What to Expect at the 2018 Worlds

The UCI World Championships are just around the corner, the rainbow bands are calling and the cycling world is sat agonising. Innsbruck, Austria, will act as the battleground for this year’s rainbow war, with the terrain, distance and gruelling climbs offering a myriad of potential race outcomes. There can only be one winner, and, unlike recent sprint-heavy editions, it’s difficult to predict who it could be. Let’s take a look at the formidable route and riders to keep our eyes on…

The toughest route in decades

On paper, the 2018 Innsbruck World Championships course is the toughest we’ve seen in decades, possibly one of the most gruelling of this century. Similar to 1995’s war of attrition in Duitama, Colombia, and the rain-soaked climber’s paradise of Chambery 1989, France, the course in Innsbruck is an entirely mountainous affair – one apparently designed for the purest of mountain goats.

 

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Riders will be subject to 11 ascents of the Igls, a tough climb that should tenderise the legs over the mammoth 258.5km course. The key climb however, and the one most feared by both riders and fans alike is the Hölle, a gruelling climb that fittingly translates to ‘Hell Climb’ in the native tongue. A 28% ramp sits in the centre of this ascent so get ready for some slow-motion zig zags, gritted teeth and a whole load of Tommy Voeckler-like gurning as we watch the riders struggle to the summit.

It’s this climb that will likely see the race decided, but should a small group crest the hellish summit together, they’ll face a technical, snaking descent before the fast, straight run-in to the finish. It’s a course that not only demands supreme climbing ability with a punchy final sprint, but also grit and determination by the bucket load. Just completing the 258.5km course will be an incredibly arduous task, but winning it all together? Well, that’s nigh on impossible.

 

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The course for the women’s road race differs slightly to that of the men’s and doesn’t necessarily favour the pure climbers. It’s still a lumpy affair, however, and should no doubt catalyse some aggressive racing, particularly on the many leg-sapping climbs close to the finish.

Riders to watch

For the first time in three years, Sagan’s days in rainbow look numbered. The three-time winner has just finished the three-week Vuelta a Espana without securing one final exalted victory in the rainbow bands – a bad omen perhaps? Probably not, a rider like Sagan doesn’t believe in superstitions, just look at how he’s obliterated the fabled ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’.

 

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It will be a tough ask for Sagan to make it a fourth consecutive title in Innsbruck, coming up against some far more suited opposition in the form of Vincenzo Nibali (Italy), Julian Alaphilippe (France), Alejandro Valverde (Spain) and Dan Martin (Ireland). With superior climbing ability, and a punchy sprint in their arsenals, all four of these riders are perfectly suited to the mountainous Innsbruck course.

Closer to home, however, is a strong young Great Britain team which heads to the worlds with a double-barrelled threat. Becoming only the third nation to hold all three Grand Tours (Giro, Tour and Vuelta) at once, with three different riders no less, you’d naturally expect that their chances of translating this momentum into rainbow bands would be high. However, with both Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome skipping the trip, the odds have been slashed and the mantle has fallen to the Bury-born twins of Adam and Simon Yates. Don’t despair, though, for the Innsbruck course suits them both down to a tee, and Simon – fresh from an aggressive overall victory at the Vuelta a Espana – should certainly be carrying some race-winning form in the legs.

 

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In the women’s race, we’re sure to be treated to an epic showdown between some of the sport’s top names. Due to the nature of the women’s route, all types of riders could make the finish – from the all-round specialists like Chantal Blaak (Netherlands) and Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands), to the mountain goats like Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark).

One thing the women’s race will have that the men’s may lack – sheer strength and attacking spirit taking over – is savvy tactics. The men’s course is all about survival, not necessarily making and marking all the clinical moves. The women’s, on the other hand, should see some incredibly entertaining racing over its 156.2km course, so expect breaks to fly, pelotons to crumble and alliances to be both forged and broken before we reach the finish in the centre of town.

 

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Against the clock

The road races aren’t the only events taking place in Innsbruck at the end of September, with time trail events taking over part of the limelight. Kicking off the nine days of competition will be the men’s and women’s team time trial events where trade teams, rather than nations, compete as one.

Both courses are considerably longer to the ones we saw at last year’s World Championships and should, therefore, suit the teams who have discipline drilled into them at every opportunity. Team Sunweb go into both the men’s and women’s TTT events as the favourites, as they defend their 2017 titles, with Ellen van Dijk and Tom Dumoulin ready to repeat rainbow success.

 

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In the individual time trial events, the men and women will compete over slightly different courses – the men’s a little hillier and almost double the distance. Dumoulin took the title in the men’s event last year and without his nearest rivals from Bergen – Primoz Roglic and Chris Froome – it appears the Flying Dutchman may just don the rainbow bands for a second year in a row. He’ll face fierce competition from a certain Aussie however, with Rohan Dennis fresh off a fantastic Vuelta a Espana where he took both time trial stage wins.

Dutch riders also flood the list of favourites in the women’s ITT, with Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen eager to repeat their one-two success from last year. Van Dijk, another TT powerhouse, will also be vying for the victory, giving the Dutch a very realistic change of a clean-sweep of the Innsbruck podium.

 

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If, like us, you can’t wait for the World Championships to get underway, make sure you note down these important dates on your calendar. The competitions will run from Sunday, September 23rd to Sunday, September 30th. All the events will be available to watch live and on-demand on Eurosport and Eurosport Player.