Peter Sagan rules the world; Close for Cavendish; a perfect podium and more talking points from the men's 2016 World Championships road race
- Photos by Graham Watson and Yuzuru Sunada
Peter Sagan – could it have been anyone else?
Few could argue that Peter Sagan has not done the rainbow jersey justice over the past 12 months, amassing an impressive array of wins in style. Although Sagan played down his chances of victory in the 2016 World Championships in Qatar, he was firmly one of the front runners despite the flat course being more suited to pure sprinters.
Having won on the hilly course in Richmond, USA, in 2015, Sagan proved his versatility and precisely why he topped the 2016 WorldTour standings by out-pacing all of his rivals to retain the world title on Sunday.
Sagan admitted after the race that he had been the last rider to catch onto the back of the decisive split in the race at Abu Yazoul. Crucially, he also had his two Slovakia team-mates for company. The trio let the Belgian team set the pace, ensuring that the chasing group could not catch up.
Sagan then opened up his sprint early up the slight rise to the line to take his second consecutive world title. Paolo Bettini (Italy) was the last rider to take two consecutive wins in 2006-7.
Sagan has been the dominant force of the year, and he is – again – a truly worthy world champion.
Close for Cavendish
It was so close for Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish. The 2011 world champion has waited for the 2016 Worlds to come around, offering the kind of flat course on which he excels. The signs were good in July, when Cavendish took four stage victories in the Tour de France.
A switch in disciplines then saw Cavendish take silver in the men’s omnium on the track at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in August.
It was a tall order for Cavendish to excel at the Tour, then Olympic and then into the Worlds. His lead-up to Qatar was not perfect either, with illness seeing him miss out on a couple of key warm-up races and then a crash in training in Qatar immediately before the race leaving his with cuts and bruising.
A born winner, Cavendish was evidently disappointed with second place – banging his front wheel on the ground in frustration on the line as he failed to catch Sagan after manoeuvring around Australia’s Michael Matthews and losing momentum.
Cavendish came so close to claiming a second world title, and after the disappointment abated he heartily congratulated Sagan on his win.
A perfect podium of champions
You could not ask for a classier podium than Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen at the World Championships.
All three riders have previously held the world title: Sagan in 2015, Cavendish in 2011, and Boonen in 2005. Not only that, but between the three riders they have won pretty much every major one-day race on the calendar, and several times over – and can collectively count hundreds of wins.
The three riders are also among the most popular currently racing, providing a dream podium for avid race fans. It couldn’t have been better.
There have been many questions asked of Qatar as a venue for the Road Cycling World Championships. The extreme heat, the lack of spectators and an uninspired route were frequently aired by the venue’s detractors.
Yes, the men’s road race route was pan-flat. And yes, the barren, scorched scenery was less than inspiring. But Qatar hosted one of the most animated and exciting World Championships for years.
A typically long and drawn-out affair, the race seriously came to life when it hit its most northerly point and the Belgian and British teams caused a fracture in the peloton in the crosswinds. A frantic chase then ensued, as the nations who had been caught on the wrong side of the split hit panic stations.
Would the lead group get caught? Who would lose out? Who would make the first move? The race once again proved that it’s not the course that makes the event, but the riders.
Big names get caught
Anyone with experience of the Tour of Qatar will be aware that crosswinds blowing across the flat, barren desert can cause havoc in the peloton. But still, a moment’s inattention saw several of the world’s biggest cycling nations completely miss out on a chance of glory in the men’s road race.
Most notable for missing the decisive split in the race was Germany, who had three viable contenders in André Greipel, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. However, all three were left playing catch-up as they were distanced as the race headed south from the desert.
Kittel and Degenkolb looked as though they had used every ounce of energy and every drop of sweat to try and chase back on, but it was not to be, and they both dropped out of the race after conceding defeat. Sat slumped in their team’s tent at the finish, Kittel and Degenkolb received attention from the German staff to try and cool down and ease their disappointment.
Germany were not alone. Having gone into the race with some numbers and a decent chance, France, Spain and the Netherlands also failed to make an impact and saw their hopes of glory blown away in the Qatari desert.