Thanks in large part to the popularity of a certain virtual reality indoor trainer program, the 2015 World Championship in Richmond, Virginia has arguably had more exposure than any World Championship course since Geelong in 2010.
And like Geelong, the course is being touted as one ‘for the sprinters’. Only it has the very real potential – thanks to the inclusion of three short, steep climbs, two of which are cobbled. When you also consider riders like Valverde, Nibali, Gallopin and Gerrans are all on the start list, you don’t need to be a tactical genius to recognize that national team managers might just be cooking up a plan so that it's not to be the day for the fast men (like we’re all being told to expect).
Preceding the road race though is the time trial. Described as a ‘classic power time trial course’, this is one for the bigger TTers who can lay down the watt bombs without being the lightest or the most aero.
Michael Kwiatkowski's 'rainbow' bike at the Tour de France 2015
Riders to watch are:
- Tony Martin. Still smarting after Bradley Wiggins hurt him on a much more climber-friendly TT course in Spain last year. Only question is how well recovered he is after his crash in the Tour de France.
Rohan Dennis. Not listed second because he’s Australian. Listed second because 2015 has been a watershed year for the South Australian. If taking the Hour Record wasn’t enough of an announcement, his Tour de France Stage 1 time trial win was certainly the ‘punch in the face’ wake-up call to any who did not think he was the real deal. Form is excellent. Course suits. He’s as aerodynamic as a fighter jet. Martin should be worried.
Tom Dumoulin. Forget how well he raced up the climbs in what was a thrilling Vuelta. The young Dutchman was the bronze medalist in last year's time trial and excels in the race of truth. If he can recover in time the form could be perfect for that top step.
Alex Dowsett. Last year’s course did not suit the Englishman. Another Hour Record holder from this year, his form has not been quite as stellar as the three above him. But you can bet he’s had a result in this TT in mind for quite a while.
Nelson Oliveira. Coming off a very solid Vuelta, the multiple Portuguese national time trial champion could be a dark horse. Top step is out of reach, but sneaking into second or third is not out of the question.
Jan Barta. Not the best TT position, but has the raw power and course to suit. Super dark horse to snag bronze.
Expect the Boels-Dolmans team to be well represented – Ellen van Dijk and Evelyn Stevens are both excellent against the clock. Defending champion Lisa Brennauer will also be very hard to beat. Expect also (given the much flatter course) the Danish-born Kiwi Linda Villumsen to be a contender. In form and with huge power, she had multiple World Championship silver medals. Gold I don’t think is out of reach.
Team Time Trial
The team time trial – at 38.8km – won’t throw up any surprises. The specialists will fill all three steps. Expect a big time shoot-out again between Orica-GreenEDGE, Etixx-Quickstep and defending champions BMC.
The womens should see Boels-Dolmans, Orica-AIS and Wiggle-Honda in the mix. My dark horses though are UnitedHealthcare Womens and Bigla to come close –the former especially if Villumsen races. Although given there is only one full rest day between the TTT and the women’s elite TT you’d understand Linda (or other individual TT contenders) sitting the TTT out.
On to the road race – eight laps for the women and 16 for the men. The more I look at the course, the less convinced I am a true sprinter will walk away with the Rainbow Bands. All three pinches come in the closing 4km of the 16.2km course. The second cobbled climb is very short, but has a gradient nudging 12%. And the drag to the line levels out with only 500 meters to go – good luck getting a lead out train assembled in that time.
With this in mind, my picks for those in with a big chance are:
Men's Road Race
- Peter Sagan. The Tour de France green jersey winner and ‘nearly man’. His boss, Oleg Tinkoff, will be utterly unbearable if he wins. If he doesn’t…Oleg will probably say Peter needs a pay cut. The course suits Peter. He won’t have a team supporting him, but that was similar to the Tour. He’ll medal. Which color…I’m not game to guess.
John Degenkolb. Winning the final stage of the Vuelta could not have been timelier. Not that his season has been shocking, rather it proves not only to him but also the German national team that he’s in form and worthy of being co-leader with Andre Greipel. And given I don’t think Greipel will survive 16 laps of this course, I think the weight of expectation is squarely on the Paris-Roubaix winner's shoulders.
Michael Matthews. Finishing off arguable his best season so far, ‘Bling’ is not only in form but has also developed such that (in a great ‘I told you so’ moment from my Ardennes predictions this year) he is now a genuine Ardennes Classics threat. Turning himself inside out following Philippe Gilbert’s attack up the Cauberg in this year’s Amstel Gold Race said he had arrived. The finishing drag to the line is 400m shorter and a little less steep, but still bears all the hallmarks of an Ardennes-style finish. Matthews has called for the full support of the Australian team - and from my point of view as well he should.
Alejandro Valverde. This man has almost as many World Championship medals as I’ve had hot dinners. And that’s before we start counting his Ardennes Classics wins. Any rider discounting this wily fox is setting themselves up to get beaten by him. He will medal. It just isn’t likely to be gold.
Mark Cavendish. Nope. Next.
Greg van Avermaet. Punchy, able to read the winning move, a super strong team to support him and the monkey off his back with regards to always being ‘the bridesmaid’. Only issue is the All Star Belgium team. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians could (again) be the apt cliché.
Diego Ulissi. A dark horse. The Italian could be called on for another leader or…could be the joker in the pack. The hills work to his advantage and like Valverde, Matthews and van Avermaet has a rapid finish. Also looks like he has some decent form and a good block of racing in prep. Won’t be in the early break. But if a move goes late in the race, the plucky Italian could be a factor.
Women's Road Race
Elisa Longo Borghini. The most in-form of the Italian squad (saying something, given it contains duel World Champion Giorgia Bronzini) you can’t help but feel it’s time the Italian women’s national team again cashed in on their abundance of talent. Elisa has had a very solid year. A gold medal would not come as a surprise to many.
Tiffany Cromwell. Just came second in a time trial (not her favoured discipline), so confidence is good and form clearly not bad either. 5th last year, Tiff will need the race to really hit the climbs hard on each lap. If they do the pint sized pocket-rocket could be in line for her first World Championship medal.
Lizzie Armitstead. Winner of the UCI road World Cup, the Yorkshire lass has had an enormous year with nearly a dozen wins. Not the strongest team to support her, but that won’t make too much of a difference. Lizzie will medal.
Evelyn Stevens. With a very solid USA team behind her I’ll be looking to the United States to help control the race so their ace Stevens is a factor in the final laps.
A final shout-out also to the under 23 category. SBS is televising it so I highly recommend tuning in. Not only do you get to see the future stars of the sport strut their stuff, but the reckless abandon with how they race is terrific. Rarely are these boring races.
Otherwise kick back, try and forget the season is fast drawing to a close, and enjoy the racing from what we all hope is a memorable World Championships.
Thanks once more to Graham Watson for his pics.