WORLDS’15 Road Race: The PEZ Preview!
Race Preview: The BIG day of the year is here. Yes, the World road race championship, the only race that allows the winner to wear a nice multicoloured jersey for a year. Ed Hood takes a look at the history, the course and who is going to win on Sunday. The Worlds this year is one of the most open races in a long time, but as ever he will deserve his title. A nobody ever wins the Worlds!
‘Here’s my top 12 tips, Alastair – who have I missed? Boonen, Breschel, Costa, Gilbert, Kristoff, Kwiatkowski, Nibali, Rodriguez, Sagan, Terpstra, Valverde and Van Avermaet. Who have I forgotten?’
The email returns; ‘Degenkolb and Matthews!’ Of course – what was I thinking about, missing them out?
Alastair also fancies as ‘maybes,’ Bouhanni, Ulissi and Viviani.
My amigo, Ivan likes the two Italians and Degenkolb, with his ‘maybes’ as Greipel and Stybar; whilst our man in Italia, Ale has his money on Degenkolb and van Avermaet – he doesn’t fancy any of his countrymen albeit the last time the Worlds were held in the USA in 1986 it was dapper Venetian Moreno Argentin who was quickest.
But you get the picture – there are an awful lot of names to conjure with for these Championships of the World on a course which suits the ‘Classics guys’ but will also suit the ‘fast men’ if their teams can stop the lone wolfs like Costa and Kwiatkowski sneaking away.
Here’s how the Organisation describes their parcours: ‘It takes place on a challenging, technical and inner-city road circuit. The peloton heads west from Downtown Richmond, working their way onto Monument Avenue, a paver-lined, historic boulevard that’s been named one of the “10 Great Streets in America.” Racers will take a 180-degree turn at the Jefferson Davis monument and then manoeuvre through the Uptown district and Virginia Commonwealth University. Halfway through the circuit, the race heads down into Shockoe Bottom before following the canal and passing Great Shiplock Park, the start of the Virginia Capital Trail. A sharp, off-camber turn at Rocketts Landing brings the riders to the narrow, twisty, cobbled 200-meter climb up to Libby Hill Park in the historic Church Hill neighbourhood. A quick descent, followed by three hard turns leads to a 100-meter-long climb up 23rd Street. Once atop this steep cobbled hill, riders descend into Shockoe Bottom. This leads them to the final 300-meter-long climb up Governor Street. At the top, riders face a 680-meter false flat to the finish.’
I’ve narrowed ‘the names’ down to 10 – but first we need the statistics . . .
The inaugural race was run in 1927 at the Nurburgring motor racing circuit in Germany when Italian Campionissimo Alfredo Binda became the first professional champion of the world.
This Sunday’s edition will be number 82 and Binda’s name still figures as one of only four men to win the race on three occasions along with those of Belgians Rik Van Steenbergen and Eddy Merckx not to mention Spain’s own Oscar Freire. If we’re being churlish we could say that Merckx actually only ranks fourth to the other three; all having won a Worlds bronze to go with their gold medals – but let’s not go down that road.
Mention of Belgium reminds us that by nation they are the number one with 26 wins, 11 second places and 11 third spots, ahead of Italy on 19/20/16 and France 8/11/15. In all, riders from 15 nations have won the Worlds, including Ireland, Latvia and Norway – but never from big cycling nations Denmark or Russia. Sticking with the stats, Spanish race favourite Alejandro Valverde is the ‘record man’ in terms of appearances on the podium with six – twice second and four times third.
And the odds are against Poland’s Mikal Kwiatkowski to defend his title; only five men have done that in nearly 90 years, with Italians Paolo Bettini and Gianni Bugno doing so in recent years. The youngest ever champion was Belgian Karl Kaers at 20 years-of-age in 1934 – NOT Mr. Armstrong as some websites state, he was 21 years-old. So too was the late, great ‘Jempi’ Monsere who won in 1970 on a flat circuit in Leicester, England. Tragically, the charismatic and brilliant Monsere was to die with the rainbow jersey on his back less than a year later when in collision with a rogue car during a spring race in Belgium.
The oldest champion was Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk in 1985; we watched him ease off the front as the favourites looked at each other and held out to become world champion at 38 years-of-age to the disgust of the huge crowd in Italy who journeyed home as if from a funeral.
And there’s also the fact that due to the black arts of the UCi selection criteria, Italy fields a full nine man squad whilst the likes of Kwiatkowski and Costa don’t enjoy the same luxury – indeed, as this piece went to press Costa had but two men at his side and ‘Kwiato’ only five. The youngest rider in the 2015 race will be rising Belgian ‘Classics Man,’ Tiesj Benoot of 20 years and 200 days – based on ‘Joopie’ he could have another 18 attempts to win. ‘Father’ of the race this year will be Kiwi, Greg Henderson at 39 years and 17 days.
And The Winner Is?
Well, we’ve stalled long enough, we have to get on with it – who’s gonna win ?
The truth is that – especially after that Elite Time Trial – I have no idea but the ten names below are my ‘most likely to.’
Nacer Bouhanni [France]: This year, despite some nasty spills he’s won the GP Denain, Halle-Ingooigem, GP Isbergues, the Circuit Getxo plus his usually tally of stage wins in French races. The likes of Isbergues isn’t easy to win; late season with lots of riders needing a win to seduce managers and sponsors into a contract for next season and raced ‘full on’ from the gun. And remember the Giro stage to Bari, last year, in the rain, crazy dangerous – he punctured, launched an insane chase back and won the stage. That’s his biggest strength, he MUST win – his luck has to change soon and Coppel’s fine ride in the TT will have done French morale no harm.
John Degenkolb [Germany]: His early season campaign was brilliant with wins in Sanremo and Roubaix but since then there’s been a hugely tiring Tour de France and Vuelta – he took out the last stage in the latter but the man must be running on empty.
But I said that about Kiryienka, too . . .
Philippe Gilbert [Belgium]: He won Cerami, a stage in Wallonie, second in San Sebastian and two top ten’s in the Canadian pre-Worlds races – the late season form is good then and there was no killer Vuelta to dull the legs and head.
And that road race finish reminds me of Valkenburg . . .
Alex Kristoff [Norway]: The year’s top winner with a brilliant Spring Classics campaign including De Panne, de Ronde and the Scheldeprijs. He was rampant still through the races in Norway so it’s hardly surprising there were no stage wins in le Tour, like Willie Nelson says; ‘I ain’t Superman’ but he ducked the Vuelta and a win in that tough GP Plouay and a podium in Quebec show that he’s on track.
If it’s a group finish then who can beat him after 260K; well, Bouhanni just might – if he’s still there. . .
Michael Matthews [Australia]: His stage wins in Paris-Nice, the Giro and Suisse didn’t surprise me but his podium in Milan-Sanremo did – he can go the distance. Late season he’s been good with a stage win in Alberta and a podium in Quebec – he’s another who just might beat Kristoff and has the wiliest of right hand men in Simon Gerrans who knows his way round a Worlds parcours better than most.
Vincenzo Nibali [Italy]: Sure his sprint isn’t the best but he’s pure class and his pride is damaged, a disastrous Tour and then kicked off the Vuelta means he has much to prove. He’s been excellent in the Italian pre-Worlds races; second in the Coppa Agostoni, a win in the Coppa Bernocchi, third in the Memorial Pantani and fifth in Prato – and don’t forget that he was just off the Worlds podium in Florence.
AND he has the strongest and most disciplined of teams behind him – even though they messed it up last year in bringing the late break with De Marchi back only for Colbrelli to be nowhere in the sprint.
Peter Sagan [Slovakia]: A stage win and the points classement in Tirreno; two stages and the GC in California; two stages and the points in Suisse; his road and time trial Nationals; the green jersey in the Tour and a stage win in the Vuelta – yes, the season has been a disaster for Sagan. And that’s before we list places of honour, like seven top three stage placings in the Tour. He’s been around so long and won so much that it’s easy to forget he’s only 25 years-old and with a whole peloton marking him it’s difficult for him to get room to breathe, never mind win.
He’d make a colourful and popular World Champion – I for one would be happy to see him wear a rainbow.
Alejandro Valverde [Spain]: With Lance consigned to the history books and Vino ‘just’ a manager these days the Media need a ‘doper to hate’ and Valverde will do just fine. There was no tearful ‘mea culpa’ – which as if by magic transforms into you a ‘good doper’ and confers saint status – he just kept shtum, trained through his ban and came back as strong as ever. He’s been winning professional bike races in large numbers from spring to fall since 2003, the year he won the first of his SIX Worlds medals. A stage win and the points jersey in the Vuelta mean the legs are still good and no one can raise their game for the Worlds like this man – and the rest know that only too well.
Greg Van Avermaet [Belgium]: It’s easy to brand GVA a ‘nearly man’ but this year he’s won a stage in Tirreno; a stage and the GC in the Tour of Belgium and two stages in the Tour (don’t forget the TTT folks) – in a World Tour where there’s no such thing as an ‘easy win’ that’s not a bad season’s work. The late season form is good with second on points and GC in Eneco and top ten in Quebec – and with Gilbert his trade team mate there’s even a chance of proper Belgian team work with the switch blades left in the hotel. . .
Elia Viviani [Italy]: I first saw Viviani in action on the boards of the Grenoble Velodrome in the six day; he was young and on the way up but almost as fast as the big French sprint stars like Bauge in the short time trials. He was patently, ‘one to watch.’ That elusive Giro stage finally came his way, this year – which did his morale and self belief no harm. His legs and mind are still fresh after a programme which hasn’t been a ‘killer’ and the late season form has been excellent – witness three stages in the Tour of Britain. He’s another man who could out drag Kristoff up that heart break finish straight in the Confederate Capital.
One name? Kristoff.
And it has to be US beer to watch the race with; might I suggest Sam Adams?
It’ll soon be Sunday, keep it PEZZED for all the news from Richmond and you can watch the action on steephill.tv.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.