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.
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.
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.
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|
|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.