We thought the World Championships road races could be boring, but they turned out to be some of the best races of the season
Racing in Qatar can be exciting
A completely flat parcours; a completely flat atmosphere – these World Championships were setting themselves up to be thoroughly forgettable, but the two elite road races certainly changed that.
Granted, we’ve seen some great performances in the other races on show in Doha, but few of them created the drama we saw in the two races on Saturday and Sunday between the elite riders.
The women’s road race looked nailed on to be a sprint finish, with the strongest sprinter and Qatar expert Kirsten Wild nailed on to be the one who took the stripes. But instead we saw a great finish from 20-year-old Amalie Dideriksen to trump the strong Dutch team and take her first senior world title – the first of many I expect.
Then, we hoped for crosswinds in the men’s race, but were preparing ourselves for 250km of boring racing followed by two minutes of excitement at the end. Instead, we got the crosswinds we hoped for, the race blew itself apart, we got aggressive racing for the best part of six hours and a great finish.
Can we have the Worlds in Qatar every year?
Peter Sagan is a great world champion
There was a real threat towards the end of the elite men’s race on Sunday that Tom Leezer of the Netherlands would win. Now, that would have been a fantastic win and nothing less than he deserved after his great breakaway in the final two kilometres caught everyone by surprise.
But in terms of world champions, Leezer isn’t exactly the kind of guy you want wearing the rainbow stripes. A domestique for a LottoNL-Jumbo team that doesn’t exactly win a great deal isn’t the kind of rider you want in the most prestigious jersey in cycling.
Given that his only professional stage win came at the 2013 Tour de Langkawi, it’d be pretty safe to suggest that we wouldn’t have seen the rainbow stripes contesting many races next year if Leezer had won.
Thank goodness then that we witnessed Peter Sagan taking his second consecutive title in stunning fashion. Sagan was one of the best world champions in recent memory last year, winning the Tour of Flanders, stages at the Tour de France, Ghent-Wevelgem and the European Championships.
He gives a pretty dull interview, but his exploits on the bike are what attracts people to watch this sport that we love, so the fact that he’ll be doing it in the rainbow stripes again in 2017 make it all the better.
Now Bora-Hansgrohe just need to get a WorldTour licence…
Strength doesn’t always come in numbers
The pre-race favourites in both the men’s and women’s races were the fastest people from the teams with the most riders. Both Mark Cavendish and Kirsten Wild had the maximum number of teammates possible, but neither was able to pull off the win.
There were some extenuating circumstances in the men’s race, which we’ll come to in a minute, but in the women’s race the Netherlands were beaten all ends up by the small Danish team, which featured five fewer riders.
The Dutch had a full leadout train heading into the final kilometres of the race, peeling off one-by-one before Wild opened her sprint. Dideriksen, meanwhile, just sat in their wheels and trumped them on the line.
Crosswinds and a split in the peloton made the men’s race slightly different. Great Britain lost a few riders when the peloton split – including powerhouse Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas – but Cavendish still had the likes of Adam Blythe and, for a time, Luke Rowe to help gain an advantage.
Belgium were the ones with numbers in this race, with Tom Boonen taking at least five teammates into the front group and keeping them there until the final laps.
But again, it was Sagan, part of a three-strong Slovakia team, who came out on top. Michal Kolar and Juraj Sagan worked hard to get Peter in a position to contend, but it was the WorldTour winner who had to do it all himself in the finale when surrounded by blue Belgian jerseys.
Numbers help you control the early stages of the race, but these World Championships have proved that you don’t need a big team to win the race.
Scandinavia has some great riders for the future
The average temperature in Kristoffer Halvorsen’s home town of Kristiansand, Norway, in October is a mild 11 degrees Celsius – not exactly the kind of conditions you would train in to prepare for cycling in Qatar, where temperatures pushed 40 last week.
But the climatic differences between the Scandinavian countries and the oil-rich Middle Eastern state didn’t stop the Northern European nations from dominating at the World Championships.
Riders from Denmark and Norway accounted for three wins, five overall podium places and and 15 total top-10 finishes across all the individual events at these World Championships.
Throw in Lotta Lepisto’s third place in the elite women’s road race and those final two numbers go up further. For relatively small cycling nations, these Scandinavian countries have really punched above their weight in Doha.
Halvorssen took victory in the U23 men’s road race, before Danish duo Jakob Egholm and Amalie Dideriksen won the junior men’s and the elite women’s road races respectively.
Mikel Bjerg (Denmark) finished second in the junior men’s time trial, while Susanne Andersen (Norway) finished third in the junior women’s road race.
Dideriksen herself is only 20 years old, and a two time junior world champion, which means that Denmark and Norway have some incredibly strong talent under the age of 23 – certainly ones to watch for the future.
And there’s not forgetting Norwegians Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alexander Kristoff, who finished sixth and seventh in the men’s road race.
Ryan Mullen proved he is an elite time triallist
Given the brutal conditions in Doha, with temperatures consistently in the high 30s, you could have forgiven a young rider like Ryan Mullen should he have finished well down in the rankings of the elite men’s time trial.
But the 22-year-old from Birkenhead, representing Ireland, put in the ride of his life to finish fifth in his first elite World Championships.
Starting early in the event seemed to help Mullen, who rode as a neo-pro with Cannondale-Drapac this season, as he set a blistering time with little pressure on him from the guys starting around him.
While he was minutes ahead of the guys from the smaller cycling nations at the time, Mullen’s time always looked to be one that would secure him a high finish, but as more and more riders crossed the finish line, Mullen was still in the leader’s hot seat.
Then, as quick as a flash, he went from leading to being off the podium as Tony Martin, Jonathan Castroviejo and Maciej Bodnar trumped him in quick succession.
Nevertheless, it must have been a great experience for Mullen to experience leading such a big race and seeing many of the pre-race favourites fail to eclipse his time. There will hopefully be more of the same to come in the next few seasons.