Innsbruck 2018 World Championships: Men’s Road Race Preview

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships: Men’s Road Race Preview

After an exciting week of racing, the elite men have a lot to live up to tomorrow!

In 2017 we saw a tactical race but one that came down to a bunch sprint in the end, despite numerous attacks in the closing lap. So the best rider in that situation, Sagan, took what was his third title in a row, just edging out home favourite Kristoff.

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Matthews completed the podium in third place.

Sagan is going for 4 wins in a row but given the tough parcours awaiting him tomorrow it looks unlikely but you can never discount the Slovakian. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A long day out in the saddle at a shade over 261kms but combined with 5000m of elevation gain according to LaFlammeRouge, it will also be a brutally tough one.

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To start off with the peloton faces 60kms of flat, albeit slightly rolling roads before they make it to the Gnadenwald climb, which will be familiar to those who did the time trial earlier in the week. download (40)

Very steep in the opening 2.5km, averaging roughly 10%, it has been used so far this week as a climb to thin down the bunch, but with just under 200km to go once over the top then I can’t see that being the case this time.

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The riders then move on to complete 6 full laps of the main circuit, and once more up the Igls climb for good measure.

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The climb isn’t too tough when taken on its own but as we have seen throughout this week, that if teams come to the front and put the pace on then it can cause some damage. Seven ascents of it will certainly take its toll!

The descent might also play a part in the day.

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It is very fast and the best going downhill can cause some issues for those that are less competent and confident. There are a few technical bends within Igls for example but nothing too crazy but it is a road that you can string some corners together nicely.

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After the last ascent of the Igls climb, the riders don’t complete the normal circuit, taking a detour to the much talked about “Hell” climb. At 11.5% for 2.8km it is a brutally steep ascent to be taking on at this point in the day and it will be one that will strike fear into many. It is *only* 3kms long though so it will tempt the puncheurs but will they be there to fight it out?

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The descent off of the climb is technical and will suit a solo rider well, before they return to the riverside and the familiar final 2.5kms that we’ve seen over the past few days.

How will the race pan out?

Beats me.

The usual rule of thumb for the Worlds is that the U23s and elite ment follow a similar pattern but that was thrown out the window a little last year. Plus, with the addition of the Hell climb in only the men’s race, we might see some teams wait until then, just like in a Fleche Wallone for example.

However, I do think the course is challenging enough before then for some serious attacks to go clear on the penultimate or last ascent of the Igls climb. There are several teams here with solid second options, or main riders in a nation that might not be classed as one of the favourites, so they have an opportunity to go early and anticipate any action later. Although I’m sure they would be happy if there was no action later!

Like I said in my preview for the women’s race, you have to be willing to lose the race to win it. Given how strong the likes of Valverde and Alaphilippe should be on the final climb, I think we might see quite a few riders plan to go early.

If the majority of the big nations, i.e. Spain, France, Italy, GB and Belgium, have a rider in a late attack there is a good chance that it stays away. That is the option that I’m going with for the following!

Four Hell-raisers

Basically my four riders to watch that aren’t any of the clear and obvious favourites, although one of them kind of is…

Jakob Fuglsang.

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Cast your mind back to Rio 2016 where Fuglsang finished second after a tough day out in the saddle. On that day he was one of the strongest and almost pulled van Avermaet across to Majka when chasing the Pole. So far this year he has produced some very strong and consistent results but has only picked up one win. His race schedule after the Tour has been pretty light and he’s focussed mainly on recovering from that race and building slowly for here. In the Canadian races he did some good training on the attack and doing work for team-mates. Has he timed that peak well?

Rafal Majka.

Rio rider number two, Majka came very close to winning the race but was caught in the final couple of kilometres and had to settle for bronze. In the recent Vuelta he looked to be strong in the final couple of stages and was on the attack in others, honing his form. Looking back, it is interesting to see that he made the break on both of the really steep summit finishes, stages 13 and 17. Getting some practice in for the Hell climb? It will be interesting to see how him and Kwiatkowski approach the race but I expect one of them to attack early and go from there. He’s not one to be underestimated.

Adam Yates.

I mentioned during the final week of the Vuelta that his form seemed to be on the up and he seems to provide a good second option for the British team, with the other obviously being his brother. A former winner of San Sebastian, a race that many say is a good form indicator for this course, he is a rider a lot of people will be wary of. Compared to Simon, Adam is the Yates with a better track record in the “classic” one-day races. Will this be of an advantage?

Tim Wellens.

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It’s pretty much blasphemous to have a short list of riders for a Worlds, even if they are outsiders, and not include a Belgian! The lowland nation has had a good championships so far and they will be looking to go out with a bang tomorrow. On paper they might not have stand-out riders for a route like this but Wellens, Benoot and Teuns could all go deep into the race. I expect them to be one of the most aggressive teams and they will look to animate the final 50kms. Wellens has had a great year and continues to develop into a very strong all round rider who can handle any terrain. He was flying at the start of the season before his form took a little dip but he seems to be on the way back up again. It would certainly be a dangerous tactic to give him any freedom.

Prediction

A lot of the main favourites to wait it out until the Hell climb but by then the race will be too far ahead.

Adam Yates to win after attacking on the penultimate ascent of Igls and forming a strong group that stays away before he drops them all on that now famous climb.

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Betting

I already have Yates from during the Vuelta but I’d still back him now, treating myself points wise after a very good women’s race today.

2pts WIN Yates @ 14/1 with various

1pt EW Majka @ 50/1 with SkyBet, Coral etc (would take 33s)

1pt EW Fuglsang @ 50/1 with various

1pt EW Wellens @ 50/1 with Skybet, Coral etc (would take 33s)

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s Road Race Preview

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s Road Race Preview

On a tricky course in Bergen last year we saw a tactical and exciting race throughout the afternoon. Going into the last lap a trio of Blaak, Cordon Ragot and Barnes were up the road and ahead of the peloton. They had quite a comfortable lead but Blaak did not fancy her sprint against the Brit if they came to the line together, quite annoying as I actually had money on Hannah, so she started to skip turns. A strong quartet of van Vleuten, van der Breggen, Garfoot and Niewiadoma managed to break clear of the peloton on the final ascent of Salmon Hill, bridging to the trio ahead. With three now at the head of the race, the Dutch decided to take turns and attacking to try to break away once the steepest part of the descent was over. Well, I say “take turns” but after van Vleuten was reeled in, Blaak managed to escape almost straight away. With no co-operation behind the race was over, with the Dutch rider coming home solo for a great win!

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Behind there was so much looking around that the group was caught be the peloton as they rounded the final corner. Garfoot was able to hold on and sprint for second while an impressive Dideriksen claimed a podium at the event for the second year in a row, having previously won it in Doha. I doubt she’ll make it three here though! Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders throughout the afternoon.

The Route

A demanding day in the saddle that sees the riders take on three ascents of the Igls climb.

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They have to get there first though and the opening 60kms rolls before it flattens out. However, just after that marker the riders will face the Gnadenwald climb, the one that has been used in the men’s TT and the road races since. With its steep average gradient of over 9% for almost 3kms, it is tough enough that some riders can be dropped. In fact, throughout the races we have seen so far this is where an initial selection is made.

A plateau and a fast descent follows before the riders enter Innsbruck and begin the laps of the finish circuit.

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As you can see, the focal point of the course is the climb.

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A fairly consistent effort, albeit with some gradient changes between 4-7% at  times, the slope is less severe than the Gnadenwald climb the riders tackle earlier in the day. However, it is the length of the ascent and the three ascents of it that they have to do which will take its toll.

If you’ve watched any of the races so far, the descent off of the climb is arguably almost as important as the ascent.

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It is possible for a rider to lose a bit of time here if they are not as confident as their rivals. As you can see on the image above, it isn’t too technical of a descent but there are plenty of sweeping turns: it certainly is fast though. Saying that, there are some sharper turns through the town of Igls but nothing crazy. Nonetheless, being a good descender will be important.

Once the descent is finished there are just over 7kms of mostly flat roads through the streets of Innsbruck. There is a small kicker of around 500m at 5.5% that crests with just over 3.5km to go and it is the last launchpad for a rider to make a solo move. Well, unless of course they time an attack perfectly in those closing kilometres on the flat too!

Can anyone beat the Dutch?

I posed this question before the Euro road race and the answer to that question was: the Dutch.

On that day they rode strongly and in the closing 30kms always had riders on the attack off the front of the bunch, ultimately having one of their star riders, van der Breggen, in a small group. That group extended their advantage and looked like they would contend for the win but the Dutch team started to work on the front of the peloton. At the same time van der Breggen attacked from the break and only Longo Borghini could follow. The duo worked well together for a bit and still had a strong advantage but the Dutch rider eventually sat on in the closing kilometres, only for her team-mates not to win the bunch sprint behind. It was truly one of the weirdest races I’ve seen in terms of team tactics. Did the lack of race radios make a difference? AVDB wasn’t confident of sprinting to beat Rowe but surely she would have fancied her chances in a two-up gallop against Longo Borghini.

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Either way, the squad will hope for a much better result at this event. They arrive with the two pre-race favourites in van Vleuten and van der Breggen. Both were very strong in the TT on Tuesday and both will fancy their chances on this course. We saw at La Course that they are arguably the two strongest climbers in the women’s peloton, although arguments can be made for others and that riders were at different peak points. The team to support them is strong but not as strong as it could be. How long with they last into the day if the pace is on during the climbs? Theoretically it should be Brand and Ensing that are last support riders but the latter hasn’t been great this year – I think they will really miss Stultiens. It means that it will be hard for them to control the race late on, so I think they’ll adopt the old cliché: “attack is the best form of defense”

I would be very surprised to see both of the riders sit in the peloton until the final ascent, I think one will have to be used in a counter move before then. Who that is? No idea! Tactics will then be interesting in that front group, will those ahead want to work with either van der Breggen or van Vleuten knowing their pedigree? It really is a delicately poised race.

How do you beat the Dutch?

Step one is kind of laid out above, you need to isolate their leaders and hope to still have numbers in the front group. With that said, which nations can I see having numbers in a reduced/very reduced peloton going into the final few laps?

Dutch – van der Breggen, van Vleuten, Brand, van Dijk.

Australia – Spratt, Kennedy, Gillow.

Italy – Longo Borghini, Magnaldi.

USA – Hall, Guarnier, Winder, Wiles.

Spain – Merino, Garcia, Santesteban.

Canada – Kirchmann, Poidevin.

There might be a few other nations who have a couple of riders in there but those are teams that I think have the best chance of having most. Then of course there are the riders who will no doubt be there but will possibly be lacking any team support by that point such as Niewiadoma, Moolman and Uttrup.

So with step one complete and a reduced peloton, step two then involves you sending riders on the attack and forcing the Dutch to chase it down and tire out Brand/van Dijk. Of course this step can be countered by the Dutch getting involved in the attacks themselves.

Step 3 is then all about good race craft and luck. Let’s say a group of 6 get away with the majority of the “big” nations represented and with no organisation behind, they are set to stay out for the remainder of the race. The likelihood in that situation is that either van Vleuten or van der Breggen or both are there, meaning they are still in that race favourites position but now with less opposition. Maybe this plan isn’t going so well after all?

Anyway, this is where you have to be willing to lose the race.

Both willing to lose in terms of putting in an audacious attack to get rid/drop everyone before the climb, or on the foot slopes of it. Or, by sitting in and letting the Dutch rider(s) do all the work to chase any of those attacks down before you counter. Because let’s be honest, no one here is going to drop the “vans” any other way.

A Dangerous Duo

I’ve went through the two main favourites and how to possibly beat them, but who are those that have a chance? I’ll be keeping this sweet as I’ve already rambled enough so I’m limiting myself to two riders to watch. No jokers and super jokers here.

Ruth Winder.

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As alluded to above, the US have one of the best teams here in terms of strength in depths with several riders who could play a part in the day. I’ve been very impressed with Winder this season and her move across to race in Europe full-time with Sunweb. She’s picked up a win at the Giro Rosa and two stages in the recent Tour de l’Ardeche. A solid climber who might not be able to match the very best, if she is in a group of “lesser” riders, then she is a big threat. Packing a fast kick to the line, she will be happy to arrive with a group.

Amanda Spratt.

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Arguably one of the riders of the year, Spratt has been sensational this season as part of Mitchelton Scott’s climbing unit. Often working in the service of van Vleuten, she has still managed to take 5 wins this season, including a stage at the Giro Rosa where she came third overall. Now though she has to race against her team-mate so if there is anyone in the peloton who might know van Vleuten’s weaknesses, it will be Spratt. Like the US, Australia have a pretty solid climbing unit with them and I would expect Gillow and Kennedy to go deep into the race. A special shout out to the latter who after an incredibly up and down season as a first year pro arrives with something to prove. I hope we get to see Lucy set free on a climb for once this year!

The season-long prediction

Some of you may remember that back at the start of the year in my Strade Bianche blog I said one rider was going to win the Worlds this year. Who?

Katarzyna Niewiadoma

I still think she has a great chance and after her recent run of form she starts as the fourth favourite for the race according to the bookmakers. However the issue for her, and Moolman likewise, is that their team support coming into the final couple of laps will be minimal, if there is anyway. That will make it difficult for her to make the right move at the right time etc so she will need to get a little lucky. I’m not back tracking and discrediting her completely but it is harder than it would be if she was Dutch!

Prediction

I’ve led you on a merry dance only to say it has to be one of the Dutch superstars, doesn’t it? After the Euros debacle there is no way that they are losing this unless they completely mess it up again, it is just a case of choosing which “van”.

Van der Breggen proved her worth in the one-day spring classics this year and at La Course had the edge on the climbs. Whereas, van Vleuten has had an incredibly stellar season winning the Giro Rosa with ease and you could argue fatigue played a part in that slight crack in La Course.

Hmmmmmm.

I’ll go with van der Breggen.

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The Olympic champion to finally become World Champion.

Betting

Going wild, why not…

4pts WIN AVDB @ 11/4

1pt EW Spratt @ 14/1

1pt EW Winder @ 33/1

5pts Kirchmann to beat Sierra @ 6/4

I think the Canadian is in great form at the moment after the TT. She finished 17th on GC in the Giro this year so has shown to go okay on the climbs. I think Sierra is a little overrated for this race and isn’t suited to the longer ascents.

Thanks as always for reading, I hope we’re in for a great tactical race. Who do you think will win and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After finding success on the rolling course in Richmond back in 2015, Peter Sagan went on defend his title a year later in Doha; winning a reduced bunch sprint.

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Can the Solvakian make it an unprecedented three wins on the trot tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Long, at a total of 276.5km! But that is what you would expect for the World Championships.

The riders don’t actually start in Bergen, instead, they’ll start in the town of Rong before heading south along a 40km stretch of exposed road and reaching the finish town. Thankfully or not, depending on what way you look at it, the wind forecast is for it to be very low so we won’t see any echelon action. Much to my disgust!

BergenRR Circuit

 

You can view the interactive version of my profile here.

If you’ve watched any of the action over the past few days then you’ll be familiar with the circuit above.

11 laps will certainly wear down the riders legs, with the total elevation gain for the day being roughly 3500m.

The key focal point for attacks over the past few races has been Salmon Hill and the small climb that comes just before it.

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Taken as a whole it is 3.7km at 4% which doesn’t sound much, but after 200km+ of racing then it certainly can cause some splits. The stronger climbers will be looking to put in their stinging attacks on the steeper ramps; either just before the “top” of the uncategorised climb, or halfway through Salmon Hill. This is where big gaps can be made.

The issue though is that after the summit there are still 10.4km of the course remaining. Any riders that make it away need to work well to ensure that they stay away from the chasers, especially with the final few kilometres being into a head wind.

I’m not going to bore you with any more route analysis though, as we’ve had plenty of that this week already. Instead, I’m going to jump straight into trying to figure this race out and what possible scenario we might see unfold tomorrow afternoon.

How do you stop Sagan?

A question many teams and riders ask themselves throughout the season but it is once again the case here.

Option 1 – Outsprint Him.

With a lot of nations bringing a rider who get involved in a reduced sprint at the end of the day, then there is a chance we might see it held all together to the line. Sagan is obviously fast in these types of situations, especially after a tough days racing. However, he has shown at MSR this year that he is certainly beatable.

Option 2 – Drop Him.

A tough task but some squads will certainly try it. If strong teams such as the Dutch, Belgians and French make constant attacks on Salmon Hill in the closing 80kms, then Sagan might get tired out trying to cover everything. That is of course assuming that he won’t have any team support left to work for him. The pace needs to be high from far out for that to happen though.

Option 3 – Refuse to work, hope your rider gets lucky.

We saw this recently in Quebec where no one wanted to co-operate with Sagan after he attacked in the closing stages. If they did, then there was a good chance they would have caught the group ahead, consequently fighting it for the win. They didn’t though and Sagan just shrugged and moved on. Although this is less likely to happen tomorrow as the Slovak will try to chase everything, it still might just do so. It is a very Sagan thing after all!

Option 4Illness

Bilogical warfare is probably a step too far, but there are rumours flying around on Twitter that he is currently suffering from illness and hasn’t been on the bike in a few days. I’m sure this was the case last year and has been for a few of his other races that he has went on to win. All mind games? We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow.

Option 4 – Accept defeat.

He can follow almost any rider on the climb and he can match any rider here in a sprint after 200+km. Is there any point in trying?

Of course, and I think we won’t see him take a third title!

Definitely.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Ah who am I kidding, he probably will.

Contenders or Pretenders? The infamous Five

Like with my women’s preview, I’m only going to name a handful of riders here who I think could go well in a variety of situations. So once again apologies if I have not named someone you were hoping for; repeating the names you’ll no doubt have heard of a lot over the week such as Kwiatkowski, Matthews and Gaviria doesn’t appeal to me much!

Alex(bae)ey Lutsenko.

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The first punt I had committed to for this race and it was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time. If you’ve followed the blog over the past year and a half since its inception then you’ll know I have a lot of admiration for the talented Kazakh. He was strong at the start of the year; finishing a very respectable third in Dwars. Yet, it is his recent form at the Vuelta that impressed me most. He was super strong there to get a stage win and a second place finish on two tough breakaway days. The climb tomorrow is probably on his limit if the likes of Dumoulin go crazy in the final lap, but he has the quality to be close and he might infiltrate an earlier move. Will the former U23 champion take the step up?

Petr Vakoc.

My second punt for the race and another rider that was always going to be backed. A brute of a rider, he hasn’t taken as big a step forward in 2016 as I was expecting and hoping for but his performances have been solid. To win he’ll most likely have to go early and hope to be there if the strong climbers attack from behind. Packing a solid sprint from a very reduced group, he might fancy his chances in an 8 rider gallop.

Now that the two “long-term” selections are out of the road, it is time to move on to some other riders who I think could do well. Some are certainly more obscure than others.

Danny Van Poppel.

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Yup, you read that right. The Dutch have been on fire at these Championships so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get a medal again tomorrow. Dumoulin is obviously one of their stronger guys and will be attacking early but if it all comes back for a 40 rider sprint then Van Poppel has a good outside chance. He’s impressed me a lot this season and certainly seems to becoming a more versatile rider. On the short bergs he can follow some of the stronger one-day riders, as was highlighted at BinckBank, but it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow. Given the instruction to not waste any energy at all and wait for a sprint, will he get his chance to shine?

Tony Gallopin.

A strong one-day racer, he arrives here in good form after taking two top-10s in Canada which were swiftly followed up by a second place in Wallonie. In terms of career he should be hitting his peak soon and given how strong he looked at San Sebastian in July, I think he’s in for a good couple of years; he just needs some luck. His last two appearances at the World’s have seen him finish 7th in 2015 and 6th in 2014. This course tomorrow in theory suits him very well, and packing a fast sprint he could fancy a small group of favourites battling it out at the line. It will be interesting to see how France approach tomorrow in general, with no “proper sprinter” they will no doubt be attacking throughout the day and making the race tough. Something that will help Gallopin a lot!

Daryl Impey.

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Last man on the list, Impey has had a fairly solid season in support of other riders at Orica. However, when presented with his own chances he has taken them, including a reduced bunch sprint in Catalunya earlier this year. A rider who’s climbing is very hit or miss, he showed some great form in the final week of the Tour, supporting Simon Yates deep into some of the stages. If he has those kind of legs tomorrow then he could be a real dark horse!

Prediction

We’ll see some fairly serious attacks around 50km out as teams try to make the race tough and ensure we don’t see a sprint. This will thin the bunch out going into the final 30km and the penultimate climb of Salmon Hill. Much like the women’s race, a smaller group will get away here but will be brought back due to a lack of cohesion ahead. This will then allow some riders to escape on the run-in before we hear the bell. A lot of the strong teams will be represented and with no impetus from behind, they stay away to the line.

Tony Gallopin to, erm, gallop home and take the win from a 7 rider sprint!

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#SuperGallopinFantastic

Betting

Certainly a day to spread some punts around!

0.25pt EW Lutsenko @ 100/1 (would take 80s)

0.25pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.25pt EW Impey @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.5pt EW Van Poppel @ 80/1 (would take 66s)

1pt EW Gallopin @ 66/1 (would take 50s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see an upset on the cards, or will it be the cream rising to the top? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.