The year’s world championships head to Australia, with a familiar list of contenders to take the rainbow jersey in this weekend’s elite road races.
This year’s UCI World Road Championships are taking place in Wollongong, Australia. The festivities kicked-off Sunday with the elite individual time trial events (won by the Netherlands’ Ellen van Dijk and Norway’s Tobias Foss) and continue throughout the week with events for juniors and under-23s.
But while we love getting to know the sport’s future stars, the best races to watch are this weekend’s elite women’s and men’s road races, with the winner of each event earning the right to spend the next calendar year wearing the rainbow jersey as the reigning world road race champion.
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Here’s a run-down of everything you need to know:
The elite women and men will race 164.3km and 266.9km, respectively, with both events starting in Helensburgh—a small town about 28 miles south of Sydney–followed by a long ride down the coast on the Grand Pacific Drive—the Australian version of California’s Pacific Coast Highway—to the city of Wollongong.
After crossing the finish line in Wollongong, both fields will tackle one lap of a 34.2km circuit taking them up and over Mount Keira (8.7km @ 5 percent). This isn’t the hardest climb the riders have faced this season, but it’s a long drag with a steep pitch in the middle that hits 15 percent. It could force a selection in the women’s event—especially if the race’s deeper teams ride a hard tempo.
A long descent takes everyone back to Wollongong where the women will tackle 6 laps of a 17.1km “city” circuit. This smaller circuit features the shorter but steeper Mount Pleasant (1.1km @ 7%) climb, which should be the strategic focal point of the finale. The riders will summit this for the final time just 8km from the finish line, making it the perfect place for a late-race attack. The men’s race follows a similar pattern, but ups the distance by covering 12 laps of the city Wollongong circuit.
While we’ve been wrong before, we don’t expect large groups to sprint for the win in either event, as Mount Pleasant offers a perfect launchpad for punchier riders to escape. It could all come down to who attacks and who’s responsible for leading the pursuit. The Dutch women and the Belgian men have the strongest teams in their respective events, and if someone makes a move and they’re unable or unwilling to organize a cohesive chase, we could see an upset winner—which isn’t uncommon in an event where riders aren’t racing with their usual trade teams.
How to Watch
If you signed-up with FloBikes ($150/year or $12.50/month) during the Spring Classics and never canceled your subscription, you’re in luck: it’s the only legal way to stream the race in the USA and Canada. Both the men’s and women’s events will be available live and on-demand via FloBikes.com, the FloSports IOS app, and the FloSports app for Amazon FireTV, Roku, and Apple TV.
With the races taking place in Australia—which is 14 hours ahead of New York City–the timing lends itself to late-late-night Friday and Saturday night viewing parties–especially if you live on the West Coast. The women’s race starts at 10:25 p.m. EDT and should end around 3 a.m. early Saturday morning. The men’s event starts earlier—at 8:15 p.m. EDT—but ends around the same time Sunday morning.
We’ll probably watch the start of both races, then head to bed–after turning off our phones to protect ourselves from spoilers sent by West Coast friends. Before we check our social media feeds the next morning, we’ll make a pot of coffee and fire up the FloBikes replay to watch the excitement on delay.
What Happened Last Year
Last year’s events were held in Flanders, with the road races starting in Antwerp and concluding with a series of circuits in and around Leuven, a university town in the Flemish province of Brabant. On Saturday, Italy’s Elisa Balsamo outsprinted the Netherlands’ Marianne Vos and Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma to win the elite women’s road race. Balsamo’s teammate, Elisa Longo Borghini, tried to attack on the final climb, but after getting caught, ended-up leading out Balsamo instead.
On Sunday, France’s Julian Alaphilippe defended his title from 2020, attacking an elite group of riders that included pre-race favorite Wout van Aert (Belgium) 20km from the finish line to take an impressive solo victory. Four riders escaped in pursuit of the Frenchman, but finished half a minute down, with the Netherlands’ Dylan van Baarle outsprinting Denmark’s Michael Valgren to take the silver medal.
Alaphilippe is competing in this year’s race, but after a season marred by two serious crashes, isn’t expected to contend for a third consecutive title.
Riders to Watch
Annemiek van Vleuten (the Netherlands) – Van Vleuten, who won the world title in 2019, is once again the top favorite. The soon-to-be 40-year-old has had a fantastic season, winning the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Giro Rosa, the Tour de France Femmes, and the recent Cerazit Challenge. She’s known for long-distance attacks–like the one she launched to ride into the yellow jersey on Stage 7 of the Tour de France Femmes–so don’t be surprised if she goes on the offensive early to try and surprise the competition.
Marianne Vos (the Netherlands) – We could probably list every one of van Vleuten’s teammates as a contender–the Dutch team is just that strong–but we’ll stick with only one: Vos, who’s won just about every women’s race on the calendar including world titles in 2006, 2012, and 2013. Winner of two stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France Femmes–and four stages at the Tour of Scandinavia in August–her best chance to win would come in a sprint.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) – Longo Borghini is a Classics specialist who’s adept at winning one-day races like Strade Bianche, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda (twice), and the Tour of Flanders. Winner of this year’s Paris-Roubaix, she’s the top non-Dutch contender.
Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) – If it weren’t for the unlucky fact that her career coincided with an era of Dutch dominance, Niewiadoma would probably have won just about every race on the women’s calendar by now. Instead, she’s often forced to settle for podium spots and top-5 finishes–like her bronze medal in last year’s race in Leuven. But she’s always a contender, and if the Dutch and Italian squads spend too much time marking one another, she could escape for the win.
Wout van Aert (Belgium) – Perhaps the most talented Classics rider in the sport, van Aert has so far come up short when it comes to winning the biggest events on his wish list: the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and Worlds. After winning three stages, the green jersey, and helping his team win yellow at the Tour de France, the Belgian got right back to work, with a win and three top-5 finishes in the four races he entered to prepare for worlds. The only knock against him is the fact that he’s the overwhelming favorite and no one will cooperate with him in the finale.
Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) – The two-time Tour de France champion took some time off after finishing second in this year’s Tour, but positioned himself as a worlds favorite by outsprinting van Aert to win the recent Grand Prix cycliste de Montréal. While known for his stage racing prowess, Pogačar is one of the world’s best all-round cyclists and has wins in races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia, and Strade Bianche to prove it. And without Primož Roglič on this year’s Slovenian squad, Pog has the full support of his teammates.
Mathieu van der Poel (the Netherlands) – After abandoning the Tour de France, some question marks emerged about the Dutch superstar’s fitness. But the two-time winner of the Tour of Flanders has won the last three races he’s entered and looks ready to contend for the rainbow jersey on a course that’s perfect for him.
Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) – After winning the Tour of Spain two weeks ago, we wouldn’t have been surprised if Evenepoel called it a season. But the 22-year-old went straight to Australia and won the bronze medal in the individual time trial. On paper he’s riding for van Aert, but we suspect he’ll be given more of a free role and could take advantage if teams let him escape.
Since getting hooked on pro cycling while watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship in Philadelphia, longtime Bicycling contributor Whit Yost has raced on Belgian cobbles, helped build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux as an assistant director sportif. These days, he lives with his wife and son in Pennsylvania, spending his days serving as an assistant middle school principal and his nights playing Dungeons & Dragons.