12 riders to look out for at the road World Championships

Cycling Weekly's guide to riders to watch across the elite, U23 and junior categories over the next week

World Championships contenders
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The road World Championships kicks off this Sunday, the 18 September, in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. Over the next week, multiple rainbow jerseys will be battled for on mostly hilly courses.

The time trials come first, with both the elite men and women racing on Sunday, before the juniors and U23 men get their go early in the week. Then the mixed relay team time trial caps off the races against the clock on Wednesday.

The road races begin in earnest with the junior road races, and the men's U23 race (there still is not a female equivalent), before the whole show ends with the elite road races next weekend, with the women on the 24 September, and the men on the 25 September.

There are 11 races altogether, meaning 11 world titles to be won over the week in Australia; here, then, is Cycling Weekly's guide to the riders you should be watching out for in all the different races, in alphabetical order. To make sure this list doesn't spiral out of control, only one rider per country (per gender) will be on the list.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands)

Annemiek van Vleuten wins stage 7 of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

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Look, Annemiek van Vleuten isn't just one of the favourites, she is basically *the* favourite for both the time trial and the road race, and probably the mixed relay team time trial as well.

The Netherlands have won four out of the five rainbow jerseys in both the time trial and the road race, with Van Vleuten taking two of the former and one of the latter. She has seemingly stepped up another level this year, winning the Giro Donne, the Tour de France Femmes, and most recently the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.

Obviously, Van Vleuten is not the only options in a Dutch team bursting with talent, with Demi Vollering and Ellen van Dijk both great options for the road race and the time trial, respectively, but it is the Movistar rider who stands above all else.Obviously, Van Vleuten is not the only options in a Dutch team bursting with talent, with Demi Vollering and Ellen van Dijk both great options for the road race and the time trial, respectively, but it is the Movistar rider who stands above all else.

One gets the sense that if she rode away from the bunch next Saturday, there would be no stopping her.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)

Elisa Longo Borghini

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The Worlds' punchy course might be the perfect stage for Elisa Longo Borghini to storm to victory. The Italian has been one of the most consistent riders in the peloton this year, and a rainbow jersey would cap off a year in which she also won Paris-Roubaix and The Women's Tour.

Longo Borghini missed out on stages at the Giro and the Tour, but looked competitive throughout. If it comes down to a small group, she should be counted among the favourites; she can do it alone too, as she proved on the cobbles earlier this year.

The Italian team also has the defending champion, Elisa Balsamo, but this course might prove a bit too much for the fast woman. This golden generation of Italian talent has a lot of pinch, though. 

Ethan Hayter (GB)

Ethan Hayter

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Ethan Hayter might not be the name that immediately jumps to mind when one thinks of top riders to watch at this Worlds, but the 23-year-old has the ability to perform incredibly well in the time trial and in the road race.

With no Tom Pidcock in the GB squad, things have opened up a bit on the road, and Hayter is just one of a few aggressive options that the team has to play. In the time trial, the man from London has the ability to mix it with the best, as he proved at the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this year.

Watch out for his younger brother Leo, too, who like his brother is British champion for his age group. He'll be competing in the under-23 events. 

Filippo Ganna (Italy)

Filippo Ganna

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Having just announced that he will be targeting the Hour Record in a few weeks time, Filippo Ganna will first attempt to win the rainbow bands for the third time on the bounce. This would make him the most dominant time trialist since Tony Martin, and there is every suggestion that he will do the job once again.

The Italian can produce ridiculous power, and the rolling course might play to his strengths. While he has been a bit quiet in recent months, especially at the Tour de France, the 26-year-old has been warming up to his tilt at the Hour Record, so the Worlds will come at the perfect time.

There are pretenders to his throne, but for Joe, Ganna is very much king. 

Grace Brown (Australia)

Grace Brown at the Tour de France Femmes

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For a World Championships in Australia, one has to pick an Australian to go for a result, and who better than Grace Brown. The FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope rider has had a great season, and as current Australian and Commonwealth time trial champion, will be among the favourites for that event on Sunday.

She could also go very well in the road race a week later, with the punchy course possibly suiting her - this is a weider who came second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, although that was obviously behind Annemiek van Vleuten, who remains a step above everyone else.

Potentially the home crowds will drive her on to better things, however, and she comes into these Worlds on the back of an impressive victory at the Ceratizit Challenge.

Julian Alaphilippe (France)

Challengers for the World Championships

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When the Wollongog Road race course was announced, Julian Alaphilippe immediately sprang to mind as the man to beat. The rolling course with its 4,000 metres of elevation seemed perfect for a man who is competitive on all terrains, apart from the flattest or the most mountainous.

The Frenchman is also someone who always seems to deliver on the biggest stage, as has been proved in the last two World Championship road races, which have both been won by him, seemingly inevitably.

However. This year has been a bit of an annus horriblis for the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider, with a horror crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège wiping out much of his season, before Covid and then another crash at the Vuelta a España really crowned it all off.

The two-time world champion will be lining up in New South Wales, despite his woes, and when he starts a race, he tends to do pretty well. It would be remarkable if he did anything special, but don't rule it out. 

Josh Tarling (GB)

Challengers for the World Championships

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Not necessarily a rider you'll have heard of before, but Josh Tarling is one of Great Britain's best hopes for a medal at this year's World Championships. The 18-year-old will be taking part in the junior time trial and road race, and will be hoping to go one better than last year, when he won silver in the time trial in Flanders. 

The Welsh rider has been on the scene for a number of season as a rider to watch, and this year, while riding for the Flanderscolor-Galloo Team he won the Tour de Gironde International in France and finished sixth in the Trophée Centre Morbihan, while racing in Great Britain colors. He won time trials in both races too.

He is one of the biggest rising stars against the clock in the world, and as a result he will join Ineos Grenadiers next season

Lotte Kopecky (Belgium)

Challengers for the World Championships

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A lot was expected of Lotte Kopecky after her move to SD Worx at the end of last year, and it is safe to say the Belgian has delivered. She won Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders in the Belgian national champion's jersey, to huge national acclaim.

While she might not have managed a win at any of this summer's big stage races, she came close multiple times and will be a big threat in the road race next weekend.

Kopecky is also the Belgian time trial champion, so should not he discounted in the race against the clock on Sunday. 

Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands)

Mathieu Van der Poel

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It has been a mercurial season for Mathieu van der Poel. After he started the season late due to injury, he stormed to victory at the Tour of Flanders, cementing his reputation as one of the best one-day races in the world.

A lot was expected of him at the Giro d'Italia, and he came through, winning the opening stage and taking the pink jersey. After that race, though, he was seemingly exhausted, failing to really appear at the Tour de France.

A win at the GP de Wallonie this week suggested that he is back to form, and he will always be a massive threat over long races, even if he has been off his peak for a few months.

His Dutch teammate Dylan van Baarle won Paris-Roubaix in April, and came second in the road race last year. 

Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)

Tadej Poagacar wins Montreal GP 2022

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Does anything really need to be said about Tadej Pogačar? The two-time Tour de France winner remains one of the most dominant riders in the world, even if he failed to defend his crown in France in July.

The World Championships is one of the few races that Pogačar definitely could win that he hasn't yet in his short career, and one can imagine the Slovenian going all out for the title. He will be heartened by his victory at the GP de Montréal last weekend, and has the all-round ability to perform on the long course in Wollongong.

He should not be counted out for the time trial, either, with his ability against the clock clear to all. 

Wout van Aert (Belgium)

Challengers for the World Championships

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The perennial nearly man at the World Championships in recent years, Wout van Aert comes to the World Championships as a favourite for the road race once again. Things always seems to conspire against him, but this time he will be going everything goes right. He isn't riding the time trial in order to fully focus on the road rainbow jersey, so he will hope it is worth it.

He won yet another hat trick of stages at the Tour de France, including a time trial, underlining his credentials across different races. If the Belgian team pull it together, it could be Wout's day.

Things might become unstuck as in the past if Van Aert gets marked out of contention, or if things look like they favour a teammate. Last year saw a fallout in the Belgium team as Remco Evenepoel appeared to be doing his own thing; if the Vuelta winner does this again, it might scupper his teammate's chances.

Zoe Bäckstedt (GB)

Zoe Backstedt EF Education-TIBCO-SVB

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The outstanding favourite in the women's junior categories at Wollongong is GB's Zoe Bäckstedt. Last year, the 17-year-old won the road race and came second in the time trial, and she is back to try and win them both this time around.

In between Flanders and Wollongong, she won the junior title at the cyclocross World Championships, the junior version of the Tour of Flanders, and the British junior road race.

Bäckstedt also completed a clean sweep at the Watersley Challenge juniors race last weekend, winning the overall title as well as all three stages and the mountains classification jersey. 

Bäckstedt told Cycling Weekly earlier this week that, with this in mind, she knows “they’re going to be watching me” in the bunch.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.