Following a week of thrills and spills in Richmond, the highlight events of the UCI Road World Championships will take place this weekend.
First up on Saturday (September 26) will be the elite women’s road race, followed by the elite men’s on Sunday (September 27).
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Thanks to its prestige and generally well-balanced course, the Worlds road race attracts a more star-studded field than any other race on the calendar other than the Tour de France. The rainbow jersey awarded to the winner is one of the most sought-after prizes in cycling, and each year produces thrilling races with the world’s biggest names all vying for the esteemed title.
Unlike the Classics, which, despite the occasional adjustment to the route, tend to suit the same kind of rider each year, the Worlds road race provides a different kind of challenge. Consequently, riders characterised by more refined attributes only get one chance every few years to go for victory.
This year, it appears to be a chance for both sprinters and classics riders to become world champion. The climbing is not as severe as in Ponferrada last year, where Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France) were victorious.
What few kilometres of climbing there are are all concentrated towards the back end of the 16.2km course, and over steep gradients. First up is Libby Hill, where riders will squeeze from hitherto wide roads to a narrow 200-metre long cobbled climb; then a 100-metre cobbled rise up 23rd Street, with a brief but startling slope of 19 per cent; and finally a 300-metre rise to Governor Street, after which the riders face just 680 metres more of false flat before reaching the finish line.
The Men’s Race
Significantly for the classics riders, the first two of these climbs are cobbled, which should allow for their well-honed techniques on the pave to gain them a significant advantage. Unsurprisingly, in the men’s race Belgium feature the most talented crop of such specialists, with Greg van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert and Tom Boonen all capable of winning.
Elsewhere, riders who ride for Belgium’s leading trade team – Etixx-QuickStep – could also animate the race on these climbs, particularly Strade Bianche winner Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic), powerhouse Niki Terpstra (Netherlands), and defending champion Kwiatkowski.
Despite the fact the climbs resemble more those found in Flanders than in the Ardennes, a few hilly classics specialists will hope for good results. Among them are Spain’s Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, who have a very consistent record in the Worlds, as well as Italian Vincenzo Nibali, who has ridden himself into form since being disqualified from the Vuelta.
As a long shot, it’s worth looking out for Britain’s Adam Yates, who is on great form having won San Sebastian and finished second at the GP de Montreal, although he is likely to cede leadership duties to the more classics-orientated Ian Stannard, or Ben Swift.
Swift is one of the handful of sprinters who are hoping for a controlled race. John Degenkolb will have the support of his strong German team having proven his form by completing the Vuelta and winning the final stage, and is hoping to pull off a remarkable season hat-trick of Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and the Worlds.
He’s quicker than most, but will be wary of sprinting against Norway’s Alexander Kristoff, who has racked up a huge haul of 20 wins this year (among them the Tour of Flanders), as well as Peter Sagan (Slovakia) and an on-form Michael Matthews (Australia).
The Women’s Race
In the women’s race, the stand-out sprinter is Jolien d’Hoore (Belgium). Since triumphing at the Ronde van Drenthe in spring she’s gone on to win a further twelve races, and has made the Worlds a big goal – even skipping the last leg of the World Cup to perfect her preparation. Her main rival in a sprint could well be 2010 and 2011 champion Giorgia Bronzini (Italy), and it would be fascinating to see the two go head-to-head having ridden as teammates for Wiggle-Honda all season.
But there are many riders who will want a difficult race to take both out of contention – chief among them Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead. She’s had another great season, having won the World Cup for a second season running, and is also on top form having won the GP de Plouay last month. Although she’s yet to win a medal of any colour at previous Worlds, these results – plus the absence of Marianne Vos (Netherlands) – means she’ll go into the race as one of the favourites for gold.
Despite missing Vos, the Netherlands still has a very strong team. They’ll unite around Anna van der Breggen, who has rarely finished outside of the top five in races all season including silver in the women’s time trial on Wednesday, and will be tough for anyone to chase should she be given leeway to attack.
As defending champion, Ferrand-Prevot should not be written off, though she’s had a quieter season this time round. Lisa Brennauer (German) demonstrated a strong blend of sprinting and punchy climbing to win the Women’s Tour and has already tasted success at this Worlds in the team time trial with Velocio-SRAM and bronze in the individual time trial. And Emma Johansson (Sweden) is hoping to end a run of near misses (third in 2010 and 2014, second in 2013) and finally claim top spot on the podium.
World Championships road race 2015
Women’s road race
When: Saturday, September 26
Distance: 129.8km (eight laps)
Men’s road race
When: Sunday, September 27
Distance: 261.4km (18.1km plus 15 laps)
World Championships road race 2015: TV guide
British Eurosport and the BBC will be showing live coverage of the men’s and women’s road races. >>> Full World Champs TV guide.
Saturday September 26
18.00 – LIVE Women’s road race, British Eurosport
17.50-21.00 – LIVE Women’s road race, BBC Red Button
Sunday September 27
14.00 – LIVE Men’s road race, British Eurosport 2
17.50-21.45 – LIVE Men’s road race, BBC Red Button
World Championships road race: Recent winners
2014: Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France)
2013: Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
2012: Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
2011: Giorgia Bronzini (Italy)
2010: Giorgia Bronzini (Italy)
2009: Tatiana Guderzo (Italy)
2008: Nicole Cooke (Great Britain)
2007: Maria Bastianelli (Italy)
2006: Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
2005: Regina Schleicher (Germany)
Watch: Four ways to nail any climb
2014: Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)
2013: Rui Da Costa (Portugal)
2012: Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)
2011: Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)
2010: Thor Hushovd (Norway)
2009: Cadel Evans (Australia)
2008: Alessandro Ballan (Italy)
2007: Paolo Bettini (Italy)
2006: Paolo Bettini (Italy)
2005: Tom Boonen (Belgium)