World Championships 2022: Five wildcard riders to look out for in Wollongong

Five riders who could upset the odds this September in Australia

Alice Towers
(Image credit: SW Pix)

The World Championships 2022 being held in Wollongong, Australia get underway this weekend with a plethora of world class cycling talent set to do battle. 

There are 11 events at the championships and while the elite road races and time trials are the showpiece events each year, other stars will be flying under the radar and looking for success in varying age categories. 

As is often the case, the courses across the road races in particular are long and demanding with riders like Wout Van Aert (Belgium) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) considered as being the favourites. 

Here are some of the other names who could potentially cause an upset. 

ALBERTO BETTIOL

Alberto Bettiol

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Alberto Bettiol arrived within cycling's top level in some style when he took his first ever professional win at the 2019 Tour of Flanders.  

He followed up his monument success with fourth at Strade Bianche behind Wout Van Aert in the Covid affected 2020 season before taking his first ever Grand Tour stage win at the 2021 Giro d’Italia from the breakaway.

Since then the Italian puncheur has continued to impress and he was regularly on the move across the punchy stages in the Tour de France 2022 narrowly missing out on a stage win on several occasions. 

As well as possessing a fast finish that saw him dispatch Remi Cavagna on stage 18 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia, Bettiol can also climb and more than hold his own with riders who you would expect to distance him. 

If the likes of Van Aert, Alaphilippe and Tadej Pogačar are too busy watching each other then Alberto Bettiol could capitalise from a variety of racing situations. 

FRED WRIGHT

Fred Wright

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Londoner arrives at the World Championships on the back of a summer of narrowly missing out on Grand Tour stage wins at both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. 

Wright has now consistently proven himself as a top level rider in battle with some of the biggest names and the wins will almost certainly begin to come at some point. Why not in Australia? 

The 23-year-old is a tenacious and aggressive rider who is difficult to shake in a breakaway setting which makes him difficult to beat. 

The Bahrain-Victorious rider is equally as adept going uphill as he is in a sprint setting and is another rider similarly to Bettiol that could capitalise on the favourites watching each other as the road race reaches its finale. 

MARC SOLER

Soler

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Spaniard on UAE Team Emirates has seen an upturn in his trade team form since departing Movistar for pastures new

He spent the Tour de France in the service of Tadej Pogačar until being forced out of the race with illness.  

Later in the summer Soler then took a huge win for his new team at the Vuelta a España, holding off a flying Jake Stewart on the road into Bilbao. This was only the start in what turned into a highly successful Vuelta in his new team's colours. 

As well as taking a stage win, Soler won the overall combativity award after endless days spent in the breakaway in search of additional wins. The 28-year-old is a powerful all-rounder who won’t be intimidated by the amount of elevation gain throughout the road race course. 

If Soler can get himself into a breakaway setting he will be difficult to beat in the fight for the medals.

GEORGIA BAKER

Georgia Baker

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Australian sprinter took the gold medal at the recent Commonwealth Games road race on what was a predominantly flat course around Warwickshire, England. 

However, the Australian women’s team has proven itself as being difficult to beat on a variety of occasions. 

The star rider for the Aussies is inevitably Grace Brown but that could play to Baker’s advantage. If while in service of Brown she is able to get herself around the course then with her fast finish she will be difficult to beat in the run in. 

 URŠKA ŽIGART

Zigart

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Slovenian Žigart is an astute tactician and climber who featured in the sharp end of the action in the latter stages of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. She finished a solid eighth on the mountainous stage seven and will only get better in the coming years. 

The BikeExchange-Jayco rider is the current reigning Slovenian national time trial champion taking her second title after previously winning the competition in 2020. Žigart is the type of rider capable of pulling a big performance out of the bag to challenge for a medal in the time trial as well as trouble the likes of Demi Vollering, Annemiek van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in the road race.
 

OTHERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Alice Towers

(Image credit: SW Pix)

Elisa Balsamo - Balsamo won the women’s road title last year in Flanders and she is the current Italian national road champion. The 24-year-old packs a powerful sprint and can push the pace on hillier races as she proved with two stage wins at this year’s Giro Donne. It’s likely to be all in for Elisa Longo Borghini for the Italians but Balsamo could act as a menacing decoy. 

Demi Vollering - Twenty-five-year-old Vollering’s results ultimately speak for themselves. Second overall in the Tour de France femmes and first in the mountains classification, second in the Amstel Gold race and third at Liège–Bastogne–Liège Femmes just in 2022 alone. The SD Worx rider is a remarkable talent if not somewhat overshadowed by a certain three-time women’s 2022 Grand Tour winner. All eyes will rightly be on Annemiek van Vleuten in the women’s elite road race which could mean Vollering has the chance to unleash carnage. 

Alice Towers- Aged just 19, Alice Towers is a star in the making. The Le Col-Wahoo rider took a sensational victory at the British national road championships earlier this year to prove that she has what it takes to challenge on the biggest stage. 

The 19-year-old arrives in Australia having never competed in a World Championships before although that won’t be a deterrent to her. 

Towers put in a solo attack 30 kilometres from the finish to win the British national title which demonstrated a plucky and confident attitude. She won’t fear the likes of van Vleuten, Longo Borghini and Frances Juliette Labous when she arrives on the start line. 

Samuel Watson- Yorkshireman Sam Watson is a fearless young talent who will be relishing the opportunity of competing at the World Championships. 

The young star recently signed his first professional contract with Groupama-FDJ and is continuing to climb the ropes. After the news of him turning professional, Watson went on the impress at the Commonwealth Games road race narrowly missing out on a medal position. 

Earlier in the year, the 20-year-old was in the thick of the action at the British national championships where he was narrowly pipped to the title by a rampaging Mark Cavendish.  Prior to that he had previously shown his pedigree in a one day setting at the under-23 version of Gent Wevelgem. The highly rated young rider will be firmly one to watch in Australia. 

Peter Sagan - The Slovakian is a three-time road world champion after picking up the title in 2015,2016 and 2017 making him the only rider to have won three successive titles. The course favours a puncheur-style rider and Sagan could be in the thick of the action during this year's road race.

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