Race For The Stripey Jumper – Elite Mens’ World Road Race Championship

Sunday sees the big finale to this year’s World Cycling Championships in Ponferrada; the 254.8km Elite Men’s road race. The riders will battle for the Rainbow Jersey over 14 laps of a circuit designed to deliver the sort of excitement we have come to expect from this annual event. The modern tendency to construct the race around a city centre location has meant that the possibility of seeing the serious mountain men (Contador, Froome, Nibali etc) duke it out has remained unlikely for sometime now. Preferring to create something of a one day classic which swings between favouring powerful Roubaix men and punchy Liége finishers. Any route would look easy when comparing it to last year’s nightmarish day in Florence, but Ponferrada’s challenge will have an air of the Vuelta about it as riders find themselves spending the day either looking skywards, or with their noses to the stem as they drop down the descents.

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Course:

The two features on course are the climbs of Confederacion (5.2km, 3.3%) and Mirador (1.14km, 5.5%), their subsequent downhill runs being as equally important as their leg sapping ascents. The former varies frequently in gradient, touching 8.8% for a moment, making it a struggle for some to find their rhythm. The latter maxes out at 10% and will be tackled with just over 5km left on the final lap, offering its ramp and fast descent as a possible launchpad for a last minute attack under the noses of the sprinters’. The win appears destined to be fought for amongst a select group of 20 – 40 survivors, though a late solo attack could occur as in the Men’s U23 race. A real factor which is likely to shake things up amongst the peloton is the chance of rain. Some of the downhill passages have already been troublesome for others during the week and a quick shower could put an unlikely contender in the rainbow bands by the end of play.

Contenders:

A total of 203 competitors are scheduled to take to the start line, and realistically, only 10% are likely to have a chance of becoming World Champion. Though the list of contenders might seem extensive to some, when you compare it to the number of those starting, it becomes apparent as to how talented individuals will need to be if they want to contest the win – let alone finish at all.

Everybody is looking to Simon Gerrans as a ‘guaranteed dead cert’ for Sunday’s race, with recent back to back wins in Canada and a history of success in the classics, he appears the favourite. The uphill sections are certainly well within the capabilities of Gerrans and he will be a tough man to drop over the terrain, the finish though is less suiting to his talents and the tactical headaches of being part of such a strong Australian team could see him lose out. His teammate Michael Matthews on the other hand will see the finish as near perfect for his talents. Though the proceeding climbing will be less appealing, Matthews has shown an ability to beat the big sprinters at this year’s Vuelta and could be the man to benefit from the anxiety around protecting Gerran’s chances.

Simon-Gerrans-World-Championship-Favourite

Had he managed to avoid a recent stay in hospital, John Degenkolb would probably have been the dominate favourite to become World Champion on Sunday. It is relatively unclear as to how much conditioning he may have lost from his recent sickness as well as the toll of his Green Jersey winning effort’s at this year’s Vuelta. On the assumption that he is close to ‘match fitness’, Degenkolb will be the man to beat if part of a select group contesting the finish. He displayed an ability to stay with the pack over testing terrain far beyond people’s assumptions on Stage 19 of the Vuelta and will be seeking to repeat this once more. Plan B for Germany might be André Greipel, the 32 year old has failed to display much of his ‘strong-man’ form this year, but he does have a habit of rising to the tougher sprint occasions.

John-Degenkolb-Vuelta-Stage-17-Preview

A man who signalled his intent to win a long time ago was Fabian Cancellara,  ditching taking part in the Individual Time Trial in order to focus upon the Road Race. Throughout the year, Cancellara has proven his aptitude over the kind of distance required of him on Sunday, as well as being present in the decisive sprints for Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and several hard Vuelta stages. He has raced lightly since the spring and will look to make the most of any technical downhill sections in order to get off the front of the peloton. A man with a similar plan could be Peter Sagan, the instant favourite when the course was originally announced for the Road Race, but a season of average results for the boy wonder has left backing to wain. It would be naive to dismiss him totally on this basis, as he might be a tough protagonist to drop late on, but a lack of ‘kamikaze’ team support normally afforded to him by Cannondale could expose his lack of tactical nous.

Fabian-Cancellara-World-Championship-Favourite

Britain bolster a strong team once again and can only build upon the shockingly embarrassing performance of 2013 in the Florence rain. The biggest negative for the Brits will be how the course does not play to the strengths of their riders’ Grand Tour mountain pedigree. Instead they are likely to ride exclusively for their burgeoning classics man Ben Swift, who rode to an impressive 3rd place at this year’s Milan-San Remo. With Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh all at his disposal throughout the day, he will be one of the most well protected riders for the entire race. Considering he is approaching the prime of his career, winning the World Championship title would be the perfect way to announce himself as a big name.

Ben-Swift-World-Championship-Favourite

The man who beat Ben Swift to his first ever monument was Alexander Kristoff, a rider who often benefits from extremely gruelling conditions on a regular basis it would seem. The current reigning Milan-San Remo champion is likely to savour the terrain and distance of the Road Race, saving his energy for a late surge amongst the seemingly inevitable select group which will contest the title. Earlier in the year he did get the beating of Fabian Cancellara and Ben Swift, but a greater depth of competitors is likely to prevent a repeat.

Another impressive performance on that day was Sonny Colbrelli, a man who seems to exhibit his best form when everyone around him is suffering like a dog. Having demonstrated his solid form at the Tour of Britain, Colbrelli made the cut for Italy’s squad and could end up being their best performer when all is said and done.

Alejandro Valverde is all too familiar with the podium positions at the Worlds and will be eager to finally claim his gold medal at his home event. With the lack of a late steep ramp which saw him take La Flèche Wallonne this year, Valverde is only likely to benefit from a very small group reaching the line and displaying his solid sprinting skills in order to win.

Another man who will benefit from a hard ridden race over the day’s climbs could be France’s Tony Gallopin. He has shown fantastic form in the recent weeks since completing the Vuelta, placing highly behind Simon Gerran’s performance’s at the two Canadian GPs’. If he manages to slip into a very small bunch to contest the finish, he does have a rapid kick to ensure he is favourite amongst any other escapees.

Tony-Gallopin-World-Road-Race

On a good day, another serious favourite for the win might just be Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski, a rider who has been consistent in the classics recently. His performance at the Tour of Britain a few weeks ago suggested that the young man is in good form, even taking a win on stage 4 from a very late surging attack. During his time at the Tour of Britain, he also displayed his talents for attacking on downhill sections during Stage 2, a talent which may benefit him in his attempts to win the stripes. Should he be in the mix during the deciding moments, he is a likely individual to instigate a last minute attack in order to prevent a bunch kick.

Should the Polish rider attempt such a move, he is likely to find a small army of allies in the latter stages of the race. Ramunas Navardauskas, Daniel Martin, Daryl Impey, Zdeněk Štybar and Jelle Vanendert will all be interested should a late break form in the final 10km or so. Some outsiders who have displayed a knack for winning over similar distances and terrains are Tom Dumoulin, Romain Bardet and Giampaolo Caruso – these could all place in the top ten with favourable conditions.

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Outcome:

Not many races prove to be a greater headache than the World’s Road Race when it comes to picking a winner. The likelihood is that a sprint finish of 20 – 30 riders will contest the win at the end, something which John Degekolb would usually be the clear favourite for. However, he has recently had to spend time in hospital, but he would only be riding Sunday’s race if he thought it was possible to win. Although Simon Gerrans is most people’s pick for the win, Michael Matthews would appear to suit the final stages more than his compatriot and has proven his ability against the strong sprinters at this year’s Vuelta on several occasions. Cancellara’s willingness to ditch the Time Trial in order to focus upon the Road Race would suggest he will do everything to be a key protagonist when it comes down to duking it out for the rainbow bands. Assuming that nobody manages to get away on the final descent, a sprint finish should be Degenkolb’s for the taking.

1st Degenkolb 2nd Cancellara 3rd Matthews

Men’s Individual Time Trial – World Championships Ponferrada 2014

If there was ever a cycling event which made a preview or prediction redundant, it is surely today’s 47.1km World Championship Individual Time Trial. The route offers the riders wide open rides to pick the perfect lines and should keep all technical worries to a minimum as they reach speeds only us mortals dare dream of. Beyond a rather rapid descent, the only other noticeable task for the competitors will be the uphill sections, though these do not seem enough to prevent the seemingly inevitable outcome.

Tony Martin is a thoroughbred and precision engineered machine who has dominated the competition in recent years, making him the favourite for today by a country mile. Barring disaster, it seems the only question here today is a case of just how large Martin’s winning margin will be by the day’s end.

World-Championship-Time-Trial-Preview

With Fabian Cancellara focusing on the Road Race instead, Bradley Wiggins seems almost guaranteed to be the next fasted man home after the title defending German. Wiggins is always a good bet in a time trial and this distance and terrain should allow him to slip into his superb cadence and then slip into a silver medal.

The battle for Bronze might just be the most fascinating aspect of the afternoon, with many riders having a strong claim to the final podium place, the list of contenders is long. Adriano Malori, Tom Dumoulin, Tejay van Garderen, Vasil Kiryienka, Rasmus Quaade and Jan Barta all performed well in last year’s World’s and have looked solid throughout the year in the same discipline. Riders such as Dumoulin and Barta have made impressive leaps forward during the season and Malori is another who has really hit form as a time trialest recently. Many were surprised by Quaade’s placing last year and the same could be said for Kiryienka; with both Fabian Cancellara and Taylor Phinney absent dark horses’ hopes of a podium are increased greatly.

Outcome:
1st Martin 2nd Wiggins 3rd Dumoulin

Beat The Clock

Having already inflicted years of agony upon the peloton, Jens Voigt decided the last victim to feel the hurt would be time itself. Spokenforks is pleased to say that Jens broke the hour record with a ride of 51.115km, all the more impressive with the German icon’s 43rd birthday passing the day previous.

Throughout the record breaking attempt, Voigt looked a picture of poise and power as he circled the Swiss velodrome’s black line for the 60 minute session. Occasionally getting out of the saddle to ‘relieve the pressure’, Jens had the crowd cheering on his every pedal stroke alongside the custom made anthemic playlist of AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Metallica. He never looked in trouble for a split second and seemed reasonably fresh when celebrating with his parents after beating the record comfortably.

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Jens Is Done With Time.

Hopefully the publicity and craze around the new hour record will stir up a revival for the event, luring out the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and even Alex Dowsett to have a go at setting their own record breaking times.

Though it was a successful day for all involved, a sad twinge was present as this signalled the last ‘hurrah’ for the legend known as ‘Jensie‘. However, there is no doubt that the world of cycling will soon feel the full force of Voigt’s hyperactive persona soon enough in a variety of roles.

Chapeau Jens Voigt, Chapeau.

Stop The Clock – Vuelta a España Stage 21 Preview

With the general classification settled in the favour of Albert Contador yesterday, there is little to play for amongst the big guns at this last time trial. The disinterest does not stop there, with the TT specialists of Fabian Cancellara, Bob Jungels and Tony Martin all having left the Vuelta in the name of World Championship preparations, the winner could be a surprise

Route:

The Santiago de Compostela time trial is only 9.7km and will be a drag race from start to finish. Though having an aptitude for such an event is a requirement, this does come at the tail-end of a three week Grand Tour, meaning the well conditioned GC contenders are still likely to secure solid times for the win.

Vuelta-a-Espana-Stage-21-Preview

Contenders:

With some many specialists now absent as we head into the final stage of this year’s Vuelta, the eye is cast further down the list at those who may fit the required mould. Movistar’s Adriano Malori and BMC’s Rohan Dennis are the most obvious candidates, both excelling at this discipline and appearing in good TT form this year – especially Malori. Chris Froome is the biggest threat to the hopes’ of the afore mentioned duo, he is always able to secure an impressive time at the end of a Grand Tour and is still yet to take a stage win at the Vuelta. Though the length and terrain does not suit him, he may go out all guns blazing in order to secure Sky some stage winning success at last.

Outcome:

1st Froome 2nd Malori 3rd Dennis

Tour of Britain – Stage 8B

With Dylan van Baarle having defended his yellow jersey in the face of Michal Kwiatkowski’s time trialling abilities, the dynamics of the previously straight-forward afternoon Criterium may have changed somewhat. Kwiatkowski now sits 10 seconds back on the leading Dutchman, with 9 seconds available during the Criterium’s intermediate sprints, giving OmegaPharma-QuickStep quite the headache for the remaining racing.

Scenario:

Originally, OPQS will have circled Stage 8B as another classic target for Mark Cavendish and his lead-out train to take another win at the Tour of Britain. However, having a rider of the calibre of Kwiatkowski within spitting distance of the overall win, could tempt the team to support him in an ‘all-or-nothing’ attack upon the yellow jersey. He could go about this by either winning the intermediate sprint, gain a 6 second bonus by winning on the line with a 1 second time-gap to van Baarle; or attack late on and attempt to gain a race winning 11 seconds in one massive charge out of the pack to the line. Should the team support either manoeuvre, it will leave Mark Cavendish without a run at taking his sole stage win at this year’s tour. If it seemed possible to win the overall, it is easy to imagine Cavendish accepting this and working hard to help Kwiatkowski succeed in his attempts to overhaul van Baarle at the death. Even so, this would also mean giving the sprint trains of Giant-Shimano, Bardiani – CSF and more the slip to just get the Pole’s hopes off the ground.

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Outcome:

The likelihood is still a sprint finish come the conclusion of Stage 8B, meaning that Marcel Kittel will be the favourite to take the win ahead of Mark Cavendish – even home support does not seem enough to beat the German powerhouse. Giant-Shimano will look to boss the race by sitting at the front of affairs, though support from Garmin-Slipstream, Team Sky and perhaps BMC should make life easier against any breakaways. Making up the places behind Kittel should be Ben Swift, Adam Blythe, Tyler Farrar, Nicola Ruffoni and perhaps Rick Zabel.

1st Kittel 2nd Cavendish 3rd Swift 4th Blythe 

Tour of Britain – Stage 8a

With only the time trial and a parade stage remaining at this year’s edition of The Tour of Britain, the overall win is still surprisingly wide open after a week’s worth of racing. Many riders are in with a chance of winning the Individual Time Trial, but everyone will be watching those who could take the overall win along with it.

Who To Watch:

Current leader Dylan van Baarle has every chance of defending his lead today in the competitive time trial. He has performed well this year at several prologue events similar to this and also finished 5th at the Dutch Time Trial Championships’ – he could be the shock winner.

Tour-of-Britain-Stage-8a-Preview

Michal Kwiatkowski is probably everyone’s favourite to put in a good showing and take the overall win all in one fell swoop. He won the Tour de Romandie prologue and a Volta ao Algarve ITT over similar distances this year, as well as being Polish Time Trial Champion.

Though often disregarded as a renowned time trialist, Ion Izagirre has every chance of putting in a great time today. Second at this year’s Spanish Nationals and third at the Vuelta a Andalucia prologue too – though he may have wanted a few bumps in the course.

He might be one of the most famous Time Trial specialists of all time, but it is hard to see Bradley Wiggins putting in much of a showing today. The man has looked relatively disinterested in the entire race thus far, though sprinting for intermediate time was a sign of willing, ‘Wiggo’ will have a hard time today. The course is too short for him to do great damage and those already ahead of him are confident of defending their leads because of this.

Tour-of-Britain-Stage-8a-Preview

It was devastating to watch Alex Dowsett come so close to defending the jersey heading into today, but sadly the Sussex terrain proved too much for him. However, the young Essex man is a pin-up for the British Time Trial scene and could fancy his chances today despite having dug so deeply the previously. For someone raised on Club 10s as a youth, he already knows an approximate pacing required to take the win, but whether he has enough left in the tank is another question.

Despite heading into The Tour of Britain with great form, Sylvain Chavanel has not quite done as much as people expected when it came to contesting the leader’s jersey. Regardless, the Frenchman is known for his abilities against the clock and has placed highly in such events throughout the season thus far – this includes winning the French Time Trial title.

A man who may upset focus upon the GC hopefuls is Jan Barta, the experience Czech has gained his best results this season from time trials, almost exclusively so. He has only failed to finish in the top 10 at one of his 7 time trials this year, winning or placing in the top 3 at five of them

Somebody who could place in the top 10 as a surprise is Marcel Kittel, a man who is no stranger to putting in impressive times over such short ‘prologue’ styled time trials. If it was not for the fact he is later required to take the win on Stage 8b, then it would almost be a guarantee that he would throw everything he has got at such a short TT.

The Clash – La Vuelta a España Stage 20 Preview

With only today and tomorrow remaining of the Vuelta to decide the entire podium, it is testament to the excitement of the Grand Tour which is often considered lesser than its Italian and French counterparts. With three categorised climbs in total on Stage 20’s 187.5km ride from Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil to the ‘beyond category’ summit finish of Puerto de Ancares – expect big attacks. The long day in the mountains will suit Alberto Contador and Chris Froome nicely, as the world tunes in to see the pair duke it out ahead of the final day’s time trial tomorrow.

Vuelta-a-Espana-Stage-20-Preview

Course:

There is a lot to play for here, though to say Contador is under much pressure to defend his red jersey is not exactly the whole story. The leading Spaniard knows he can sit on the wheels all day, following the attacks and skip ahead at the death to ensure nobody gains time on him before tomorrow. Chris Froome is the real danger when looking at the profile, his Team Sky teammates will really begin to turn the screw on his rivals as they amp up the pressure on the final climb. Puerto de Ancares is unrelenting, a sharp climb which includes an 18% section early in its ascent, the sustained climb will motivate Froome to attack hard in the name of diminishing Contador’s lead before tomorrow.

Vuelta-a-Espana-Stage-20-Preview

The Showdown.

Contenders:

Though Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez and Fabio Aru are likely to make the early selection, once life gets serious upon the final climb, it should come down to Alberto Contador v Chris Froome. The two have already proven to be the best climbers here, which is incredible when you consider the injuries and conditions of which they entered the Vuelta with. Today will separate them thanks to the difficult finishing terrain, something which a Chris Froome in peak fitness would be the favourite to dominate upon. It is still unclear as to how fit the Sky man is, but assuming he is close to riding himself into top form, Contador may finally suffer considerably due to the sharp accelerations on steep slopes. So far we have watched Contador follow various wheels on the longer and more pleasant gradients, this means he can keep everyone in sight before accelerating when necessary over the ramps he treats as launchpads. This will not be as possible here as such steep sections are not the typical terrain in which we see Contador attack, though if he is locked together with Froome in the final kilometre, he could find himself attacking hard to shake the Brit off and win.

Outcome:

Should all go to plan for Team Sky, Chris Froome will take some time out of Alberto Contador and hopefully an elusive stage win too. ‘Bertie’ will not make this an easy feat however, fully aware of how hard the whole of Sky will need to work against him, Contador will ride defensively throughout before attacking once it’s ‘mano a mano’. Who knows, the Spaniard might even be happy to let Froome take the win late on if it means limiting his losses and staying fresh for the next day’s individual time trial. Regardless of who takes the stage, the real battle is for the red jersey – the battle royale starts here.

1st Froome 2nd Contador 3rd Valverde