour’s efforts is different to seven or more. Philipsen is more than a pure sprinter, he’s a crafty rider who can win too. Cohesion is the obvious challenge and the team has a mix of Quicksteppers and Jumboistas, but no direct team mate for Philipsen. Jasper Stuyven’s a fourth card but likely to be a support rider capable of closing gaps late in the race.

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French selector Thomas Voeckler says others shouldn’t look to his team to dynamite the race but is this du bluff as they say in French? He’s got some good cards to play, Christophe Laporte was second last year, albeit in a hectic sprint. Benoît Cosnefroy seems to thrive in one day races in August and September and was U-23 champ in Bergen when the race was even further north, while Julian Alaphilippe won in Leuven.

Denmark are another team with complementary riders since Mads Pedersen is the sprinter of sorts and Kasper Asgreen can make longer range moves.

There are no Scottish riders but Great Britain’s best bet might be Fred Wright although he seems a touch on the heavy side, he’s a rider for the Ronde and less so a course with this many vertical metres but this is not to rule him out, just to say it’d be a surprise.

Italy have a strong squad but nobody you can see in a rainbow jersey on Sunday evening. Alberto Bettiol can be strong, Lorenzo Rota is versatile with a quick sprint, likewise Andrea Bagioli and Matteo Trentin won the Euro champs in Glasgow.

Among the outsiders Michael Matthews (Australia) is a big game hunter who collects prize trophies but how to beat the names above? Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan) is capable of winning big races but he’s been erratic this year but has found winning ways of late. Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spain) might be Spain’s best bet but he’s a very rare winner. Neilson Powless (USA) doesn’t quite have a course to suit but is the type of rider who could float away and a solo rider is hard to bring back, he must be tired already from a long season. Ben Healy (Ireland) famously says he can’t sprint and this course suits more muscular riders. João Almeida (Portugal) targets stage races but he’s good for a course like this, UAE team mate Marc Hirschi (Switzerland) is in form too. Finally Michał Kwiatkowski (Poland) rides solo without team mates but he’s in form, is suited to this kind of course and expert in saving energy in corners and on climbs.

Van der Poel
Van Aert, Evenepoel
Pogačar, Pedersen, Laporte
Philipsen, Matthews
Alaphilippe, Cosnefroy, Hirschi, Wright, Asgreen, Kwiatkowski

Weather: cool and cloudy with a slight chance of rain for the laps in Glasgow, a top temperature of 18°C. A 15km/h breeze from the west.

TV: the race starts at 9.30am BST with the finish due around 4.00pm BST. It’ll be a tough course to film with all those corners as it’s hard to get a moto in the right place for long; hard to direct as well because of this and the urban circuit means even the helicopter shots can be blocked. Even watching from your sofa with the tilting camera angles can be tiring.

37 thoughts on “World Championships Preview”

  1. It’s a bizarre but I think brilliantly different course – so unlike any other WC course I can recall.
    Maybe some more resurfacing could have been done… both in and out of Glasgow (some of the roads between Loch Lomond and the outskirts are fairly terrible). I think squeezing a peloton through some of the road narrowings in the city could well be problematic. And rain could really add to the hazards. Very excited, though – I can hear the helicopter for the Junior Women’s race from my house.

    • Sorry, not Loch Lomond, obviously – I’m over-stimulated – through the Carron Valley and over the Crow Road, some of the road surfaces are very rough.

    • Agreed. This could be an epic WC, even if the riders think the course is ridiculous – as van Aert told Jan Bakelants the other day. It’s going to be a super tough course, which will just progressively split and split the peloton.

      The course will reward a bit of technical ability: saving even some tens of joules of energy with fast, smooth lines through corners, also avoiding being stuck behind riders with poor corners, so as to minimise the stopping and starting, is going to add up over the 10 laps.

      Havn’t cycled there in a while, but the roads through Carron valley always have patches in a state. Looking at photos, the worst could be the little bends by the farm as the Carron road drops down to the cross with the Crow road and the road to Fintry. Not terrible itself, but the road gets narrow and an unlucky rider might run out of room to manoeuvre. The technical twisties at the end of the Crow into Lennoxtown had some bad patches too on the apex of one corner.

      I suspect they’ll be OK though. They’re pros, they’ve been doing this more and faster than any of us. 😉 Andre Greipel just went through the twisties before Lennoxtown the other day faster than I had ever managed in years and years of descending that road (and I had a pretty descent time 😉 ). He’s done it twice maybe. Pros…

      Looking at the U23 today, there doesn’t seem any issues with road surface in the city. There’ll be section of old rattly tarmac, but nothing terrible. The flagstones in various sections (Buchanan and Gordon st, Shuttle st [the little road from Ingram st to George st by the TIC]) look fine in the dry – but that could change with the forecast rain.

      The forecast is getting more certain on there being rain too. That will sap energy as well. Even if the air temperature isn’t too bad, the rain is straight off the Atlantic in Glasgow, and it’s always colder. That will sap energy further – suit cold acclimatised riders more (and bigger riders).

      The riders may think the course is ridiculous, but I think this could be an epic WC. Certainly, different from the usual WC. It will be extremely attritional. It will reward riders who can stay at the front.

      No playing conservative tactics back in the bunch in this race, for sure.

      • Also, aside: Greipel went up the Crow at 348W average in just over 12 minutes. He’s a retired pro sprinter, and he’s still a better climber than pretty much every local hero who’s done that climb. 😉

      • Worth noting, Rose St helped to split bunches in the U23 today. Rose St and Montrose St look to be key, where the winner will crack other competitors one by one in the final laps.

      • ‘The course will reward a bit of technical ability’ – yup, and I think that’s a good thing. We often hear about ‘dangerous finishes’ and so on, but some races are about skill as well as legs, and that’s what supposedly dangerous courses do. I’d be just as happy with the occasional mountainous WC.

  2. Thanks for the preview – first, let’s hope it does not rain! As has been said, if a small group can get away, it’ll be hard to chase down on this circuit. Although this means it will be extremely fast and dangerous when the peloton hits the circuit.
    I’d expect Pogacar to chase down anybody dangerous going up the road, but if he’s still recovering from the Tour, I would not be surprised if there’s an unexpected winner.

  3. Voeckler is critical of the course with Senechal and others even more blunt. Without rain it could be passable, with rain it looks dangerous. We’ll see. What a strange choice of course with 130km of classic road race and 140km of elongated town centre crit. Without the walls and distance it could have suited Sid Barras, or with the walls Tom Pidcock.

    • I think Remco loses out on the technical ability to compete on this course. The riders who can stay at the front, and who will eventually split off, will be super-strong riders WITH very efficient cornering ability. I’m not sure Remco quite has the latter like some other riders, and it will slowly cost him energy and burn him out.

    • Good point about the motos: I have noticed that races in the UK suffer from this more than the traditional cycling countries, and this circuit is much more challenging for them than normal out-of-town races.

  4. With the many corners, dome narrow roads, poor road surfaces,the high stakes andthe rain, I fear it could turn into a crash fest. I very much hope I am wrong.

  5. How close is it to the circuit used in Glasgow for the national champs and the Commonwealth Games, and is there anything we can learn from that? From memory, it was pretty wet when Thomas won the Commonwealth good there.

    • It’s mostly the same. Certainly in spirit. Biggest change is the Nat Champs and the Commonwealth games went down High st and then out to Glasgow green, looped around, and the finish was on the green.

      The WC has been changed to cut out that loop, instead they turn right on High st into the merchant city at Bell st, and they wriggle around there, up Montrose St, and back around George Square for the finish there. The diversion up Rose St and around the back of the School of Art.

      There’s small details here and there that are different, but it’s generally extremely similar. Great George St in the Westend, Montrose St, St Vincent st – those all featured in the Nat Champs and the EK too I think.

  6. Thanks for the preview – also to the people with local knowledge. We had a stage of the Tour of Britain finish here once and I was thrilled. Having the World Championships on your home roads must be truly memorable.

    Looking at the course: four hundred repeated sprint efforts out of corners punctuated with double digit punches on a tricky surface – may the best van win.

    Although if I had to make a pick I’d guess MvdP might have an extra 1/2 watt at the end of it all.

  7. It’s uplifting to see a chainring for Kwiato for a Polish fan. A bit unlucky in TdP but showed class the way he dealt with Majka shenigans in one of the finishes. Would be great to see him in the mix.

  8. The Commonwealth games race was definitely very wet and with a large rate of attrition. It finished over in Glasgow Green, so not the same finish.
    The European championships did share some of the same roads – city centre roads and a loop out through Park Circus. I don’t remember if it finished in George Square or elsewhere though.

  9. Just watched the last 20km of the Jnr Men’s, great race but what gnarly course. That corner at about 8km to go, after the little climb, 90degrees and narrow! Definitely not a course for big groups, it will be interesting to see how the elites tackle it. Will the big guns light it up early or play a waiting game?

  10. We watched the juniors race yesterday stood on the Montrose Street climb and it’s 100% a launchpad for the win. The road surfaces all looked ‘fine’ from a British POV, no tarmac carpet but nothing too bad.

    The gaps between groups in the boys race were very sticky yesterday, it looked hard to chase or bridge between groups. It seems to greatly favour those able to be in the front group and then be strong enough to make a move late in the race. It’s hard to see a freak winner.

    No looking around at others to chase moves, the favourites are going to need to close every gap or find themselves out of the picture. It feels like it’s between the Vans with a Taddy wildcard perhaps.

    Once I shake the hangover I’ll be down to Montrose Street to stake my place among the Danes, Norwegians and Belgians who no doubt will have beaten me to the best spots.

  11. Sure seems strange to add the crit worlds onto a road race…
    But as with all races, it’s the same for everyone and I hope they all stay safe if the rain comes in.

    Was in Glasgow last month and walked a fair amount of the lap as it happens. Really did not think I’d seen any part of the course, apart from Montrose Street and the wide roads leading to it from the nearby urban motorways. Certainly never thought I could be on the lap walking the access roads in Kelvingrove and on up to Park View. Especially not, seeing the state of some road surfaces.

    And why is there no road cone on the Wellington statue in George Sq?!!

  12. This route seems nuts. It’s like my commute to work through several construction zones. At least there are no e-scooters flying by in the wrong direction…

  13. From the map above I count 50, maybe more corners per lap, with some of them more than ninety degrees and properly narrow. That lap takes roughly 20mins, so it’s more often than the ‘corner every 30 seconds’ as said by Brammati.
    And now it’s started raining on and off.
    World crit champs are on.

  14. That was great fun, which I have often had in Glasgow. How can a Dutchman look so much like a comedic French peasant. Ah, genetics… The downhill MTB was also great. And huge love to Katie Archibald- to lose that much and win so much is beyond the scope of any well meaning sports blog.

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