Allowing interruptions only for the Second World War, this year will see the centenary edition of the UCI Road World Championships.
Returning to the heartland of cycling, they’ll take place in the Flanders region of Belgium from Sunday 19th September to Sunday 26th September 2021.
Covering time-trial, road race, and mixed relay events, Julian Alaphilippe and Anna van der Breggen will be looking to defend their road race titles. Against the clock, Filippo Ganna returns as a favourite, while Van der Breggen will look to close her incredible career with a simultaneous defence of both TT and road race titles.
Hosted in Belgium, you’d expect there to be a few of the region’s legendary climbs like the Oude Kwaremont or the Muur van Geraardsbergen.
However, haggling over the €3 million asking price to host the event means that unless you’re a particularly keen student of the somewhat obscure Brabantse Pijl race – won this year by one Tom Pidcock – you’re unlikely to recognise any of the climbs. Still, at least the race isn’t in Doha.
Instead, the road race routes comprise an unrelenting onslaught of small hills which will combine to grind down the racers. With only around half the climbing of the 2020 World Championship races held in Imola, Italy, the course nevertheless looks to favour the kind of durable Classics specialists that did well last time around.
With no under-23 or junior races contested last year due to a Covid-reduced schedule, 2021 also sees a return of a full line-up of events. Read on for key details, course previews, and our pick of the favourites…
Flanders UCI Road World Championships 2021: Key information
Dates: Sunday 19th September to Sunday 26th September 2021
Location: Flanders, Belgium.
UK television coverage: Live coverage on BBC and Eurosport – full guide TBC
Flanders UCI Road World Championships 2021: Full race programme (timings TBC)
Day 1: Sunday 19th September: Elite Men’s Time Trial – 43.3km
Day 2: Monday 20th September: Men U23 Time Trial – 30.3km and Elite Women’s Time Trial – 30.3km
Day 3: Tuesday 21st September: Junior Women’s Time Trial – 19.3 km and Junior Men’s Time Trial – 22.3 km
Day 4: Wednesday 22nd September: Mixed Team Relay – 44.5km
Day 5: Thursday 23rd September (no events)
Day 6: Friday 24th September: Junior Women’s Road Race – 73.7km and Men’s U23 Road Race – 162.6km
Day 7: Saturday 25th September: Junior Men’s Road Race – 119.4km and Elite Women’s Road Race – 157.7km
Day 8: Sunday 26th September: Elite Men’s Road Race – 267.7km
How to watch the UCI World Championships 2021: Full schedule for live TV and highlights TBC
Flanders UCI Road World Championships 2021: Route maps and profiles
Elite Men’s Road Race Course
With 42 Flandrien climbs, most of which we’ve never heard of, plus a baffling combination of repeated and interlinking circuits, the 2021 World Champs road race course is a hot mess.
Not that we expect it to pass off in anything other than seamless and exciting style, it’s just that it requires a several page PDF to explain how it makes its way from the start line in Antwerp to the finish in Leuven.
However, the main things to be aware of are that it accumulates 267.7 kilometres and 2,562 vertical metres before concluding on Leuven’s slightly uphill Geldenaaksevesta. Relentlessly up and down, despite missing out on the region’s genuinely famous hellingen (climbs), the course has the sort of profile you’d expect of a hilly Belgian Classic.
Offering a vast number of attack points, after a straightforward 56km from Antwerp to Leuven, this is how the organisers describe the route:
‘Arriving in Leuven, the final unfolds on the local circuit (four hills) and the Flandrien circuit (six hills). The route itself comprises 1.5x local circuit Leuven, 1x Flandrien circuit, followed by 4x local circuit Leuven, 1x Flandrien circuit, and 2.5x local circuit Leuven.’
See, we’re not just lazy; it’s madness. Happily, for both the racers and fans watching on TV, this convoluted route isn’t going to make much difference to how the racing unfolds.
Elite Women’s and Men’s U23 Road Race Courses
The route for the Elite Women and Men’s U23 road race is marginally less complicated. Again beginning with a straightforward 56km (62km for the U23 men) ride to the town of Leuven, this is followed by 1.5 laps of the 15.5 km finishing circuit (four hills per lap), a single 50km lap of the Flandrien circuit (five hills), and finally another 2.5 lap re-run of the finishing circuit.
Flanders UCI Road World Championships 2021 Time-Trial Courses
Starting alongside the North Sea in Knokke-Heist, the time-trial course turns inland after one and a half kilometres. Almost entirely flat, even once off the coast, it will still be the wind rather than the minimal altitude gain that likely causes the most difficulty. Passing through fields and along canals, the men’s and women’s routes are mainly similar.
Taking in 43.3km and a tiny 78m of climbing, the men get an extra 13km trip down the Boudewijn Canal on their way to the finish in the fairytale town of Bruges. Taking in an even more diminutive 54 metres of climbing, the 30.3km women’s race is similarly flat and untechnical.
Forced by Covid restrictions to switch from Switzerland to Italy at short notice, the 2020 World Championships in Imola still provided some exceptional racing. Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen first won the time-trial before easily seeing off Annemiek van Vleuten and Elisa Longo Borghini in the road race.
With Italian Filippo Ganna comfortably winning the Men’s time-trial ahead of Wout van Aert, the Belgian was again beaten into second in the road race by Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.
With a curtailed schedule seeing no under-23 or junior races contested last year, the riders who won their jerseys at the World Championships held in Yorkshire in 2019 will carry them into this year’s races.
Results and defending champions from Imola 2020
Men’s Road Race
Julian Alaphilippe (FRA)
Wout van Aert (BEL)
Marc Hirschi (SUI)
Men’s time trial
Filippo Ganna (ITA)
Wout van Aert (BEL)
Stefan Küng (SUI)
Women’s road race
Anna van der Breggen (NED)
Annemiek van Vleuten (NED)
Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA)
Women’s time trial
Anna van der Breggen (NED)
Marlen Reusser (SUI)
Ellen van Dijk (NED)
Favourites Men’s Road Race
With Classics specialists now winning stages in mountainous Grand Tours, and plenty of GC riders that you wouldn’t bet against in one-day races, there are many riders in contention.
However, although a Pogačar or a Carapaz could provide an upset, it does look like a course made to offer home fans and Classics aficionados the sort of racing and results they enjoy.
Wout van Aert
A Belgian winner for a Belgian World Championships? There seem few reasons not to put Wout at the head of the bunch. Having stayed the course at the Tour and grabbed a couple of incredible wins, no one worked harder in the Olympic road race. Through luck and hard work, he’s also having a slightly better season than rival Mathieu van der Poel.
By his incredibly high standards, Alaphilippe might not be having his most outstanding season. However, having sat out the Olympics and not ridden the Vuelta, there’s little cause to suspect he won’t be in a position to defend his rainbow jersey.
Mathieu van der Poel
The Dutch rider is a favourite in everything he enters. However, following a crash during the Olympic MTB race, he’s been struggling with back problems. Already forced out of the mountain bike World Championships, his father has suggested he may skip the rest of the season to concentrate on racing cyclocross this winter.
At 21 years old, Evenepoel could still spend another couple of years riding in the U23 event. Instead, he’s a contender in the Elite race. Part of the powerful Belgian squad, he’s had a quiet season but seems to be hitting form at the right moment with an overall win at the Tour of Denmark.
It’s not like Pedersen won the biblically attritional 2019 World Championships by fluke. However, he somehow doesn’t get the billing he deserves. Yet when he wins, he tends to do so emphatically. Looking to be in good form; there’s no reason he couldn’t get a second world title in Belgium. Working in conjunction with fellow Dane Kasper Asgreen, either could be a good shout.
Not much fancied by the bookies, you wonder if they perhaps missed him winning gold in the Olympic mountain bike event. Currently having a slightly torrid time in the Vuelta, assuming he doesn’t knacker himself in Spain, the course would look to suit the 22-year old who’s well accustomed to racing in Belgium, especially considering he outsprinted Van Aert to win Brabantse Pijl earlier in the year.
Favourites Women’s Road Race
Annemiek van Vleuten
The strongest Dutch rider in both the Olympic time-trial and road race, 38-year-old van Vleuten has had two consistently excellent seasons. Perhaps the narrow favourite ahead of her compatriot and current champion Anna van der Breggen, luck and tactics could decide which of them comes out ahead in the road race.
They’ll also need to make sure they know how many riders are in the breakaway.
Anna van der Breggen
A double winner last year, Dutch rider Van der Breggen returns as a joint-favourite in both races. Having elected to retire at the height of a stellar career, her Olympic campaign resulted in a bronze medal in the time-trial.
Still looking to create the incredible finale to a remarkable career, she’ll have support from a monstrously talented squad and an excellent win at the Giro behind her.
The American national time trial champion is likely to figure in both the road race and time-trial. At the 2019 World’s, she not only won the race against the clock by a ridiculous margin but also looked among the strongest in the road race a few days later.
Since struggling with injury and an ill-advised schedule at the recent Olympics, it’d nevertheless be unwise to discount her.
Elisa Longo Borghini
A twin champion in Italy, Longo Borghini has had a strong season without a truly outstanding result. Consistently placing solidly in one-day races and riding to bronze at the Olympics, it’s not impossible to imagine she’s been gearing up for a late win.
A consistent performer who scored sixth in both the Olympic road race and time-trial, German rider Brennauer is also a dual national champion. Second at this year’s Tour of Flanders, the terrain on offer in Belgium will also suit her.
Favourites Men’s Time-Trial
With a long enough gap between races, there’s little reason not to attempt both the road race and time-trial. However, it would seem to be the TT that best suits Roglic. Appearing once again to have the better of compatriot Pogačar against the clock, Slovenia has nominated him to try to get the win in the time-trial.
Who wouldn’t love to see a returning Dumoulin win? Second at the Olympics, the TT looks to be his sole focus at the World Championships.
The defending champion is a powerhouse who should enjoy the flatter course, having struggled in Tokyo. It’s not like he lacks form. At the same event, he won the gold medal in the team pursuit and helped the Italian’s set a new world record in the process.
Wout van Aert would be another choice, but seeing as Dennis will throw everything at the time-trial rather than dividing his efforts, we’re going with him.
Favourites Women’s Time-Trial
Anna van der Breggen
The returning champion will have a clearer shot in the time-trial than the road race, where they’ll be no possibility of having to soft-pedal in the bunch behind an escaped teammate. At the same time, her compatriot Van Vleuten took a minute out of her at the Olympics. Whatever happens, it’s likely to be a close race.
Annemiek van Vleuten
The biggest time-trial of the year so far went to Van Vleuten and by quite some margin. Either by accident or design, she’s avoided racing Van der Breggen since, making it hard to judge their comparative form.
Recovering from injury, Dygert’s Olympic schedule saw her riding road, TT and track. Resulting in a single bronze medal in the team pursuit, it’s probably less than she’d have hoped for. With plenty of time between events this time around, there’s no reason to assume she can’t perform in both.
Perhaps it’s a bit rude to not include Kiesenhofer among the road race favourites. An Olympic gold medalist in the road race, the Austrian rider was nevertheless better known as a time-trialist until her win in Tokyo. Incredibly still an amateur, she’ll be an outside bet and an exciting rider to watch if she rides in the TT.
World Championships 2021 Confirmed Line-ups
Men’s road race:
Women’s road race: