As with many previous years, the women’s road race appears to be the Netherlands versus the rest of the world. The question is, will they all ride for one leader or will they fracture in pursuit of individual glory.
The fact is, all of them individually have a chance to win if they get the support of their team, but don’t be surprised if the teamwork falls apart and the riders battle it out against each other.
Marianne Vos may not be the strongest and most in-form rider in the team any more, following injuries and the rise of riders like Anna van der Breggen, but she knows what it takes to win in these gruelling races.
The 29-year-old has won three rainbow jerseys on the road already in her glittering career, as well as an Olympic title in 2012, although the weather in Doha on Saturday will be a far cry from the downpours in London four years ago.
Kirsten Wild has also tasted glory in London, winning the RideLondon Grand Prix this summer, but again this will be quite a different proposition to a city centre criterium race.
Wild has has a number of things in her favour for this World Championships – she’s one of the faster finishers in the peloton and she’s got great experience of success in Qatar, having won the Ladies’ Tour there on four occassions.
She won the stage in Doha in this year’s edition on a course that slightly resembled the finishing circuit they’ll ride on Saturday and has won 10 stages there in the last seven seasons.
Again, though, she’s on the same team as the likes of Vos, Van der Breggen, Chantal Blaak (the list goes on), so her opportunity to actually contest the sprint may be hampered.
Unlike the Dutch team, Belgium have what appears to be one main option for the road race in Jolien D’Hoore, which could work in the Wiggle-High5 rider’s favour.
She’s a two-time national champion and comes into the World Championships in winning form, having taken victory in the Madrid Challenge at the end of the men’s Vuelta a España.
This season hasn’t been quite as prolific for the 26-year-old as the 2015 year, but she’s still racked up seven wins and is a fast finisher in a race built for fast finishers.
The rider who D’Hoore beat in the Madrid Challenge, Chloe Hosking, is favourite for this Worlds road race with some bookmakers.
The Wiggle-High5 rider has racked up 62 race days this year, taking seven wins in the process, including one at the Ladies Tour of Qatar in Doha in February.
Her highlight win came in Paris, however, when she triumphed in La Course by Le Tour de France, beating a number of other World Championships prospects in the process.
Peter Sagan is the obvious choice to be favourite for the men’s road race on Sunday, but if it comes down to a head-to-head sprint the reigning world champion may not be the man crossing the line first.
He’s fast, but he’s not as fast in a straight line as an on-form Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel or Marcel Kittel. Sagan’s best hope of success could be if the peloton is split by crosswinds and a reduced bunch is formed. Some of the big sprinters may not make the front group and those who do may tire in the heat over the course of the 250km route.
Sagan is big enough and talented enough to battle through the elements and still have something to give at the end. But it’s been a long season in the rainbow stripes for Sagan, so he could be forgiven for not being in best shape this deep into the year.
While some of the more experienced sprinters will have peaked for events earlier in the season, Fernando Gaviria seems to be coming back into form at the right time for a Worlds tilt.
He was on course to possibly win Milan-San Remo until he crashed in the final kilometre and then his main goal was the omnium at the Olympic Games, where he failed to medal.
But his stunning win at Paris-Tours last Sunday, where he sprinted from 700m out, was mightily impressive and will have acted as a wake up call for his rivals in Doha this weekend.
He wore yellow at the Tour de France, he won a medal at the Olympic Games, so now Mark Cavendish only needs to win the World Championships to complete the early season goals that many thought were impossible.
Cavendish has put in more work this season than possibly ever before to reach his targets – combining track work with his road commitments for Dimension Data – but could possibly be struggling late in the season.
According to his Dimension Data sports director Rolf Aldag, the Manxman was suffering with illness in the weeks leading up to the Worlds, forcing him to miss Paris-Bourges and the Munsterland Giro.
He finished sixth at Paris-Tours, which may not be indicative of his actual form as he may have seen Gaviria speeding off and pulled up his own effort slightly.
But as we’ve seen this year, if Mark Cavendish sets a target he generally goes on to achieve it.
He may turn 36 the day before the race, but Tom Boonen has a genuine chance of winning his second world title. Like Sagan, he may not be able to match the other sprinters in a head-to-head, but should the race be affected by the crosswinds Boonen’s chances of winning will go up.
He’s a dab hand at racing in Qatar, winning the Tour of Qatar on four occasions and taking no fewer than 22 stages in the race since 2006.
His Belgian team are experts at racing in crosswinds, and Boonen is clever enough to get into the right positions on his own if his colleagues are caught out.
It’d be a fairytale end to his career, winning the rainbow stripes again 11 years after the first time, and it may persuade him to extend his career past next April.
It’s now or never for Andre Greipel to become world champion, having finished third the last time it was held on a sprinters’ course in 2011. The German, like the Dutch riders, may not have it all his own way in his team, despite being appointed team leader, thanks to the presence of Marcel Kittel in a free role.
While Kittel started the season stronger, Greipel has had the better second half, including his impressive stage win at the Tour de France in Paris. He wasn’t happy that the national selectors waited so long to announce the team for the Worlds, but now he’s got his team around him he must be confident of success.