BRUGES, Belgium (VN) — The streets are buzzing here this weekend for the start of the 2021 UCI road cycling world championships.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease, fans are packing into bars and getting primed as the world’s fastest cyclists converge on Belgium’s holy ground.
With Paris-Roubaix waiting in early October, it should make for a thrilling week of racing.
There’s a different air at the world championships. Riders race in their national colors, fans are more boisterous, and the tactics can sometimes play across national and trade-team allegiances.
On the line is perhaps cycling’s most prestigious garment — the rainbow jersey.
Up first are the time trial events. The schedule was juggled for Flanders 2021, with the time trials moving up to the previous weekend, and the mixed-relay race slotted into mid-week, giving “worlds week” more heft in Sunday-to-Sunday racing schedule.
VeloNews will have its full team of reporters and photographers on the ground in Flanders all week, covering all the news, rivalries, winners and drama.
So what’s our take on the opening time trial events? Let’s round-table!
Who are your favorites for TT gold, and why?
Andrew Hood @eurohoody: I know there’s a lot of hype surrounding the possibility that the ‘two Vans’ could pull the elusive rainbow double, winning both the time trial and road race world titles in one worlds. But I don’t think either Wout or Annemiek will win. The parcours is simply too flat for van Vleuten, and Marlen Reusser should come up aces. The men’s race is going come down to seconds. Rain also could be a factor, and I’m tipping Filippo Ganna to knock back van Aert.
Jim Cotton @jim_c_1985: The “two Vans?” Bah, I say it’s going to be a “Swiss special!” Stefan Küng is made for parcours like that on tap for the men Sunday. The Swiss steamroller flattened the European championship TT last weekend and looks to be hitting form at just the right time. Ganna spent a lot of training time focusing on the track through summer and though he came close in the road TT in Tokyo, I can’t see him defending the rainbow this weekend.
And then I reckon Marlen Reusser could steal the show in the women’s race Monday. She’ll be in for a tough challenge after van Vleuten crushed the Olympic TT, but again, like her compatriot Küng, Reusser has hit form just when it counts after winning in Trento last weekend.
Sadhbh O’Shea @SadhbhOS: I’d like to say something wildly different to my colleagues but the writing seems to be on the wall for the time trials. In the men’s race, it looks likely to be a face-off between Filippo Ganna and Stefan Küng. After finishing second to Küng at the Europeans, I think the Italian will come up trumps Sunday. In the women’s, it’s between Marlen Reusser and Ellen van Dijk for me. Both riders relish the flat, straight courses where they can lay down the power, but in the end, I think it will be Reusser that takes the rainbow.
What’s your take on the mixed relay event?
Jim: Why not?! I’ve not really got my head around it and become fully absorbed by it just yet, but I think it’s good that the UCI and IOC are willing to experiment and try new things. Cycling is a very conservative sport and “radical” new ideas like a mixed relay can often get thrown in the waste-paper bin by stuffy officials. I’ll be interested to see how it goes Wednesday and hope that at least a half-dozen teams give the event a serious push so it has a chance to gain traction.
Hood: I have to admit, at first, I was skeptical because it seemed a bit contrived and a tad political. The IOC is pushing mixed events as future Olympic status, and it seemed to me that the UCI was trying to earn some points. What convinced me otherwise is how enthusiastic the cyclists are about the event. Right now, it seems limited to a handful of nations, so let’s see how fully it’s embraced inside the peloton.
Sadhbh: I still haven’t been won over by the mixed relay but it is only a matter of time. The event at the recent European championships, where Italy smashed the competition to take the win, was exciting to watch and there is plenty of potential in this format. I think the swap needs to be ironed out so that it isn’t just a guy with a flag and it would be great to see a few more big nations really get stuck into it.
Should the pro team time trial be back?
Sadhbh: I love a good team time trial and really enjoyed it when it was a part of the world championships for a short while. I wish there were more team time trial events in cycling as a whole, but I always felt the trade team element at the worlds felt a little out of place. The world championships should be for national squads, rather than trade teams. I like the current format of racing brought in for the Flanders worlds and I’d like to see the mixed relay given a chance to develop. Leave the team time trial on the sidelines, for now at least.
Hood: I was a big fan of the pro team time trial. Personally, I think team time trials are much more engaging and interesting to watch than individual time trials, yet the UCI yanked it to make room for the mixed-relay race. Not every WorldTour squad put everything into the team time trial, but the ones that took it seriously turned it into one of the most highly contested and important races of the season. I say bring it back.
Jim: I love to watch team time trials and wish there were more of them in general in racing. They always did come as a bit of an anomaly in the worlds, however, and no doubt caused some friction between national federations and trade teams in the tug-o-war over key riders (Belgium and Jumbo-Visma with van Aert, for example).
The only problem is the huge disparity in the WorldTour teams’ focus on, and investment in, time trials. A team with top-spec gear and a lot of cash to plow into wind tunnel sessions etc is always going to go better than even the most talented lower-budget squad.
Anyway, now that Jumbo-Visma has van Aert, Primož Roglič, Rohan Dennis, Tom Dumoulin, Tony Martin, and Edoardo Affini is there even any point?!