Friday, September 27, 2013

World Championship - Road Race Preview & Favorites

It’s finally time. This Sunday, the elite men’s road race is on and we are in for quite a show. It’ the most open World Championship in a while and with a rainy weather forecast; anything can happen!

In total, the race is 272.2 km long. The day starts in Lucca and from here; the riders have 100 km to overcome before they reach Florence. There are two climbs on this first part; Montecarlo (3.75 km / 3.5 %) and San Baronto (3.9 / 7.1 %). These two climbs won’t make for a selection but especially San Baronto will serve as an appetizer of what waits the riders later on.

When reaching Florence the riders starts on 10 laps of 16.57 km. The first two kilometers are flat but then the road kicks up. The Fiesole climb is 4.37 km long and has an average gradient of 5.2 %. The gradients barely drop below 7 % the last 1500 meters and this is where we find the steep parts of over 10 %. There are 10 km to the line from the top of Fiesole. The descent starts out very technical but then gets easier with nice and soft turns. However, there is a very steep part and then a difficult 90° left turn with about 8.7 km to go. If the rains, riders chasing to get back have to pay close attention to this corner in order not to see their chances disappear in a crash.

The following 2 km are fast very fast and after a sharp right hand turn, it’s time to climb again. The 600 meters on Via Salviati have an average gradient of 10 % and include a part of 200 meters with over 16 % towards the top. There are only 5 km to go from the top of Via Salviati and as the final part is very fast, it won’t be easy to catch a small group of riders if they get a gap over the top. With a less than 3 km to the line, the riders turn left and the following 150-200 meters are uphill with parts of 10 %. This may be the last place to attack if you want to solo away. The road kicks up a little again as the rider cross the railroad and after a 180° corner, the final 1500 meters are flat and straight out towards the line.

Everybody seems to have a different opinion on the best way to prepare for this World Championship and which riders it favors. It’s hard to keep track but here is some of the statements:
  •           You need to ride Vuelta España.
  •           This is a route for the climbers.
  •           You need to be fast.
  •           You need to be explosive on the climbs.
  •           Don’t count on the Vuelta riders, the last week was too hard.
  •           You need to be able to win on this kind of distance.

Confused? I understand. It may not look like there is a rider who can tick off every single criteria. However, there is one. More about him a little later.

First, let’s look at the teams with the most responsibility this Sunday. Spain has the strongest team (9 riders) with Contador, Purito and Valverde but home favorites Italy (9) isn’t far behind with the likes of Scarponi, Ulissi and Nibali. The Netherlands (Gesink, Mollema, Slagter), Switzerland (Cancellara, Albasini) and Colombia (Quintana, Uran, Henao, Betancur) also have nine riders at the start. So does France but I would be surprised to see them start working in the peloton. The French riders have to be aggressive in the attacks and with Pinot, Barguil and Voeckler they have enough firepower to put in a couple of strong attacks on the final laps.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia) has five teammates to help him, among these are the Velits brothers, Peter and Martin, plus Sagan’s own brother Juraj. Sagan would like this race to be as easy as possible and hope for a big group together on the final lap. Therefore I doubt Slovakia will put much effort into chasing the breaks early on. Last year’s winner, Philippe Gilbert and Belgium have seven riders at the start this time and compared to last year, they will be more aggressive. Gilbert needs a hard race with a big selection and if so, he will probably have to attack on Via Salviati on the last lap and get away with a couple of riders. This is his best chance of winning in Florence.

Profile of the circuit in Florence. 10 laps of 16.57 km.

According to the bookmakers, Fabian Cancellara is the number one favorite. The Swiss Time Machine pays 3 to 1. It’s nothing new that Cancellara has a red circle around the World Championship but usually it’s focused around the time trial. This year, Fabian Cancellara has put everything into becoming World Champion in the road race instead. He has lost some kilos and in the Vuelta España, he showed to be in great shape on the climbs. As a warm-up for the road race, Cancellara has done both the team time trial (last Sunday) and the individual time trial (last Wednesday). Radioshack finished 4th in the TTT while Cancellara took the bronze medal in the ITT, only two seconds form second place. There is no doubt that Fabian Cancellara is in great shape right now but is he strong enough to keep stay with the punchy climbers on Via Salviati? Remember, in total this race has more than 60 km of climbing. It’s not “just” a usually tough one day race, it’s a regular mountain stage. If Cancellara has to fight his way back after both Fiesole and Via Salviati, how much energy will he has left for the expected late attack in the final On the other hand, the U23 winner Matej Mohoric said he didn’t think the course was that hard and makes Cancellara one of the two big favorites.

The other top favorite is Peter Sagan. Sagan usually don’t have any problems on these kind of climbs and to make sure he doesn’t get dropped, he went to train hard in the mountains earlier this season. It quickly paid off and in Tour de Suisse, he actually won the mountain stage with the steepest climb in the race. Peter Sagan does well in the short time trials, he can sprint and he can solo away to win as well. It’s difficult to find any flaws but if there is one, it may be the distance. Sagan is yet to win a race over 250 km and even though he has come close a couple of times, it’s still one thing missing on his impressive palmares.

The Spanish duo Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez makes it hard to imagine a final podium without a Spanish rider. Valverde is a true specialist in these kind of one-day races and Purito too knows how prepare for a single day and then deliver. Both have been on the podium in the past but neither has ever won. This year both Valverde and Purito aimed at the Tour de France this summer. Afterwards they started out the Vuelta with the intention of getting ready for this Sunday. They finished 3rd and 4th overall in the Vuelta and seem very strong at the moment. Especially, Purito finished the Vuelta strong and I think he’s Spain’s best card to play. Few - if any - can match Purito’s kick on the steep gradients and I would imagine he would try to split the group on Via Salviati the last time. We saw in the U23 race that Via Salviati creates a lot more damage than Fiesole and the steep gradients really suits Purito who’s also good on the descent. Furthermore, Purito showed in Giro di Lombardia last year, that he can win in the rain as well. Of course, if it ends in a sprint of 10+ riders, Alejandro Valverde is the best option for Spain and if Peter Sagan isn’t in the group, Valverde shouldn’t have problems outsprinting the rest.

The last one of the top favorites is Vincenzo Nibali. He’s riding on home soil in Italy and naturally the expectations are high. Italy hasn’t be able to deliver since 2008 when the finished 1st, 2nd and 4th in Varese. Now the World Championship is back in Italy and after Nibali won the Giro d’Italia and finished second overall in the Vuelta, everybody expect another top performance from the shark. To help Nibali take the rainbow jersey, Italy sends strong riders like Michele Scarponi, Rinaldo Nocentini, Filippo Pozzato, Giovanni Visconti and Diego Ulissi. Italy’s big problem in the past has been too many captains, this time it’s different. Pozzato and Scarponi are both in great shape but they have to leave their big egos at home. Ulissi is double junior world champion and I have no doubts he’ll win the elite’s race one day as well. Diego Ulissi is strong on the climbs and fast on the line. However, he’s not very good on the descents especially not if the roads are wet. Vincenzo Nibali needs to attack on Fiesole and make an early selection, then he probably has to dig deep again on Via Salviati and then attack on the descent as he has done in the past. Nibali knows his only chance is to solo away and I’m sure he won’t think twice if he sees an opening in the final.

As I wrote earlier, there actually is one rider fitting all the listed statement. This rider is Dan Martin. He started the Vuelta, he didn’t ride the last week of the race, he’s a climber, he’s explosive, he’s fast on the line and he has proven to be able to win on the long distance (LBL this year). After crashing out of the Vuelta, Dan Martin took part in Tour of Britain as his last preparation for the World Championship. He raced very aggressively and showed on the climbs that he is still going very strong. So far, 2013 has already been a great season for Dan Martin after winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege and stage 9 of the Tour de France. He has been targeting the Rainbow Jersey for a while and he has shown he isn’t afraid of attacking from afar if necessary. I think the most likely scenario for this race, is a small group of about five riders arriving at the finishing together. If Dan Martin is in this group, he will be very difficult to beat.

Earlier this year, Colombia seemed to have one of the most powerful teams for this race. However, both Sergio Henao and Carlos Betancur didn’t really deliver in the Vuelta and it’s doubtful they will be able to perform - as previously expected - this Sunday. Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran are still two very strong outsiders but it won’t be easy for the Colombians to continue their dominance this season. Nairo Quintana’s father is hoping to visit the Pope when the race is over and naturally, it would be amazing for the humble climber to join his parents with the Pope carrying the Rainbow Jersey. I don’t think it will be happen though.

Map of the circuit in Florence.
Before this preview gets too long to read, let’s have a look at some of the jokers for the win. My personal joker is Rui Costa. Like Dan Martin, Rui Costa has already had a great season with the overall win in Tour de Suisse and two impressive stage wins in Tour de France. The World Championship has been a big goal for Rui Costa all season and the course really suits him. Portugal only has three riders in the race but both Andre Cardoso and Tiago Machado are dedicated to help Rui Costa win the Rainbow Jersey.

Another strong outsider is Chris Froome. Not since Greg Lemond in 1989 has a Tour de France winner went on to become World Champion. This year Froome has a unique chance of doing so but he knows he requires a hard race with a big selection. In the beginning of August, Chris Froome went to check out the course and train on the roads. He did the Via Salviati climb 10 times and he knows what to expect. After finishing the Tour, Froome immediately started talking about the World Championship and after training hard in North America the last weeks, he now seems ready. Like Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome most likely has to solo away in order to win this race but don’t forget he actually outsprinted both Contador and Purito in Tour of Oman earlier this year.

For other jokers look to in-shape Robert Gesink and Thomas Voeckler, one-day specialist Alexandr Kolobnev and strong all-rounder Edvald Boasson Hagen. For the super-super jokers I’ll like to mention season revelation Tanel Kangert, World Champion specialist Matti Breschel and youngster Tom-Jelte Slagter who has a good kick on the hills and is fast on the line.

For live coverage of the race go to


  1. Hi Mikkel, another excellent, incisive and illuminating analysis. Should be some race. Thank you.

  2. this competition is a fraud. this is no world championship.
    how can people call that with some teams having more riders than others o.O
    can you imagine a football match starting with 11 vs 7....would that be fair...ridiculous....
    it should be 5 riders on every team.

    btw, nice preview.

    1. Football is a f!"çking fraude. Bale is bought with european taxmoney.

  3. Replies
    1. Good point. Dani Moreno cannot be overlooked. This course suits him very well, except that it is a little bit long. If he manages to be near the front all the way to the final lap he could win. People often overlook him because they fear the other Spaniards like Rodriguez, Valverde or Contador even more.

  4. Don't overlook Cadel! I know what you are all thinking! "He's got Buckley's!" But hey, he may just surprise everyone - fingers crossed!
    But at the end of the day, whoever wins, I just hope they win clean, fair and square.

  5. Great analysis, thanks! I'll put my money on Tanel Kangert. He is used to ride besides of Nibali wbole season it means he benefits the strenght of Italian team. :-)

  6. hi mikkel,

    nice preview, looks like we have similar expectations (i've written a big preview too, including a full race script, check it out at!). i just rate the italian squadra a bit lower, and - like one of the people above - I do expect to see Cadel Evans making a bid for glory in his probably last worlds (and in his wife's home nation). As a joker, Jan Bakelants!

  7. Thanks for all the comments so far. Very kind! Will be interesting to see how Cadel performs. On a good day, of course he has a chance but he hasn't really been showing anything lately..Let's see... Bakelants is a good joker indeed!

    1. Any thoughts on Nicholas Roche as another possible Irish outsider. What he did in the Vuelta this year was incredible. Doesn't the course fit him somewhat, given his improved power to weight ratio?

  8. Na minha opinião Rui Costa é um grande candidato e concordo plenamente com o Mikkel nas suas opiniões, mas Fabian Cancelara é sem dúvida o favorito número 1. Mas é importante não esquecer Chris Horner que terminou a Vuelta em grande estilo.

  9. Belgium has the advantage that nobody will expect them to pull the pack.
    So that's cozy to start with. Gilbert Bakelands Van Avermaet.
    If the dice falls right....... (for Belgium that is)
    They can wait till money-time and follow those last jumps
    2011 Gilbert won everything and came second in the WC
    Last year Gilbert won 2 races....and took the flowers.
    This year one win, but he looks confident, trust me.
    Nobody is watching him. He's like a funnel-spider

  10. Great piece. Loved reading it. I like Costa for the win. I think he has greater motivation than most. and he's tough as nails.

  11. Excellent article! However, I agree with your first comment - if the weather is as bad as the forecast, all bets are off. Who do you think will cope best in these conditions?

  12. I really enjoyed reading this update. You always do such a great job. With this course, the race seems more wide open than ever and is harder to predict. There was an interesting comment by anonymous in Portugese about Chris Horner being in great shape for this course. One could not disagree after his convincing win in the Vuelta

  13. Costa. Gesink's been looking good but don't discount Mollema. Bakelants, Ulissi (think I read he's free from helping Nibali).
    Don't forget Talansky. He can climb and has a fast kick.
    And for the true revelation of the season: Stybar.

  14. What about another outsider in Roman Kreuzinger?

    1. He withdrew. Been a long season for him.

    2. Thanks. He had an impressive season, was hoping he'd somehow be in form to compete.

  15. I also like the Polish team this year with Kwiatkowski and Majka. These guys have been racing so well this year. They might surprise.

    1. They've been solid in stage races but this is a single day race where overall strength and timed aggression are key. They are still young so their mental game may not be there as well as their hard single-day race legs.
      I'd like to see a selection of 30 or so riders on the last lap with the likes of
      Nibali, Ulissi, Scarponi
      Valverde, Sanchez, Moreno, Rodriguez
      Gilbert, Bakelants, Van Avermaet
      Uran, Henao, Betancur
      Gesink, Mollema
      Evans, Meyer
      Sagan, Velits
      Golas, Kwiatkowski
      Roche, Martin
      Fuglsang (anyone hear him swear "fuc*ing sh*t" after the ttt and Brajkovic just smiled with thumbs up as the camera went away from Fuglsang?)
      Too hard for EBH or Nordhaug?

      The way I see it is Italy and Spain will have many cards but nothing strong enough to force anything.
      If Belgium has at least 2 contenders and a helper they are in great shape.
      Sagan needs Velits to close down attacks. He and Cancellara can't do everything on their own after 250+km.
      Roche, Martin and Talansky will have to be opportunists and may get lucky going away with a group with weaker finishers like Nibali, Evans, Quintana, Scarponi.

  16. I always appreciate your previews and admire your keen insight and bold predictions, Mikkel -- but like the others above I found this article particularly amazing. So thanks and congrats, and I hope the race will live up to the the drama as you describe it -- it should!

  17. Bravo Rui Costa és o futuro do ciclismo. Dentro de 2-3 anos ganharás o Tour de France.

  18. Thank you all very much for the kind words. I'm glad you liked the preview!

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