Words by Jordan Cheyne
The Men’s World Championship Road Race begins in the ancient city of Lucca, Italy on Sunday and rolls out of the region’s medieval walls and through the Tuscan countryside towards the stunning finishing city of Florence. The route will undoubtedly be one of the most beautiful in recent memory and it will definitely be one of the hardest.
Count on seeing Firenze’s famous Duomo more than a few times during the tv broadcast.
The grueling 2013 Worlds course will total more than 270 kilometers and almost 4000 meters of climbing. The race will have all of the climbing of a Tour de France mountain stage but will require all of the stamina, tactical guile and technical ability of one of the Spring Classics. Predicting the action on such a course is difficult but one thing is for certain, the 2013 Worlds will be one to remember.
That’s a lot of climbing no matter how you look at it.
The initial journey from Lucca to Florence is a little over 100km and will not offer the riders any chance for an easy warm-up. The roads are winding and undulating from the start and there are 4 steep categorized climbs beginning at the 33km mark. The battle for a berth in the day’s early breakaway will be incredibly intense and the riders lucky enough to make it will be in for a rough ride. The peloton and the main contenders will likely ride comfortably for most of this run-in and reserve the real firepower for the 10 decisive finishing circuits around Florence.
Each lap will begin with the 4.5km climb to Fiesole, which averages a 5.2% gradient with a maximum slope of 9%. Despite its modest gradient the Fiesole is almost certain to become the main battleground of the race. The roads leading into the climb are narrow which could lead to a warp-speed battle for position before every ascent. On this course, with its constantly winding and undulating roads, late breakaways will be hard to chase effectively. This means that when legs tire and the race favourites are isolated, any unattended attacks on Fiesole could well dictate the outcome of the race. The climb cannot be underestimated: Stage 9 of this year’s Giro D’Italia tackled Feisole only once but blew the race apart completely while taking Canadian Ryder Hesjedal out of overall contention.
After a gradual descent, the race will confront a steep 600m ramp to Salviati before tackling a rolling final 5km to the flat finish in the center of Florence. If a group of contenders are together coming off the race’s final descent from Fiesole, expect to see an explosive display on the Salviati climb that could produce a winning gap.
So who will win the day on such a universally demanding course? This type of race usually favors either a talented climber with an explosive kick or an all-around strong man who can climb all day. Unfortunately for the prospective gambler, this year’s Worlds features dozens of riders who could fit that bill. Here is my best attempt at separating the contenders from the pretenders.
The Top Favourites:
Fabian Cancellera (Switzerland): Cancellera is a man who can do everything and anything on a bike, and if he gets a 50m advantage anywhere in the last 50km of racing he is gone.
Judging by his strong bronze medal ITT ride as well as his recent Vuelta performance and he is lean, mean and even capable of winning a group sprint. How do you beat that?
Daniel Martin (Ireland): Personally I am surprised at the long odds (25/1) Martin has been given for Sunday’s race. He won convincingly on a comparable course in Liege in April, won a Tour de France stage in July and was recently seen wreaking havoc on the climbs of the Tour of Britain.
Who could forget Dan Martin’s great win at LBL earlier this year ahead of Rodriguez and a panda?
He has at least two strong climbing teammates in Nicolas Roche and Phillip Deignan, so his team shouldn’t be underestimated. Place your bets, you could score a big payday on this lanky Irishman.
Peter Sagan (Slovakia): Sagan seems to be the name on everyone’s lips for this race. He has won almost at will all season and most recently took a stellar win at the Grandprix de Montreal on a very hilly parcours.
Why not the World title for Sagan? He seems to have won everything else this year.
Sagan’s superior strength can’t be questioned but his relatively weak team and climbing stamina over 7 hours of racing are both suspect. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a celebratory one-handed wheelie at the finish line in Florence.
The Powerhouse Teams:
Spain: With names like Valverde, Contador, Rodriguez and Moreno all on board Spain has an embarrassment of talent in its Worlds lineup. Any one of those
explosive climbers could take the Rainbow Jersey, but it will take a concerted effort for Spain to launch a man clear of the likes of Cancellera and Sagan in the finale.
Italy: Italy’s main man is Giro winner and Vuelta runner-up Vincenzo Nibali who could indeed triumph on home turf if he finds the right form on Sunday. You can bet that team boss and 2 time Worlds winner Paolo Bettini has other tricks up his sleeve too with names like Paolini and Pozzato capable of winning from a breakaway.
If Nibali is to get the gold for the home team on Sunday he’ll have to come up with some better tactics than leading out the whole Belgian team in the finale like he did last year.
Colombia: It might come as a surprise but Columbia could be the “powerhouse” team of this year’s race. If this race is decided going uphill Team Colombia may be the ones forcing that decision. Captain Nairo Quintana showed ripping form in Britain last week while men like Henao, Uran, Betancur and Acevedo are ideally suited to a long, hilly parcours. Expect a swarm of explosive activity perhaps a historic Worlds podium performance from the young Colombians.
Australia: For the Aussies it will be all about Cadel Evans. In Evans favour is the fact that he won the 2009 Worlds road race on a similarly challenging course in Mendrisio, Switzerland.
Cadel soloing away for the win in Mendrisio.
Unfortunately it is hard to put faith in Cadel these days, as he seems to find more bad form than good. His recent win in Alberta was a good sign but he will need to be at another level to win in Florence.
Great Britain: Team GB probably boasts the most well rounded roster for such a variable parcours. Chris Froome will be supported by the big engines of Wiggins and Stannard as well as a cast of talented climbers. Can Froome dominate a one-day like he dominated the Tour? It is hard to tell. But it does seem like when Froome wants something he usually gets it and he seems very motivated to pull the rare Tour-Worlds double.
Belgium: Last but not least is the team of the incumbent world champion Phillipe Gilbert. Gilbert has some solid teammates in Van Avermaet and Bakelants but this isn’t the dominant Belgian squad of years passed. Gilbert has a chance of sticking a move on the course’s steep climbs but he will need to find his long lost winning form to do so.
Outside the big teams there are still perhaps a dozen other contenders to think about. Riders like Edvald Boassen Hagen & Robert Gesink have shown solid form of late and could certainly strike it right. Finally, there is Chris Horner who shocked everyone to win the Vuelta at almost 42 years of age. Surprisingly, the American is still without a contract for 2014 but a set of rainbow stripes would likely solve that problem.
A World Champion’s jersey for Horner to go with his red one from the Vuelta?
Keep it tuned to PEZ for all the latest reports photos and roadside action from the Worlds as we hit the ground in Florence – it should be huge!