The team time trials’ swansong
These will be the last World Championships to feature team time trials for trade teams, before reverting back to national team line-ups next year.
Since being introduced in 2012, the team time trial events have been far from universally popular, with many WorldTour members opting not to enter a team in recent years. But they are still events taken seriously by most of the peloton’s top teams, with the likes of Quick-Step Floors, BMC and Boels-Dolmans all regularly sending strong teams and sealing gold medals.
In this year’s men’s race, BMC look like hot favourites having already won four team time trials this season, including the Colet stage of the Tour de France. The team who defied them at last year’s Worlds, Sunweb, look unlikely to stage a repeat of that surprise result, but both Quick-Step Floors and Sky have squads strong enough to challenge for gold.
The women’s Sunweb team stand a better chance of defending their title, having triumphed in a competitive field at the Giro Rosa and, more recently, the Madrid Challenge. But 2016 champions Boels-Dolmans boast a formidable line-up, and look like the team to beat.
Dumoulin vs Dennis in the men’s time trial
It seems very likely who the gold and silver medals will go to in the men’s time trial – the suspense lies more in which way round they will finish.
Tom Dumoulin and Rohan Dennis are the peloton’s elite time triallists, and Wednesday’s event should be an intriguing battle between the two.
Dumoulin is the defending champion, winning what felt like an overdue first ever rainbow jersey in Bergen last year, but might not be in peak time trialling form having dedicated most of his season to challenging for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.
Dennis has been the season’s on-form rider against the clock, picking up a couple of victories at both the Vuelta a España and the Tirreno-Adriatico, and, encouragingly, at the Giro d’Italia ahead of Dumoulin.
Of course, there are other candidates who could upset expectations – Stefan Küng, for instance, although the hilly course in Innsbruck plays against his strengths, and four-time winner Tony Martin could potentially roll back the years.
Internal Dutch battles in the women’s races
We’ve grown used to seeing Dutch riders dominate women’s cycling, but even by the standards of recent years their 2018 line-up looks especially strong.
In the time trial, the gold and silver medallists from last year – Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen – again look likely to contest for victory, with the greatest challenge to their duopoly likely to come from another Dutchwoman, Ellen van Dijk.
The pair will again be favourites for the road race, albeit with the layer of complication that comes with their riding on the same team. Throughout 2018 they have competed head-to-head in the season’s biggest races, with Van Vleuten coming out on top in recent events like La Course and the Boels Ladies Tour, and Van der Breggen earlier in the spring at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Flanders. But how will they ride together as teammates?
If the Dutch team can harness its many talents into a coherent unit, like last year when Chantal Blaak benefited from good team work to claim victory, then success looks almost inevitable. But if their surplus of talents causes confusion or indecision in their ranks, perhaps riders like Elisa Longo Borghini, Kasia Niewiadoma or Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio can capitalise.
An unusually hilly road race route
Much has been made of how unusually climber-friendly the Innsbruck road race courses are, and indeed this looks set to be the toughest Worlds road races in years.
Featuring both a long (7.9km) climb for the grinders and (in the men’s race only) a shorter, steep (11.5%) average ramp for the puncheurs, the circuit is guaranteed to make for a selective race.
This won’t alter the dynamics of the women’s race too much, as there is a lot of overlap between the best puncheurs and the best climbers.
But in the men’s peloton, where specialisation is far more pronounced, this year’s course feels like the chance of a lifetime for pure climbers to add a rainbow jersey to their palmares.
There likely won’t be a fourth successive World title for Peter Sagan – instead, look out for Vincenzo Nibali (who has waited years for a World parcours like this), Alejandro Valverde (for whom this stands as the best opportunity in years to finally win a gold medal) and the entire Colombian squad, which is bursting with climbing talent.
Hopes for a British medal
Britain will be well represented in both the road races, with six riders qualified to take part in the women’s race and the maximum number of eight in the men’s.
Hannah Barnes is the star name on the women’s team, but won’t enjoy all the climbing involved in this year’s route.
The men’s race looks more promising, however, depending on how well Simon Yates has recovered from the Vuelta. On paper he looks perfect for this route, given his climbing credentials and devastating punchy attacks.
On one hand, he may be able to ride on the wave of his terrific form at the Spanish Grand Tour; on the other, the deep efforts he had to make to seal victory might have prompted his body to shut down these past two weeks.
It’s already been an extraordinary year for British cycling – a rainbow jersey would be the cherry on the cake.