Full look ahead to the elite men's and women's road race events at the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar
For the first time in five years, the best and brightest sprinters across the men’s and women’s elite pelotons go into the World Championship road races with a genuine hope for victory.
When the announcement was made that the 2016 Worlds would be held in Doha, Qatar, it was expected – given the nature of the nation’s terrain – that the road races would be flat affairs geared towards large bunch finishes. And, as expected, both the men’s and women’s routes between them contain not a single categorised climb.
Given the rarity of the opportunity, most of the world’s top sprinters have spent the last weeks and months preparing for what could be their only chance to win a rainbow jersey.
Men’s road race
Sunday, October 16
Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) has already won a road race world title, fulfilling ‘Project Rainbow Jersey’ the last time the men’s road race boiled down to a bunch sprint in 2011 at Copenhagen. His resurgence in the Tour de France sprints during the summer arguably put him to the top of contenders for the Worlds, although stomach problems have compromised his run-in to the big day.
The rider who finished third behind Cavendish in Copenhagen, André Greipel, will again be one of his major rivals. His mixture of form, stamina and toughness means he looks the best pick in a talent-filled German line-up that also includes Marcel Kittel (who is lacking form with only one win in the past two months) and John Degenkolb (who has been playing catch up all season following his horrific training camp crash in January).
Defending champion Peter Sagan (Slovakia) may lack Cavendish and Greipel’s top sprinting speed, but given his extraordinary form will still be considered a huge threat.
Other sprinters to look out for include Alexander Kristoff (Norway), a reliable performer who tends to go well in the big races; Nacer Bouhanni (France), if he can put in a clean sprint and avoid disqualification, and his French teammate Arnaud Demare if he can rediscover his Milan-San Remo-winning form; Caleb Ewan (Australia), if he can handle the lengthy 275km distance, and his teammate Michael Matthews (Australia).
Finally, the prodigiously talented Fernando Gaviria (Colombia), who proved that there’s more strings to his bow than just sprinting by winning last weekend’s Paris-Tours with an astonishing solo attack in the final kilometre.
Of course, this being the Worlds and therefore such a long, competitive race, there’s still the possibility that the expected sprint finishes.
Much has been made of the excessive heat in Qatar, which will be significantly energy-sapping even if it isn’t considered hot enough for the races to be shortened. But it’s the windy conditions and potential crosswinds that could really shake up the race – especially in the men’s race where the riders will spend the early part of the race along exposed roads in the desert.
Teams like Belgium – with Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet and a rider very experienced in such conditions in the shape of Tom Boonen – could seek to make the race hard early on and put the sprinters under pressure.
Despite having on-form sprinter Dylan Groenewegen at their disposal, the Dutch could also potentially adopt such a strategy, especially with powerful rouleur and recent Eneco Tour winner Niki Terpstra set to ride.
It could also be in the interests of traditional superpowers Italy and Spain to make the race hard and unpredictable in order to give their outside bets like Elia Viviani and Juan Jose Lobato a better chance. But for all of these teams it will be difficult to cause terminal splits, especially given how canny and adept in these conditions most of the top sprinters hoping to win are.
Recent men’s world champions
2015 Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
2014 Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)
2013 Rui Costa (Portugal)
2012 Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)
2011 Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)
2010 Thor Hushovd (Norway)
2009 Cadel Evans (Australia)
2008 Alessandro Ballan (Italy)
2007 Paolo Bettini (Italy)
2006 Paolo Bettini (Italy)
Women’s road race
Saturday, October 15
Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) will ride her first Worlds as ‘Deignan’ rather than ‘Armitstead’, and will attempt to defend the title she won last year. She possesses a fast enough finish to have a chance if the race does indeed end in a sprint, but will not be favourite against the purer sprinters.
Giorgia Bronzini (Italy) was the winner of the women’s elite road race in Copenhagen, the last time the race was decided by a mass sprint, but hasn’t shown the kind of form recently to suggest she’s capable of earning herself a third career rainbow jersey.
Instead, the quickest sprinter on the start list is probably Kirsten Wild (Netherlands). Without having to worry about getting her powerful frame over any hills, the route suits her brilliantly, and she’ll be difficult to beat in a sprint if she can remain in contention – as happened at Ride-London a few months ago.
Among the sprinters capable of beating her are Jolien d’Hoore (Belgium), who, having spent the first half of her season preparing for the Olympics omnium, is back on fire on the road again having won the Madrid Challenge in September; and Chloe Hosking, who is on form having recently won the Gran Premio Bruno Beghelli and finished second behind d’Hoore in Madrid, and will be backed up by an Australian team full of other options including Tiffany Cromwell, Gracie Elvin and Katrin Garfoot.
Much will depend on how the Dutch opt to ride. In Wild they have a sprinter very capable of winning, but they also possess what looks to be comfortably the strongest teams, and could make for a more selective race if they feel their best chance lies in utilising their strength in depth.
Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen, multiple classics winner Chantal Blaak and, of course, two-time World Champion Marianne Vos are all capable of disrupting the race with explosive attacks, even on such flat terrain.
Another rider who may be eager for a more selective race is Emma Johansson. The Swede, who is due to retire at the end of the season, will be desperate to finally land a Worlds title having finished on the lower steps of the podium three times in the last seven editions, and may have to ride on the front foot to have a chance. Similarly, Lisa Brennauer (Germany) narrowly missed out to Pauline Ferrand-Prevot in Ponferrada 2014, and is unlikely to want to the race to sleepwalk into a bunch sprint.
Recent women’s world champions
2015 Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain)
2014 Pauline Ferrand Prevot (France)
2013 Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
2012 Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
2011 Giorgia Bronzini (Italy)
2010 Giorgia Bronzini (Italy)
2009 Tatiana Guderzo (Italy)
2008 Nicole Cooke (Great Britain)
2007 Maria Bastianelli (Italy)
2006 Marianne Vos (Netherlands)