In recent years, the men’s road race has been almost as much of an endurance sport to watch as it has been to ride. This year might be no exception; it comprises sixteen times a 16.2km circuit through the centre of Richmond, totalling just over a whopping 259km. Most pundits are predicting that the action won’t really kick off until the penultimate lap, meaning its possible that the best part of 6 hours of cycling might pass by uneventfully. But, given the nature of the course, we want to reassure you that it will still be a gripping, thrilling road race this year. There are so many riders in with a shot at the rainbow stripes that making confident predictions is all but impossible.
On paper, the three short, sharp, and cobbled climbs of the Richmond circuit mark it out as a spring Classics-style race. Couple that with the monumental distance, and you have a race that suits one of two groups: the elite bunch sprinters, or the late-in-the-day solo attacks; look to recent classics winners for your bets. But the truth is there is a chance that the peloton might arrive en masse to the finish line, making it one for the pure sprinters (Mark Cavendish isn’t riding this year due to injury, but having been Britain’s prime pick, you’d have to think they would have been hoping for a pure sprinter’s finish). There’s also a chance that a good breakaway might catch everyone napping and make it all the way to the finish, though personally we see that as the least likely (though still possible) outcome. So who can we expect to perform well, if not steal the rainbow stripes for a year? Let’s take a look at some of the most promising teams.
Spain’s first challenge will be managing the egos of the dual leaders, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde. And given that both men are specialist climbers above all else, it’s hard to see them as key contenders this year. However, if they can sort out their personal differences, then Valverde might have a good shot at this. If he can make a late attack on the last climb then he might be able to solo away to victory, much like stage 4 of this year’s Vuelta.
Ben Swift has shown that he can mix it with the fast men of the spring classics when he finished 3rd at last year’s Milan-San Remo, behind Kristoff and Cancellara. However, he hasn’t managed to hit that sort of form since then, so it seems likely that GB will look instead to classics-style tactics with late attacks or a breakaway man. Look to the always-game Steve Cummings to attack, with Adam Yates a likely breakaway candidate. We’re also crossing our fingers as tightly as possible in the hopes that Ian Stannard can produce a brilliant victory as he did in this year’s Omloop het Nieuwsblad, outfoxing three of Etixx’s finest within the last few kilometres.
Colombia have some solid riders, but their standout man is Rigoberto Uran.
His somewhat dismal time trial performance means he’s probably been saving himself for this event. However, this isn’t a course for typically suited to him, so a late attack on the penultimate climb (the likes of which he produced in Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec recently) is the only way for Colombia to take glory.
Italy is the first of our superteams. An absolutely stellar team, they have riders that could win in any scenario you’d care to mention. Bunch sprinters like Viviani, Bennati and Nizzolo ride alongside breakaway candidates like Oss, Trentin and Felline. For late attacks on the final climbs to rival Valverde and Uran, look to Nibali (à la stage two of TDF 2014), Ulissi and Colbrelli. Italy have a real chance of success whatever the outcome, though it remains to be seen how such a team of superstars will gel, and whether they’ll want to work for one another or for themselves.
France also bringing a well rounded squad to proceedings. Nacer Bouhanni (if he doesn’t fall off or fall out with his ex-FDJ teammates) should pose a threat in a bunch sprint, and the superb Tony Gallopin, along with Demare and Simon, all have a good turn of pace themselves. Gallopin in particular looks good to get over the last climbs at the head of the race. The young Alaphilippe should also not be forgotten after his second place at this year’s Liege – Bastogne – Liege and Fléche Wallonne earlier this year.
At last, an uncomplicated team to write up! Michael Matthews will undoubtedly be Australia’s main hope, and he’ll be a key player in any sprint scenario this year. He’ll be backed up by Simon Gerrans, who could also go well as a Plan B. And we should not neglect to mention Heinrich Haussler, who rivals riders like Tony Gallopin for climbing skills and a fast kick to the line.
Strangely, the cycling media aren’t much hyping the Netherlanders this year, despite the presence of the brilliant Niki Terpstra and the pacy Lars Boom, both of whom have gone well on parcours like these. We would expect the tenacious Terpstra to hold on until the end, but a win might be a bit beyond him with such strong competition. Don’t overlook the twin powerhouses of Bauke Mollema and Robert Gesink, who may be unlikely to feature but would both love a go. And don’t be surprised if Tom Dumoulin rides on the back for this one, he’s earned an easier ride.
The most successful country in the world championships road race, Belgium bring a sensational line up to this year’s event. They have multiple options in Greg Van Avermaet, previous would champ Philippe Gilbert, and the extraordinary Sep Vanmarcke (after his unlucky classic campaign, could this be his chance at a big win?). Never rule out Belgian’s hero Tom Boonen, either, even if it is ten years since he last pulled on the rainbow stripes. If the more experienced guys aren’t on form or miss out on the moves, then the young Tiesj Benhoot, who looks to be the next big thing in Belgian classics, could steal the day.
Two big, hard, fast men in André Greipel and John Degenkolb are the backbone of Germany’s team. Degenkolb is the obvious favourite for Germany, and one of the overall favourites in this race, after his Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix double this year. But Greipel can ably make it up the climbs, and he also won the recent Vattenfall Cyclassics. The lead out train could be messy with these two fighting it out for best wheel.
Zdeněk Štybar is the Czech man of choice, and he has a hell of a chance in this race. He won’t win in a sprint, but he’s more than capable of winning from a long or late attack, like he did on stage 6 of this year’s Tour de France.
J.P. Drucker has really stepped up in his first year in the Pro Tour. He won the Ride London-Surrey Classic event this summer and was in the mix for the sprints at La Vuelta. A man who can also handle the cobbled climbs of northern Europe, those looking for tall odds on an outside bet might fancy a flutter on Drucker.
Sadly, there’s very little chance of a win for any of the home riders. Team U.S.A will be riding for Tyler Farrar, but he’s never truly been up there amongst the best of the best. It’s either Tyler or Taylor, and as Taylor (Phinney) is returning from injury, he will most likely lack the power at the crucial final moments. Probably not a year for the U.S.
Luka Mezgec and Grega Bole are both outsiders worth mentioning, but its almost unforeseeable that they should win, given the strength of competition. If the rest of the peloton has a bad day, then Slovenia might then steal this. Otherwise, top ten is the viable goal.
Alexander Kristoff is the big favourite for this, alongside Degenkolb. He won the recent GP Ouest France – Plouay and finished in the top three at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Vattenfall Cyclassics. He looks to have the form when it matters, and has previously proven himself on similarly long and testing terrain. Edvald Boasson Hagen is a Option B, and is also showing great form following his win at the Tour of Britain
Daryl Impey could be an interesting bet. He sprinted well at the Vuelta, but comes with only two teammates to help him, so it’ll be tough. But he’s canny and opportunistic, and could find himself in with the main bunch or in a late group of attackers.
What’s the largest font size in which I can write PETER SAGAN without it being too obnoxious? Never mind, you get the point. Allow yourself to imagine every conceivable outcome for this race, and it’s hard to find one that rules out Sagan. He can tackle these sorts of climbs with the best of them, has one of the best sprints in the peloton, can follow moves without much of a team to support him, and is one of the most consistent podium-placers in the pack. This would be huge for Sagan, and he must be desperate for a taste of rainbow jersey success to prove his worth to the cycling world. But there are more likely candidates in each possible outcome, so we may well see Peter “Always the bridesmaid” Sagan on second or third step once more.
…those are the most likely candidates, though we have, of course, named a huge range of riders and scenarios. It’s time to for us to bite the bullet and have a stab at predicting the outcome to this thing, so here goes nothing:
For James, it’s John Degenkolb to steal the show from a much diminished bunch.
Andy has followed similar reasoning, but is opting for the Aussie Michael Matthews.
Chris is hoping Peter Sagan will follow the right moves and get himself into the right attack for a last minute dash to victory.
Let us know who you think has what it takes to win, especially if they don’t feature on our exhaustive list. See you on the other side of the world champs!