Weekend Preview – Elite Men’s World Road Race Championship

Fotoreporter Sirotti


This year’s World Championship is expected to be one for the sprinters. A flat course in Copenhagen practically guarantees it. But after many of the sport’s top sprinters have suffered through injury-plagued seasons, is anyone left standing to take advantage of the course? And given that many of the more veteran sprinters seem to be performing below form, could a youngster win outright?

Here’s our take:

Team Italy

Team Italy has enjoyed a decent run of success at Worlds in the last decade. After years of fractional rivalry, late coach Franco Ballerini – himself twice winner of Paris-Roubaix – united the team to deliver Mario Cipollini, Paolo Bettini (twice), and Alessandro Ballan to victory. Not only that, Team Italy won the 2004 Olympic Road Race with Paolo Bettini. Last year was Bettini’s first outing as national director though; and he was heavily criticized for wrongly predicting the race. How will he fare this year?

Sprinters Alessandro Petacchi and Daniele Bennati had declared their intention to earn leadership status at the beginning of the season, and designed their season around the RR. Petacchi had a good start despite his age, winning a stage of the Giro before lagging behind in the Tour and in the Vuelta. As a result, he was left off the azzurri’s selection. On the other hand, Bennati seems to be warming up just in time for the Worlds, winning a stage at the Vuelta. This is also an exciting time for Italy’s younger sprinters. Andrea Guardini has matched Cavendish’s 11-wins in his debut season. And Sacha Modolo has had a very good season, too, as have Daniel Oss and Elia Viviani. The squad is drilled and disciplined. It will be up to Bennati and Modolo to lead the way Sunday, with Oss, Viviani, and Gavazzi all possible upset threats. And if the team comes home empty-handed, don’t be surprised if changes are made at the top. Italy’s Chances: 6/10.

Team Great Britain

No discussion on sprinters is complete without mentioning Team GB and Mark Cavendish. Very few will argue that Cav is the top sprinter in the business today. The question is how he will do without his well-drilled HTC-Columbia leadout train. His decision to abandon the sinking HTC-Columbia ship made headlines, as did his departure from the Vuelta. It was understood that he would never attempt the steepest slopes of the Vuelta, but it was very early and he claimed fatigue. Could he have been right? He has a powerful squad supporting him and will be eager to prove that he’s the man to beat in London in 2012. Can he do it? Great Britain’s Chances: 7/10.

Team Slovakia

One youngster that we think has a terrific chance to take the win is Peter Sagan. Despite his young age, he has surprising staying power even in long races, a trait that is key to winning Worlds. As his 3 wins at the Vuelta indicate, Sagan is in burning hot form. His win in Madrid left little doubt that he’s the fastest rider in the world. Even with only two men supporting him, we think he can win outright – signaling a changing of the guard. Slovakia’s Chances: 9/10.

Team USA

This year is arguably Team USA’s best shot in a long time. Sprinter Tyler Farrar has had a good season so far, with his Tirreno-Adriatico and TdF stage wins capping what has been a breakthrough campaign both for him and his Garmin-Cervelo team. He was shaken up quite a bit due to the death of close friend Wouter Weylandt, causing him to leave the Giro, but his Tour win certainly erased doubts regarding his form. An injury in the Vuelta means that he didn’t have as good a build-up as he wished, but Team USA boasts a strong roster: many of whom are coming off high-altitude training in Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge and competitive racing in Canada’s GP Quebec and GP Montreal. USA’s Chances: 7/10.

Team Norway

The defending team of Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (EBH) should not be discounted. As their double-double stage wins at the Tour de France indicated, both men have shown they can win in any number of ways.

Hushovd is suffering from a bad cold and taking penicillin. While he claims that it did not hamper his preparation—he did win a stage in the Tour of Britain—a race of attrition like Worlds could challenge him. He may well choose to ride for EBH. Norway’s Chances: 7/10.

Team Australia

On paper, Australia has the best team in the race, with Chris Sutton, Heinrich Haussler, Matthew Goss and Baden Cooke all capable of handling themselves in a race that should end in a sprint. Sporting consideration was said to necessitate Renshaw being left off of the team, with the long distance leading questions as to his staying power. In the end, Team Oz’s chances hinge on Goss and Haussler, with Sutton a wild card if he can hndle the estra distance. Could Sunday bring Australia’s second win in three years? Australia’s Chances: 8/10.

Team Germany

Andre Greipel got his wish for a Tour de France stage, but other than that win we have most seen him play a supporting role for his teammates. It has been noted that Greipel has the fastest finishing speed in the business today—if he can get himself into a good position for the final dash to the line. In a chaotic finish, and absent his HTC train from last year, we’ve seen him flounder in the less-drilled OmegaPharma-Lotto team. His success will rely largely on luck: Germany by itself does not have the muscles to lead-out from far away and hope to keep it together to the finish. That said, the rise of Marcel Kittel has certainly made Team Germany’s odds better than it has been in years. The youngster beat the veterans early in the Vuelta. But he did leave early, and was not named leader anyway. Germany’s Chances: 4/10.

Team Spain

Traditionally, team Spain has relied on excellent teamwork, willingness to sacrifice, and Oscar Freire. Time and again Freire has surprised critics by winning in the most audacious ways. With 3 Worlds wins under his belt, a fourth win will break Merckx’ record. Freire is very motivated, but is his form up to par? He has had a meager season so far. However, one thing that “Il Gatto” or “The Cat” is famous for, is his sense of timing and ability to navigate a confusing finishing push. The problem is that Freire is famous for being “lazy” as far as training goes, and relies on a busy racing schedule to find his form. An early exit from the Vuelta is certainly not a good sign. 5/10.

Team Belgium

Selector Carlo Bomans is probably pulling his hair out now. At the start of the season, star and former champ Tom Boonen would have been the clear leader. Even Phil Gilbert said so. But now Boonen is not even sure that he could continue his 2011 campaign after a bad concussion in TdF and a wrist injury in the Vuelta. Now Gilbert has been named team leader. Given how astonishingly good his results are this year, who are we to dare to question his chances? While the parcours may not be tailor-made for Gilbert, an uphill finish might play into Team Belgium’s hands.

If it all comes back together for the finale, look for Greg Van Avermaet to be the designated sprinter. He’s had a so-so season so far, but has been coming into his own as a leader. He finished well at Worlds last year too, and clearly knows how to peak for such a late date on the calendar.

But given Gilbert’s still-hot form, we think that he has an excellent chance for a win. 8/10.

What about you? Who’s your pick for Sunday’s World Championship?

Share your comments and picks below.



About Julius

Educated by Dutch and Belgian priests halfway around the world from the cobbled classics that he loves, Julius' aspiration is to someday earn Belgian citizenship.
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6 Responses to Weekend Preview – Elite Men’s World Road Race Championship

  1. al b - madison says:

    Sagan… what a great pick.

  2. Andy P says:

    Sagan is unproven in races over 200 kms at this point in his career so I wouldn't rank him much higher than an interesting outsider. The two races today showed that it's hard to split the field on this circuit, so a mass sprint finish looks likely which would mean that you'd look at the best sprinters (Cavendish, Farrar, Goss) and those riders who are strong in uphill finishes at the end of long races (Hushovd, Freire). Gilbert is an interesting wild card, but I don't think the circuit is selective enough for him, nor is the final 500 metres steep enough.

    As for Australia being the strongest team, are you serious? Haussler has been anonymous for the second season in a row, Goss hasn't shown much since the spring, Sutton is a solid but second tier sprinter and Baden Cooke is washed up.

    The British team with 2011 race winning talent in Thomas, Wiggins, Froome, Millar Cummings and Stannard looks very strong and very capable of delivering Cavendish to 200 metres to go, where he can show once again that he's the best sprinter in the world.

  3. grolby says:

    I think it's interesting that a Worlds course that was originally billed as a sprinters' course is now generating so many favorites. How often do you see Gilbert and Cavendish picked as top contenders for the same race? Fascinating.

    Andy P. makes a good point about how the other races have gone, and yet I'm not necessarily convinced – the elite mens' race is the longest by a considerable margin, and that has a major effect on how races will play out. It's hard to see the junior womens' and U23 mens' as strong evidence for how the finale will unfold on this course.

  4. cthulhu says:

    It is still a sprinters' course. It was said before, after watching the video of the course I still believed that and after watching the U23 men I think has proven that. Surely the distance will have an impact, thin out the field but in the end there will be a bunch sprint with the top sprinters and protected riders of the teams. The uphill finish makes an interesting sprint where timing will be crucial but it won't help to separate the bunch or on an attack within the the final 500 to 2000 m.

    In my opinion the Italian team is the strongest. They don't have very many star names in their line up because most of them are young guns still in making, but they have as said in the article quite a hand of very fast finishers showing good late season form. Additionally Oss seems to be a really good lead out man and they seem to me like the only team that has sprinters and a puncheur, with Visconti, in their line up. And I think Bettini is quite a sly dog.
    Second strongest team I think is Germany. Grabsch, Martin and Knees can reel in nearly any break. Klier and Hondo bring in experience and with Kittel, Degenkolb and Greipel, they have three very fast finishers. Yes, I have my reservations about how Kittel will cope with the distance but I think Degenkolb is already that far that can handle that, see Roubaix. So they have at least a double threat, even if Greipel's positioning isn't always the best, but he has good lead out men. Hondo has done some great work for Petacchi over the years and this year too. One can only hope. ;)
    On third place in my team ranking is Great Britain. They too have good TTist to reel in breaks and keep the pace high towards the end of the race and good lead out men. And in the end they have Cavendish, the man everybody has to beat in order to win this race. Despite everything what was said about the course how it might or might not be for the sprinters, the Manx man is my five stone favourite, if he is in form. But is he? He really looked bad in the Vuelta, has he recovered properly? His Tour of Britain performance was no real indication, the stages were not hard enough in comparison to the WC.
    The Australian selection left me a bit underwhelmed. Solid riders but Haussler looks still not 100% recovered from his injuries although he is on the rising form so that leaves only Goss. He surely is capable of winning , see San Remo, and he could be on a two peak program so it isn't necessarily a bad thing that things were a bit quieter around him.

    That takes us to single riders. Sagan would be my other big favourite for the win despite lacking a team and experience over long distances. But he is smart and fast, especially in uphill sprint finishes, I'm very sure he can make up for that.
    My dark horse would be EBH, nearly the same could be said of him as of Sagan, but I wonder if his peak was solely focused on the Tour and if he now still has the form?
    Hushovd won't be a factor, he isn't a pure sprinter anymore and the group that will arrive at the finish will be significantly bigger than last year.
    Freire should never been counted out, the distance and his stealthiness worked quite well for him on several occasions but his inconsistency and his age will only leave him with outsider chances.
    And I'm very skeptical about Farrer, top ten most likely but I guess he's going to miss out the top five, too strong seems the competition in my eyes.
    Leaves Gilbert. But here too it is the same with Hushovd against the specialist he has no chance, even if the finish requires perfect timing and Gilbert's timing has been nearly perfect this year, he won't stand a chance in a bunch sprint, so he needs to eliminate most of his opponents before the finish and I fear the course is not selective enough, even over this distance, so only slim outsider chances for him too. He won't be too disappointed if he doesn't win, his real chance is next year in Limburg. Though the Dutch not having any real sprinters on board as well, might helping making the race hard.

    What else to note…
    The French team will have a hard time to be half as successful as the U23 squad either way, despite having "Kamikaze" Feillu in the team. Denmark's Morkov, as their sprinter, will have a hard time too despite home advantage. Cancellara didn't look like he could pull off something like in Compiègne. And Bozic and Galymzianow could make it into the top ten, but I doubt they could do more.

    So, I'd say
    Cav, Sagan, Greipel on the podium, in any possible order, with EBH and an Italian filling up the top five.

  5. anotherCat4Racer says:

    Good write up, and I'm with you on Sagan. People have been wondering if he'll have the legs to go the distance, but I haven't seen any reason to doubt that he will.

    My only issue with your analysis is in your odds making. Since there is a 100% chance that somebody will win, all of the various odds ought to add up to 1. Adding up all your odds comes out to 59/10 . . . so we might interpret that to mean you expect there to be 5.9 winners? :-)

    • Julius says:

      Haha, good one about the odds! I used the numbers as grades, in terms of having a good leader, good team, good preparation. Should have been more clear about that, sorry!

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