What's Cool In Road Cycling

WORLDS’21: Where is the Smart Money Going?

What are the odds?

Worlds Road Race Preview: The World championship road race is one of the hardest races to predict, and this year is even more difficult due to the course and the amount of top men on the start line in Antwerp. The bookmakers have their ideas who will cross the line first in Leuven. Spencer Martin takes a closer look at the odds.

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The Men’s World Road Race Championship is taking place this coming Sunday in Flanders, Belgium. The confluence of an interesting course featuring seemingly endless mild climbs and a collection of the world’s best riders shuffled somewhat randomly from their usual trade squads to their national teams. This means that while some stars may be teammates for the day (i.e. Evenepoel & Van Aert), potential alliances is incredibly tenuous and can crumble spectacularly at any moment (i.e. Alejandro Valverde working against his own Spanish teammate Joaquim Rodríguez to help his trade teammate Rui Costa win the race).

Podium tears from Joaquim Rodriguez in 2013

Adding to the intrigue is that the course, which tracks over two main circuits in the Flanders region of Belgium, is just difficult enough to keep things interesting, but not so difficult as to limit the number of potential winners. On a course like this, the riders will dictate how selective the racing is, but with so much left up to desperate national teams instead of highly focused trade teams, nothing is certain.

With so many potential winners on the start-line, predicting a winner is incredibly difficult, and potentially, a fool’s errand. However, let’s pull back and take a look at the current betting odds and course in an attempt to narrow things down and make sense of what is so often a completely senseless race.

worlds20 mrr
Those climbs should select the best

Current Betting Odds on BET MGM:
Wout van Aert +190
Mathieu van der Poel +650
Sonny Colbrelli +1000
Julian Alaphilippe +1200
Remco Evenepoel +1800
Kasper Asgreen +1800
Matej Mohorič +2000
Magnus Cort +2000
Primož Roglič +2500
Tom Pidcock +2500
Michael Valgren +2500
Tadej Pogačar +2500
Peter Sagan +3300
Mads Pedersen +3300
Marc Hirschi +3300
Michael Matthews +3300
Matteo Trentin +5000
Jasper Stuyven +5000
Caleb Ewan +5000
Gianni Moscon +6600
Florian Sénéchal +6600

Not another second place for Wout Van Aert?

So, Who Will Win?
The million-dollar question is who from this list is actually going to win this thing. The first thing we should touch on is that the World Championships is an incredibly difficult race to predict. The lack of trade teams, misaligned incentives within national teams, one-off courses, and the presence of all of the world’s best riders combine to make it a complete crapshoot. In short, nobody has any idea how this race will play out and the best idea is to not bet on anyone.

Course Profile

One of the reasons it is so difficult to predict the World Championships is the course, which is almost always a one-off course drawn up by the event’s host. This means that all of the predictions that the course suits ‘X’ but doesn’t suit ‘Y’ are really just somewhat random guesses.

worlds21 mrr

This year’s race will take place over a hill-packed 268-kilometers between Antwerp and Leuven. After a flat few opening kilometers, the course consists of two circuits completed twice. There is the 15km-long Leuven circuit, and the 32km-long Flandrien-circuit, which includes six climbs. The 550-meter-long Moskestraat cobbled climb which averages 8.9% and peaks out at 17%, is the toughest of the bunch and will be key if teams want to burn off fastmen like Caleb Ewan.

Can Caleb Ewan hang on for a sprint?

We’ve seen many examples of one-off courses being much more, or less, difficult than predictions. And this makes complete sense. After all, all we get are vague profiles/maps, and anecdotes from people who have previously ridden the course about how difficult it will be. While it can be extremely natural to ride a course and report to the world that it is a brutal course that will certainly break up the bunch, it is an incredibly poor way to predict how a professional peloton, packed up with the best riders in the world, will react to a course. People almost always underestimate just how fit and fast the top riders are, and just how extremely difficult a course has to be to break up a group. For example, the Bergen, Norway course in 2017 featured repeated laps of an extremely hilly circuit but came down to a 26-rider bunch sprint.

No repeat of 2002 – Cipollini in Zolder

But, at the same time, they can also completely underestimate the effect of variables like crosswinds, the width of the roads, pinch points prior to mid-race climbs, and undulating and twisty roads in the final 20-kilometers that can favor a small group or lone rider against a chasing peloton.

Too twisty and undulating for Belgian echelons

Having said that, my prediction is that this course might actually end up being harder than expected. In isolation, none of the climbs featured are significant, but the sheer number and successive nature make them incredibly difficult in aggregate. I’ve seen predictions that this will come down to a sprint and that Caleb Ewan could even be present at the finish, but in my opinion, these pundits are forgetting just how selective world championships races can be, and how much more racing is without the presence of powerful trade teams. Additionally, the presence of a few strong teams like Denmark, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, and France means there should be plenty of firepower to set a difficult pace that will whittle the race down for these country’s leaders, who will benefit from a more selective race.

Belgium’s race to lose

BTP Favorites In Order of Likelihood to win:
Wout van Aert +190

Judging by his performances in the past few weeks (exhibit A & B), Van Aert is on great form and this course has almost been perfectly constructed for him. This will likely come down to a small sprint on a slight uphill finish, which will benefit a rider who can climb, time trial, and sprint at a world-class level. The only downside is the poor track record of odds-on favorites at World Championship races and his incredibly steep odds. +190 odds would be decent for a hands down grand tour favorite but is horrible for a one-off world championship road race.

Top favorite – Wout

Mathieu van der Poel +650
Van der Poel’s health has been in question since his crash at the Olympic mountain bike race, but, he has looked quite good in recent races and will line up as one of the most talented riders in the world on a course that suits him incredibly well. And his +650 odds offer a great value.

Has MvdP recovered?

Kasper Asgreen +1800
The winner of this year’s Tour of Flanders, which is an incredibly similar race to Sunday’s world championship, is in fantastic shape and proved this spring he can win from solo moves or reduced bunch sprints.

Asgreen is in fantastic shape

Julian Alaphilippe +1200
The course suits the defending champion incredibly well and he has appeared fit in recent races. But, my big knock on Alaphilippe is that he hasn’t been winning at a high rate in reduced sprints against the likes of Van der Poel and Van Aert over the past two seasons. For him to defend his rainbow jersey, it seems he would have to win from a solo move, which is how he won in 2020. Unfortunately for him, the likelihood of two consecutive solo victories is infinitesimally small compared to winning from a reduced sprint.

Repeat Alaphilippe?

Magnus Cort +2000
The toast of the recent Vuelta a Espana (wins on stage 6 & stage 19) is clearly in top form and has proven he is comfortable racing for the win on anything from a solo move to a bunch sprint. He will also be helped by the presence of an absurdly strong Danish team. One major red flag for Cort is that despite having 21 career victories, only one is from a one-day race (the 2017 Clasica de Almeria), but at +2000, he could be worth a small bet.

Cort has been good in 2021

Sonny Colbrelli +1000
The Italian boasts great form, a strong team, and a recent run of impressive wins. But, as we saw at the recent Tour de France, while his brute strength is more than enough to get him to the finish at worlds, his top-end sprint speed has diminished to a point that it will be difficult for him to prevail over truly world-class riders. And with +1000 odds, he isn’t exactly a steal.

Euro champ to World champ

Remco Evenepoel +1800
As evidenced by his third place in the time trial, the young Belgian is one of the best solo riders in the world. However, the solo win is the only winning move in his playbook, and this is incredibly difficult to execute against the best competition, which is why the biggest win on his palmarès is the 2019 San Sebastián race. Having said that, Evenepoel is strong and talented enough to pull it off on Sunday and will be able to use the fact that not many will be lining up to chase him down only to pull his teammate Van Aert to the finish line.

The young gun – Remco

Matej Mohorič +2500
The Slovenian was the solo-win king of the recent Tour de France (stages 7 & 19) and showed at the Benelux Tour that he is in great shape. One major obstacle facing Mohorič is that the course is likely not difficult enough for him to wedge open an advantage. But, like Evenepoel, he could potentially exploit the massive attention that will be paid to the major favorites and the unwillingness for others to chase down late-race attacks if Van der Poel and Van Aert are present.

Matej Mohorič
Mohorič – Possible

Outside Picks:
Marc Hirschi +3300
Gianni Moscon +6600
Florian Sénéchal +6600
Quinn Simmons (Not currently offered)

Hirschi Bauke Mollema
Hirschi has been looking good recently

Hirschi, Moscon, Sénéchal, and Simmons have all displayed great fitness recently and are strong enough to force their way into a late-race move and fast enough to win from a reduced sprint. While outsiders rarely win at worlds, any of these riders are strong enough to exploit a breakdown in tactics from the major teams and favorites like we saw at the 2019 edition.

Stay Away From:
Tadej Pogačar +3300
Michael Matthews +3300
Primož Roglič +2500
Tom Pidcock +25000
Matteo Trentin +5000

Pogačar or Roglič – One or other, or neither

Pogačar and Roglič have won major races this season, but as we saw in the time trial and European road race championships, Pogačar isn’t back to his best after his post-Tour break. Roglič won the recent Vuelta a Espana in absolutely dominant fashion, but I worry about the Slovenian’s lack of top-level bike handling on such a technical and intense one-day race.

Too many parties after the Olympics?

Pidcock has looked great at times this season and won De Brabantse Pijl earlier this season, which includes some of the same roads at this world championships. But, he is clearly lacking form due to switching his focus to mountain biking in the build-up to the Olympics (where he won gold), and only has a single pro road win in his career. Also, a 268-kilometer race is likely too long for a WorldTour rookie.

Matthews and Trentin….

Matthews and Trentin are extremely overpriced at their current odds. They have won two races between them over the last two seasons and both have fallen into a valley where they are not strong enough to climb with less-quick finishers and not fast enough to out-sprint quicker riders in even the most reduced bunch sprints.

Who will be first in Leuven?

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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