Preview of Riders Who Can Win the 2011 Road Race World Championship
Robert Prezioso/Getty Images
The 2011 UCI Cycling World Championships will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark from September 19th, 2011 through September 25th, 2011. The Men's Elite Road Race will occur on Sunday the 25th, and is considered one of the most prestigious races on the calendar each year. The winner gets the honor of wearing the World Champion's Rainbow Jersey for the next year, and a victory in the Worlds often serves as validation for an already accomplished rider.
Two years ago in Switzerland, Cadel Evans won and silenced rumors that he lacked the gear necessary to win the largest races. The two seasons since Evan's victory have been his most successful seasons ever, culminating in his recent 2011 Tour de France victory. Last year Thor Hushovd won the World Championships in Australia, and has enjoyed his year in the Rainbow Jersey, winning two stages at the Tour de France and wearing the overall leader's jersey for seven days.
The strongest and most deserving rider usually wins the World Championship Road Race. This year's race is 266 kilometers in length and is widely expected to finish in a bunch sprint. There is little climbing this year, although each lap, and consequently the race, ends with a short uphill section. It is possible that the race will be decided by a reduced field sprint, but expect a big name rider with a fast sprint to the finish to stand on the top step of the podium and be presented with the Rainbow Jersey. Rarely is there an unexpected World Champion, and here are eight riders to watch out for on Sunday the 25th, followed by my prediction.
Tyler Farrar winning on July 4th at the Tour de France
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Tyler Farrar enters the 2011 World Championship Road Race as the best chance the United States has at a medal due to his significant sprinting skill. The American may not beat Mark Cavendish regularly, but the World Championship Road Race is not about regularity, but who crosses the line first on September 25th in Copenhagen. Tyler Farrar has proven that he can beat Cavendish and the rest of the world’s elite sprinters at the largest races in the world, best exhibited by his Stage 3 win at the Tour de France this year.
He will be supported by a reasonably strong American team, including Matthew Busche and Benjamin King, respectively the current and former USA Road Race Champions. Farrar lacks a true lead-out man, but his largest concern will be staying right on Mark Cavendish’s wheel and hoping he has the power to come around Cavendish at the finish. Farrar’s only chance at a medal or the Rainbow Jersey will be in a bunch sprint, because he lacks the climbing ability to stay with a small group, so watch for his American team to help Great Britain pull back every breakaway.
Why Farrar could win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Farrar is widely considered by many to be the second best sprinter in the world behind Mark Cavendish, and he has the potential to beat him at this race.
- The American team will not have the same pressure as Germany, Spain, Great Britain, or Italy in the final 5 kilometers, therefore they will likely be fresher in the final kilometer and could ideally place Farrar for a sprint.
- Farrar is skilled at racing and sprinting in adverse weather conditions. Denmark is not exactly known for being sunny and warm in late September, so the advantage could tip towards Farrar if the weather is cold or rainy.
Why Farrar may not win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Farrar is widely considered by many to be the second best sprinter in the world behind Mark Cavendish, and being second best in the World Championships is not good enough.
- Farrar has not delivered any great results since the Tour de France.
- Farrar will be lacking an ideal lead-out man in Copenhagen.
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
The Italians have the second most World Championship Road Race wins behind Belgium, and have the most medals in the history of the event; therefore no list would be complete without mentioning an Italian. Daniele Bennati’s 2011 season has been somewhat disappointing, but he enters the Worlds as Italy’s undisputed leader. Bennati’s highlight this year was winning Stage 20 of the recent Vuelta a España, although Bennati’s season has been more defined by 2nd-4th place finishes. Italy brings a powerful squad of riders who are capable of controlling the entire race, and Daniel Oss is an ideal lead-out rider. Bennati has the form and experience to win a medal, but there are doubts whether he has the ability to win the Rainbow Jersey.
Why Bennati could win the 2011 World Road Race:
- The winner of the Worlds has traditionally performed well at the Vuelta a España, and Bennati ended his campaign with a victory in Stage 20 and a second place in Stage 21.
- Italy has the team to deliver a win, and its coach, Paul Bettini won the Rainbow Jersey on three separate occasions; therefore there is no doubt that Bennati has the support structure for success.
- There are quite a few Leopard-Trek riders, Bennati's professional team, in the World Championship Road Race, and if it becomes clear that their nation cannot win the race, the Leopard-Trek riders may work for Bennati so the team can have the Rainbow Jersey in its ranks next year.
Why Bennati may not win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Bennati has yet to beat Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar and André Greipel head to head this year.
- Bennati will not be a member of any elite select group of riders, therefore if he is to perform well, there must be a field sprint.
- The Italian team has many riders who could themselves perform well or perhaps win the race. If things start to go poorly for Bennati, he could quickly lose the support of his team.
Matthew Goss at the Tour of California
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Matthew Goss will lead the Australians in Copenhagen. Goss had an exceptional beginning to the season, winning a stage and finishing second overall at the Tour Down Under, winning stages at the Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice and winning cycling's longest one-day race, Milan-San Remo; however other than a stage win at the Tour of California, he has not had a stellar second half to the season.
Do not let his lack of recent success signal that he is not a dangerous rider, though. The course will suit him, because he has the climbing ability to make any small group selection and a powerful sprint, especially uphill. His Australian teammates include veteran riders Stuart O’Grady and Michael Rogers, who will control the peloton and keep Goss protected until the decisive moment of the race; while Simon Gerrans and Heinrich Haussler will represent Australia in breakaways and could prove essential if the race is decided by a reduced field sprint.
Why Goss could win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Goss is one of the few riders who is capable of winning both a bunch sprint and a reduced field sprint in Copenhagen.
- Goss’s Australian teammates have the experience necessary to deliver Goss to victory.
- Goss won Milan-San Remo this year, which is the one day classic most similar to this year’s World Championship Road Race.
Why Goss may not win the 2011 World Road Race:
- In a bunch sprint Goss will have to beat Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar, and Andre Greipel, something he has not proven he can do.
- In a reduced field sprint he may not have the legs to stay with riders such as Gilbert, Hushovd, or Sagan when they attack from a longer distance.
- Goss comes into the race without any recent form.
André Greipel at the Tour de France
Michael Steele/Getty Images
André Greipel may be the most powerful sprinter in the world. The German, nicknamed the Gorilla, is a pure muscle sprinter who wins races with brute strength. Second to only Mark Cavendish for total victories in the past three seasons, Greipel won Stage 10 of the Tour de France this year and has shown some decent form by winning two stages of the recent Eneco Tour.
The German and his national team have not received the same attention from the press as Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, or Spain, but the Germans come to Copenhagen with an incredibly powerful team. Their roster includes many seasoned sprinters and lead-out riders. Greipel’s final lead-out man will be Danilo Hondo, a veteran rider who has guided many sprinters to success. Greipel’s chances in this race depend entirely on his team; if the team puts him in a good position for his sprint then Griepel has a great chance at winning, but if they are unable to place him in the top two or three riders when the sprint starts, do not expect to see Greipel’s name in the top 15.
Why Greipel could win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Greipel will be supported by arguably the best lead-out train in the race.
- Greipel will be more comfortable with his lead-out train, as he has ridden with many of them over the last two years, whereas Mark Cavendish will be supported by a new lead-out train. This level of familiarity and understanding may be the difference.
- Greipel is probably physically the strongest rider in the race, and if Germany can put him into the lead position for his sprint, it will be very hard for anyone to come around him.
Why Greipel may not win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Greipel is even less adept at climbing than Cavendish and Farrar, so there is a good chance he will be left behind in the climbs.
- Greipel has not traditionally performed well in one day races where the pace is higher and a rider has to keep their wits about them for five or six hours straight.
- Greipel will not win if he is not in the top two or three riders when the sprint starts. The slight uphill finish will work against him, so it is essential that Greipel be at the front when the sprint starts.
Peter Sagan at the Tour of California
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Peter Sagan, at age 21, may be the dark horse of the 2011 World Championships. He has won sprints against the likes of Thor Hushovd and Daniele Bennati, challenged Cadel Evans and Damiano Cunego on mountains, and his descending skills would even impress his teammate Vincenzo Nibali, who is widely regarded as the best descender in the pro peloton.
He is particularly adept at winning small bunch sprints without extensive lead-out trains, and many think that this year’s World Championships will be decided in just such a sprint. Sagan has recently won three stages that the Vuelta a España and two stages en route the winning the Points Classification and and the overall race lead at the Tour de Pologne.
Why Sagan could win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Sagan will make the final selection and then out-maneuver the remaining sprinters who will be left without teammates.
- The World Championship Road Race course is never a straight-forward sprint finish, and Sagan thrives in races that are not textbook races.
- Sagan has displayed the best current form of all the contenders. He recently out-sprinted some of the best sprinters in the world at the Vuelta…twice…and these sprinters were supported by lead-out trains.
Why Sagan may not win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Sagan has yet to prove that he can win a sprint against Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar, and André Griepel, and until you beat all three at once, you are not an elite sprinter.
- Sagan shows his age by attacking too early and he gets pulled back by the lead-outs of one of the elite sprinters.
- Sagan forgets about Phillippe Gilbert, who can climb much better than Sagan and can sprint almost as well.
Thor Hushovd winning stage 16 of the Tour de France
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Thor Hushovd, the reigning World Champion from Norway, had a quiet beginning to the season but he put together an impressive second half, winning stages at the Tour de Suisse and the Tour of Britain, along with an impressive campaign in July where he captured two individual stage wins, was a member of the winning team time-trial squad, and wore the overall leader’s jersey for seven stages at the Tour de France.
Hushovd won last year’s World Championships with a dominant sprint from a reduced peloton. He will be supported by the super domestique Edvald Boasson Hagen, and the Norweigan team will be under no pressure to control the race. Norway’s team strategy should be relatively straight-forward; launch Boasson Hagen in the last lap or two in order to make the race incredibly difficult and force the other teams to chase down Boasson Hagen's attack. Ideally, Boasson Hagen’s attack will create an elite selection of contenders who will be isolated from their teammates which would allow Hushovd to launch his attack on the slightly uphill section 500 meters from the finish line.
Why Hushovd could win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Uphill sprints are a strength for Hushovd, and the final 500 meters is slightly uphill.
- Norway will have no responsibility to control the race, and as such Hushovd can simply follow wheels until his attack.
- Hushovd knows how to win a World Championship, something which none of his rivals other than Óscar Freire can claim.
Why Hushovd may not win the 2011 World Road Race:
- If the race ends with a bunch sprint, which Italy, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, and the United States all want, then Hushovd has almost no chance since he can no longer keep up with the best sprinters of the world and he will have no lead-out.
- Hushovd was left off the Garmin-Cervelo Vuelta a España roster because he is moving to team BMC next year, and as a result of this exclusion he may not have the form to win.
- A group gets up the road which is composed of riders that pleases the big countries, and therefore they do nothing to pull the group back in. Or worse, Boasson Hagen gets into the group that stays away, and Hushovd has to tell the cameras why his teammate’s win pleases him, which he already had to do once this year at Paris-Roubaix.
Phillippe Gilbert beating the Schlecks at Liège–Bastogne–Liège
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Phillippe Gilbert may not be a pure sprinter, but the Belgian rider has won just about every race he has entered this year. With Tom Boonen’s injury, Gilbert will be the undisputed captain of one of the strongest teams at the World Championships. Gilbert has shredded the peloton this year with late attacks, and it seems regardless of the terrain, the riders competing, or Gilbert’s form, that he still seems to come out on top. The Belgian team is strong enough to control the race, but their goal will be clear; ride hard enough that the other big teams lose some of their riders so that when Gilbert attacks there will be less riders working to chase him down.
This year’s course does not perfectly suite Gilbert because the little climbing in the race is too far from the finish for Gilbert to launch his usual attack from two or three kilometers out, but do not expect that to stop Gilbert. Perhaps watch for Johan van Summeren, Greg van Avermaet or Björn Leukemans to attack in the last two laps and for Gilbert to bridge up and work with that rider(s) until the final climb.
Why Gilbert could win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Gilbert has been on fire this season. He clearly has the form to win, and most importantly, he has the confidence that he can win just about any race he enters.
- The Belgian team is largely made up of riders from Gilbert’s Omega Pharma-Lotto team, therefore he will know how to get the most out of his team.
- If the race is decided by a small bunch sprint, Gilbert will have a great chance of winning by attacking the group on the slight up-hill which leads to the finish.
Why Gilbert may not win the 2011 World Road Race:
- Gilbert will have no chance at winning if the race is decided by a mass sprint.
- The big nations will each have devised a strategy for pulling back any Gilbert attack. His power may work when the finish is on a climb, but it is a lot harder to win by yourself on a flatter course.
- The teams will race like this will be a sprint finish, which plays against Gilbert’s strategy. Gilbert has won against individual riders this year, and less against a team of riders. If the teams stay together for a sprint finish, Gilbert will be hard-pressed to make his inevitable attack work.
Mark Cavendish in the Great Britain colors at the London-Surrey Classic
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Mark Cavendish was the early favorite when the course was announced and remains one of the riders most likely to inherit the Rainbow Jersey. Cavendish will be supported by a full complement of eight riders, including Geraint Thomas, the best lead-out man competing in the race. The British team has the strength and experience to control the last 10 kilometers and deliver Geraint Thomas and Mark Cavendish to the ideal position for the sprint, and once Cavendish, affectionately known as the Manx Missile, launches his sprint, no one can catch him.
Cavendish won five stages at this year's Tour de France, and has shown recent form by taking two stages at the Tour of Britain. Cavendish will be the most watched rider by the other teams, and much of the responsibility of controlling the race will be placed on his Great Britain teammates.
Why Cavendish could win the 2011 World Road Race:
- No one is faster in the last 200 meters than Cavendish.
- Geraint Thomas can keep an incredibly high speed in a sprint lead-out that Cavendish will be able to pick his ideal time and terrain to start his sprint.
- Cavendish can probably count on one hand the amount of times someone has come from behind him to win a sprint.
Why Cavendish may not win the 2011 World Road Race:
- The 266 kilometer distance may be too much for Cavendish.
- If Cavendish gets dropped on one of the climbs, the other nations will come to the front and ensure he does not catch back up.
- Geraint Thomas is a fantastic lead-out man, but he is not part of Cavendish’s normal lead-out, and therefore the timing between the two may not be ideal.
Expect to see Peter Sagan's arms raised in Copenhagen
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Riders I Overlooked:
- Óscar Freire: the leader of the Spanish team has won the World Championship Road Race on three separate occasions. He has the full backing of the Spanish team, one of the powerhouse teams of the race, but Freire is quickly approaching the end of his career. He has stated that if he does not win the 2011 Road Race World Championship that he will retire; therefore it is likely that Sunday the 25th will be the last time that Freire races professionally.
- Lars Bak: Bak will lead the Danish team in Copenhagen, and the team will want a decent showing on their home soil. However, the Danish hopes were significantly diminished after Matti Breschel was declared unfit to ride due to injury. Bak is their next best option, but do not expect a lot from the team in the Road Race.
- Romain Feillu: the French sprinter animated sprints at the Tour de France and had a decent 2010 World Road Race, but injuries have hampered his preparation, and it is likely he and the Frenchman and his team will not be a significant factor.
- Denis Galimzyanov: the young Russian's 2011 season has been impressive but has lacked a marquee win. He may be present in the finale, but do not expect better than a top five from Galimzyanov.
How I see the race playing out:
There will be a smattering of breaks, composed of riders from smaller nations, over the first 200 kilometers. The last 50 kilometers will be when the action begins to pick up. The last 2 laps will see the formation of a select group of racers, and many of the pure sprinting teams will lose important members of their lead-out trains. A reduced field sprint will occur with the following placings
3) Phillilppe Gilbert
2) Matthew Goss
1) Peter Sagan