Preview: What you need to know about the elite men’s road race at Flanders Worlds

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More than five months after the heart of the Classics season, the stars of the one-day races are back in Flanders this week to try for a world title. The 2021 UCI Road World Championships will end on Sunday with the elite men’s road race.

As always, many of the biggest names in the sport will be vying for the rainbow jersey, and this year we will have the chance to see them fight for this title in the heart of the cycling race that is the Belgium. The stage is set for a great show.

Here’s what you need to know before the race …

The road

The elite men’s road race at the World Championships covers 268.3 km, starting in Antwerp and ending in Leuven. The geography of the route is best understood when accompanied by a map, as the route jumps several times between two circuits.

After leaving Antwerp, the peloton will head south to Leuven. There, the riders will do a lap and a half on a circuit in the Louvain region, a lap on a larger circuit in the southwest that the organizers have named the Flandrien circuit, four more laps of the Louvain circuit, another lap of the Flandrien circuit, then two and a half laps of the Louvain circuit to close things.

Although the “Flanders Worlds” may be reminiscent of the Tour of Flanders, the event is directed more towards the territory of Brabantse Pijl. A continuous stream of very short but hard-hitting climbs awaits once the peloton arrives in Leuven, and the climbs accumulate until a total elevation gain of 2,562 meters. None of the climbs are that difficult on their own, but most could be a launching pad for a lone striker or a small group trying to extricate themselves from a tired pack at the end of the race.

The last ascent of the Smeysberg on the Flandrien circuit could be an interesting place for a long move twice in the final) could see the attacks fly. Regardless of the size of the leading group in the final, the finish is slightly uphill, which will add an additional element of intrigue in the final moments of the race.

It will be interesting to see how the weather affects the races in Flanders. As of Friday, the forecast calls for rain in the morning, things should clear up as the day progresses, but with the wind also picking up in the afternoon.

Favorites

While there are plenty of riders worthy of contender status for the elite men’s road race at Flanders Worlds, it should be a fairly open race without any rider enjoying a privileged status at the front of the peloton. . The nature of the route plays a big role. With two days to go, it’s hard to say if it will be a solo attacker, a small group or even a small group sprint. In addition, this is a global race, which means that national teams of different sizes will be responsible for keeping things under control, which can make things unpredictable, as we saw at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. In other words, there are a lot of names up for grabs as potential winners here.

The one that stands out the most is Wout Van Aert, who heads up a strong home team. Van Aert’s big engine, strong climbing legs and elite kick make him a potential winner in virtually any scenario, and he showed off his strong form with an impressive Tour of Britain and a second place in the individual time trial at the Worlds last Sunday. Belgian fans have reason to be optimistic with a rider who won Milan-San Remo, Amstel Gold Race, Gent-Wevelgem and Strade Bianche leading on a course like this.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) sprints to his fourth victory of the week on stage 8 of the Tour of Britain, snatching the overall title at the eleventh hour.

Additionally, the Belgians have a bit more firepower as a team than in Tokyo to chase late hits or even try something on their own. Remco Evenepoel, Jasper stuyven, and Yves Lampaert will make great lieutenants and maybe some extra cards for the team to play.

Van Aert’s longtime rival Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) is another obvious candidate. The course suits him as well, the biggest question mark being his health after dealing with back problems for some time now. That said, he won the Port of Antwerp Epic earlier this month, and he is Mathieu van der Poel, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in great shape. Despite having a quick finish himself, Van der Poel is perhaps best placed to launch a late attack, so keep an eye out for the Dutchman in the late climbs.

The defending champion, Julien alaphilippe (France), would probably have preferred a more difficult course, but if he hits a big blow in one of the late climbs, he could potentially break free. He won the Brabante Pijl last year on similar terrain, and his good performances at the Bretagne Classic and the Tour of Britain suggest he is in great shape.

Julian Alaphilippe on his way to victory at the Worlds in 2020.

Benoît Cosnefroy will give France a solid second option, with Arnaud Démare also present, hoping to hold on just in case it boils down to a bigger sprint.

Sonny colbrelli headliner for the Italian team, and he enters the race in fantastic form after winning the Benelux Tour, the European road title and the Memorial Marco Pantani. The most prestigious victories have escaped the very talented Colbrelli so far in his career, but this World Cup suits him perfectly. He doesn’t mind a rough day on the bike followed by a reduced sprint, and there’s a good chance that is the way this race is going. His teammate Mattéo Trentino makes a great backup option for Italy.

The Danes have perhaps the most interesting team in this race. In my opinion, there are no less four potential winners in the formation of Denmark, with the winner of the Tour of Flanders Kasper Asgreen open the way. Asgreen did well in the Worlds TT, finishing fourth, just two seconds off the podium. Michel valgren and Magnus cort both showcased their form with recent wins as well, and Mads Pedersen is of course a former world champion who thrives on classic grounds. If all four are feeling good, Denmark could potentially try to make or jump into moves with Valgren, Cort and Asgreen, and look to Pedersen if things end in a bigger sprint. Apart from the Belgians with the best pre-race favorite, the Danes seem to be the team most likely to win the world title, one way or another.

Slovenia also have an intriguing squad with three big names who will all try to get out of the field and avoid a sprint. Matej mohoric, who used to thrive on this terrain in the race now known as the Benelux Tour, had a great year, winning two stages of the Tour de France as well as a few other big results. And then, of course, there is Tadej Pogacar and Primož Roglič, who are much better day riders than the ones we are used to seeing among the Grand Tour champions these days.

Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič in action in the Basque Country Itzulia.

If anything, the Slovenians at least have the firepower to make this race an interesting race.

Four years ago, Pierre Sagan (Slovakia) would probably have been the number one favorite for this race, but it has been a while since he showed the kind of dominance that has made him such a strong contender throughout the calendar. Still, he’s only 31 and if he’s in good shape he certainly has the tools and the experience to be in the mix. Michael matthews (Australia) is another runner with the versatility and experience to be a competitor. Like Sagan, he would have been more of a favorite a few years ago, but he’s still a runner to watch. Australia also Caleb Ewan; it would be a surprise to see him hold on to the final, but if he can, he would obviously be a competitor in a sprint.

Other foreigners to watch out for include Tom pidcock, Ethan Hayter, and Marc Cavendish (Britain), Marc Hirschi (Switzerland), Alexandre kristoff (Norway), and Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland).

We won’t have long to wait now to see how it all plays out. The battle for the elite men’s road world title kicks off Sunday at 10:25 a.m. local time, and that evening we’ll find out who earned the right to wear the rainbow stripes for next year.


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