WORLDS’21 The PEZ Preview: Who Can Take the Rainbow?


Worlds Road Race Preview: The biggest one-day race on the calendar, the World Championships are in Flanders this Sunday and has one of the strongest fields on a tough course of Flemish ramps. Ed Hood gives us his thought on the ‘Rainbow Race’.

worlds20 alaphilippe
Alaphilippe again?

The official website tells us:
After the start on the Grote Markt in Antwerp, the peloton leaves for Leuven, with a passage in Official Village Keerbergen. Arriving in Leuven, the final unfolds on the local circuit (4 hills) and the Flandrien circuit (6 hills):
1.5 x local circuit Leuven,
1 x Flandrien circuit
4 x local circuit Leuven,
1 x Flandrien circuit
2.5 x local circuit Leuven.
The finish line after this tough race is on the sloping Geldenaaksevest.
Elevation: 2,562m
Distance: 268.30km


Got that? Me neither but in a word, CHALLENGING with some 40 climbs – and the TV producer will keep us right, we hope.

But down to business, who’s gonna do the BUSINESS?

We thought we’d wander through the start sheet by nation. . .

Australia: has won the race once in the past thanks to Cadel Evans, this year they have to look to Michael Matthews, he’s twice stood on the Elite podium with bronze in Bergen 2017 and Richmond silver in 2015. He’s perhaps not as ultimately quick as he was but after a tough race like this one is going to be we can see him there or thereabouts – but not as a winner.

Matthews – Maybe not

Belgium: is ‘Record Nation’ for the Professional/Elite Worlds with 26 wins, most recently with Philippe Gilbert in 2012. The parcours is made for a home, ‘Classicer’, BUT who? Wout Van Aert is one of our four ‘super favourites’ – with his silver medal in the Worlds Time Trial doing nothing to diminish that status – not forgetting his dominant Tour of Britain but Belgium’s perennial problem can be summed up in one word; ‘unity’.

Wonder Boy and TT bronze medalist, Remco Evenepoel will strongly fancy his own chances and Jasper Stuyven didn’t win the Primavera because he’s not got a race like this in his legs. I’d love to be at the pre-race team briefing and study the facial expressions. And if you hear a journalist ask a rider if he’ll ride for so-and-so team mate and he replies; ‘the road will decide.’ That means; ‘No!’

xpedo cxr pedalbanner with Brian McCullough

It has to be Wout – Or does it?

Denmark: has won the race but once, thanks to Mads Pedersen on a truly horrible day in Harrogate, England in 2019. And they have the same problem as Belgium, who’s the ‘Capo’? Pedersen can’t be ruled out; Magnus Cort is on fire – see the Vuelta stage results, Michael Valgren is back from the dead with back to back Italian semi-classic wins whilst E3 and Ronde winner Kasper Asgreen is a beast of a man. The Danish mentality is different to that of the Belgians and they should work as a team, but. . .

Magnus Cort is part of a strong Danish team

France: is third in the nations ranking of Worlds wins on nine with cavalier defending champion, Julian Alaphilippe unlikely to surrender that maillot easily; he won the Flèche and was second at Liege so the repeated sharp climbs will hold few fears for him. However, should he stumble and over stretch himself then France’s ‘coming man’ is ‘Clark Kent doppelganger’, winning Plouay and Jura winner in recent weeks, Benoit Cosnefroy.

Alaphilippe suited the rainbow hoops

GB: has won this race twice thanks to the late, great Tom Simpson and the publicity magnet that is Mark Cavendish in Copenhagen in 2011. Cav rides again as part of a strong British team but will be in a team role on this parcours; small but sensational Olympic Mountain Bike Champion, Fleche Brabançonne winner and Amstel runner-up, Tom Pidcock looks to be their man. But will he be tired from his first Grand Tour in Spain or will that special physiology of his have ‘super compensated’ and he’ll fly? We’ll know on Sunday.

Tom Pidcock – Maybe peaked for the Olympics

Germany: has also twice won the Worlds but you have to go all the way back to 1966 and the late Rudi Altig to find the last time they won. Max Schachmann is quality but their ‘Man’ is more likely to be big, recent Tour of Germany winner, Nils Politt who has stepped up a level this year and whose attacking style will be suited to the spikey profile.

Nils Politt could be ‘the man’

Italy: is second in the list of winners with 19 but Alessandro Ballan’s 2008 is slipping further and further away. However in Sonny Colbrelli we have our second, ‘super favourite’. I remember being at the Worlds in 2014 and Colbrelli was touted as a favourite but he lived up to his reputation of flopping on the big day. This year he’s different, he’s found that, ‘big ride temperament’ with Italian and European titles to his name. Caveats? That could be Matteo Trentin, devastated Worlds silver medallist in 2019 – however, the Squadra Azzuri generally rides as a cohesive unit, national pride does matter to the Italians.

Colbrelli – Italian ‘super favourite’

The Netherlands: is fourth in the rankings with seven wins but it’s a long way back to ’85 and Joop Zoetemelk stealing away solo almost within sight of the line. This team does, however contain our third, ‘super favourite’ in the shape of tall and versatile Mathieu van der Poel, we thought that his hard landing in the Olympic Mountain Bike Race was the end of his season. However, the recent Antwerp Port Epic debunked that theory as the big Cyclo-cross World Champion looked to be back to near his best. Just remember to eat this time, Mathieu – not like at Harrogate ’19. . .

MvdP – Is his back up to it?

Portugal: has won the race with Rui Costa in 2013; a race still the subject of bar room debate – did Valverde stab compatriot Rodriguez in the back that day in Florence? João Almeida has to be considered on Sunday – he’s been strong all year with his dominant GC win in Poland the high point.

João Almeida – Strong all year

Slovakia: has won this race three times on the bounce thanks to a certain Peter Sagan – and he’s back for 2021. His season was compromised by his crash in the Tour de France but two second places in Slovakia recently mean that you dismiss his chances at your peril.

Peter Sagan – World champion No.4?

Slovenia: has never won the race with Andrej Hauptmann’s 2001 bronze as close as they’ve come. However, that could change as we nominate our fourth and final, ‘super favourite’ in the tall, lean shape of Tour de France winner, Tadej Pogačar.

But there’s more!

This nation of just 2.1 million souls also fields another two men who it come as no surprise if they won, Vuelta winner, Primoz Roglič and double Tour stage winner, Matej Mohorič who could become the first man to win the junior, u23 and elite world titles. And they don’t just have three of the race favourites, they have strong back up in the shape of men like Jan Tratnik and Luka Mezgec.

Pogačar and Roglič – Which?

Spain: has won the race on six occasions with ever green Alejandro Valverde defying Old Father just three years ago. The ‘Green Bullet’ doesn’t ride this year due to a broken collar bone and as far as Spain’s chances go, like the record company A&R men say; ‘I don’t hear a single’ but one for the future is INEOS’ Tour de l’Avenir winner, Carlos Rodriguez, we like the cut of his jib.

Carlos Rodriguez – We like the cut of his jib

Switzerland: has won the race three times, most recently in the shape of Oscar Camenzind in 1998. But in Marc Hirschi they have a man whose form is coming to the boil at just the right time – and don’t forget that he was third last year. And on the subject of Worlds bronze, European iTT Champion, Stefan Küng was third in the 2019 Harrogate horror.

Hirschi Bauke Mollema
Hirschi – Coming into form

United States: Greg Lemond and Big Tex have given the USA three wins in the race and Olympic Road Race hero, Brandon McNulty is a man who should be in the mix.

McNulty for USA

One name?


# ‘Worlds Race Report’ on Sunday and all the news in ‘EUROTRASH’ and the ‘BREAKDOWN’ on Monday. For live action go to SteepHillTV. #

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