Mark Cavendish just misses out on victory in the men's road race, placing second behind defending world champion Peter Sagan at the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Qatar
- Photos by Graham Watson

Peter Sagan (Slovakia) successfully defended his world road race title on Sunday in a thrilling men’s race in the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Qatar. Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) placed second in the sprint from a compact lead group.

Tom Boonen (Belgium) placed third to complete the podium after his team had animated the day’s racing over the flat 257.3-kilometre route in the desert around Doha. A split in the bunch saw the win contested from a small group rather than the anticipated full-on bunch sprint, with several big names missing out on the decisive move.

Sagan was clearly delighted to take his second consecutive world title and to spend another year in the coveted rainbow jersey.

“I don’t believe it, I’m still in shock,” said Sagan after the finish. “I am very, very happy because in the crosswinds I was the last rider in the lead group. I felt like the final sprint was in a headwind, so I felt like I went from a little while back. It’s unbelievable.

“I have the biggest group of fans here and I have to thank all of Slovakia because I feel they give me a lot of energy here.”

Seven in the break
Seven riders formed the day’s first escape group, after around 10km of racing: Anas Ait El Abdia (Morocco), Natnael Berhane (Eritrea), Rene Corella (Mexico), Nick Dougall (South Africa), Sergiy Lagkuti (Ukraine), Brayan Ramirez (Colombia) and Ryan Roth (Canada).

The septet quickly forged a decent margin over the peloton, who were happy to let them go. The gap stretched out to well over 11 minutes after 30km of racing as the riders headed north out of Doha.

The British and German teams were visible at the front of the peloton as it looked like the riders were all settling in for a long day. Things were soon to change, however, as the race turned at Abu Yazoul to head south and into crosswinds.

Great Britain in the Elite Men's road race at the 2016 World Road Championships

Great Britain at the front in the early stages of the race

Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan was one of the first to drop off the pace, and so too, surprisingly, was British powerhouse Ian Stannard. As the urgency of the race picked up there were a couple of crashes, with Luke Durbridge (Australia) falling hard with Colombian sprint hope Fernando Gaviria colliding with him. It was the end of both riders’ participation.

Split in the bunch
The Belgian team wound up the pace into the winds, causing the peloton to shatter with 150km to go in what would turn out to be the defining moment of the day. Several of the big nations were caught out – some teams were left with only one or two in the lead group, others missed out entirely. Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands had only one or two riders present. Cavendish had only British team-mate Adam Blythe for company.

The majority of classics specialists were there in the 26-man group including Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium), Sagan, Niki Terpstra (Netherlands), Boonen, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway), Michael Matthews (Australia) and Alexander Kristoff  (Norway) among them. Elia Viviani (Italy) and Cavendish were the most notable pure sprinters.

Belgium escapes in the Elite Men's road race at the 2016 World Road Championships

Belgium lead the front group

With the advantage of numbers, the Belgian team continued to pace-set the lead group. The remnants of the break were caught with 145km to go, and the front group’s gap grew to a minute and then to two minutes as they hit the seven 15.2km finish laps on The Pearl.

Frustration was clear among the riders caught behind the lead group, notably German trio André Greipel, John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel, and French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni. At one point, Degenkolb aired his grievance on Belgian Jens Debusschere, who was on the receiving end of a soaking from Degenkolb’s water bottle.

After chasing hard in the heat, Degenkolb and Kittel both dropped out inside the final 50km, looking completely spent.

Luka Mezgec crashes in the Elite Men's road race at the 2016 World Road Championships

Luka Mezgec was one of those caught up in crashes

With 40km, the lead group had gained another minute over the dwindling number of chasers, pushing their advantage out to three minutes. Into the final two laps of The Pearl, Italy were sharing the pace-setting with Belgium, with Australia, Norway and Britain just behind. The impetus of the chase faded and it was clear the winner would be decided from the front group.

Belgium still lead
Into the final lap, the lead group was strung out behind the remaining Belgian riders. As the Belgian workers dropped out one by one, Italy moved to the front inside the final 10km.

Terpstra was the first to try and launch an attack inside the final 5km, but was quickly snubbed out. Fellow Dutchman Tom Leezer then launched a move with 2.3km to go and opened up a gap. Head down, teeth gritted Leezer put everything into his effort as there was some hesitation behind.

With Leezer caught in the final 500 metres, the leading contenders started to open up their sprints with Sagan taking the victory by a bike length over Cavendish, who had swerved around Matthews and lost some momentum.

Men's road race map, 2016 World Championships

Men’s road race map, 2016 World Championships

>>> 2016 UCI Road World Championships: Latest news, reports and info


Elite men’s road race. 257.3km
1. Peter Sagan (Slovakia) in 5-40-43
2. Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)
3. Tom Boonen (Belgum)
4. Michael Matthews (Australia)
5. Giacomo Nizzolo (Italy)
6. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
7. Alexander Kristoff (norway)
8. William Bonnet (France)
9. Niki Terpstra (Netherlands)
10. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) all same time
12. Adam Blythe (Great Britain)