With the professional road season drawing to an end, it’s World Championship time yet again. The races, taking place in Innsbruck, Austria, have all been run with the exception of the Elite Men and Women road races. Here’s a recap of the week’s action, and some speculation as to who might be our current World Champions at the end of the week.
The World Championships kicked off the week with the Team Time Trial. For the men, Quick-Step took their TTT WC fourth title. Quick-Step upset the pre-race favorites Sunweb, who ended up taking a respectable second place. Rounding out the podium with third place, another TTT powerhouses of the ProTour, BMC Racing Team.
The women similarly had a surprise victory, with Canyon-SRAM Racing taking home the gold over the pre-race favorite Boels Dolamans. Like with the men, the pre-race favorites had to settle with silver. The last of the Women’s Pro Tour TTT powerhouses, Team Sunweb Women, rounded out the podium with bronze.
Australian Rohan Dennis, who has been on top form this season took a convincing gold in the Men’s Elite Individual Time Trial. He beat Tom Dumoulin by a considerable 1:12 over the 52.2km course, averaging 49.6kph. Tom Dumoulin’s silver metal was a disappointment for the Netherlander. Taking into consideration his second place in both the Giro and the Tour, it’s understandable he may be a bit burned out by this point in the season. Bronze went to Victor Campenaerts of Belgium who has proved a time trailing powerhouse this season. He claimed not only the Belgium National Time Trial Championship but also the European Time Trial Championship this season. He beat out fourth placed Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland by 43 seconds.
On the women’s side, the Netherlands swept the podium. Annemiek Van Vleuten covered the 27.7km course in 34:25. Her countrywoman Anna Van Der Breggen finished 29 seconds down for the silver metal. Ellen Van Dijk was a bit further off the pace, finishing 1:25 down on Van Vleuten.
I won’t go too far into the sticks with all the U23 and Junior results, but there is one rider who has to be mentioned. Remco Evenepoel of Belgium only began racing his bike 15 months ago after coming up through the ranks of the Belgium Football development program. This past year, Evenepoel won every major event he entered. This includes not only the Junior Belgium National Time Trial and Road Race Championships, but the Junior European Time Trial and Road Championships as well.
This week, he clinched the Junior World Championship in both the Time Trial and Road Race with powerful rides in both events. Evenepoel still has a long way to go to prove his talents. Many riders that dominate the junior ranks have a tough time transitioning to the professional level. Evenepoel however will bypass the U23 league to jump right into the big show with a contract with Quick-Step. Time will tell, but this young man may be a legend in the making.
As I write this, the Elite Road World Championship has yet to take place. So what better time to make a fool out of myself with wild speculation. Considering all the variables from weather, to diet and sleep, to crashes and bad luck, there is no real way to predict the outcomes of either the men or the women. That doesn’t mean I won’t give it a crack!
For the men’s race, the top two pre-race favorites look to be Alejandro Valverde of Spain and Julian Alaphilippe of France. Valverde has stood on the podium at Worlds six times in his career. It would be a fitting victory for a consistent rider who has admittedly had some shady points during his career. Still though, I like Valverde. I’d like to see him in the rainbow jersey as he sunsets his cycling career.
Alaphilippe’s season has been a revelation. He has converted previous podium spots to outright victories at races like Flèche Wallonne. He wore the Mountains Classification Jersey into Paris at the Tour de France with two stage victories on top of the King of the Mountains title. Alaphilippe certainly has the kick and cunning to pull of the title if he has a good day.
For the women’s field, it’s essentially the Dutch versus everyone else. As proven during the ITT, the Dutch National Team is on another level compared to the rest of the field. Expect Anna Van Der Breggen and Annemiek Van Vleuten to be in the mix. Perhaps Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma can upset the Dutch women, as she has been on form as of late and the course certainly plays to her strengths.
I’m hoping I have at least one of my picks on the podium on Sunday evening, but cycling has a way of making fools of those who make predictions. Will Peter Sagan claim an unprecedented fourth consecutive World Championship? I doubt it, but it would be impressive. My dark horse pick is Vincenzo Nibali. If the shark were to pull this off, he’d be a full fledged Galactico. My women’s dark horse is Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini, who has had a stellar year so far and could cap it off with the World’s victory. Stay safe out there, and as always, keep the rubber side down!