The World U23 RR only dates back to 1996, when Giuliano Figueras led a 3-up Italian EPO-fueled beat down of the race. The first 3 winners (Figueras, Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Ivan Basso) rode for Zalf-Euromobil, led by Luciano Rui, during those years while 1999 winner Leonardo Giordani rode for dope-rich DS Olivano Locatelli. The racing stayed dirty through wins by Evgeny Petrov and Yaroslav Popovych, podium places by Thomas Dekker and podium rides by anonymous Russians that disappeared into the background.
In more recent years, the results have been all over the place. Some races have been crapshoots. I'm thinking 2007 Stuttgart where a small bunch sprint came to the line and making it through multiple crashes for the win was...Peter Velits, then by no means unheard of as he had won the GP Fourmies 2 weeks prior. Finishing 11th that day? Juraj Sagan. 108th? Alexander Kristoff.
Others featured a shooting star that flashed incredibly bright before going dormant. I'm looking at you Romain Sicard. The now Europcar rider won the Tour de l'Avenir thanks to some French scheming and then in Mendrisio, he attacked and blew by Egor Silin to take an amazing solo win. I might have to stop poking fun at him because he did just get 13th in the Vuelta but I mean, you have to admit his first 4 years as a pro were anonymous.
Then sometimes the stars aligned. 2010's Worlds in Melbourne saw the big 3 finish on the podium as Michael Matthews took the home win ahead of John Degenkolb and Taylor Phinney. Not to forget Arnaud Demare was 5th and Sonny Colbrelli 6th. (Sorry Guillaume Boivin for excluding your half-podium with Phinney.) Also, 2006 in Salzburg; wunderkind Gerald Ciolek formed a breakaway with Robert Gesink, Francesco Gavazzi, Jelle Vanendert, Romain Feillu and the outlier dopebag Alexander Khatuntsev (So good for one year, got a big contract and bombed). They ended up holding off the bunch including Edvald Boassen Hagen and Mark Cavendish and Ciolek took the sprint. 8 professionals in the top 10 in that race.
This race can be a crapshoot or a seeing glass into the future. So let us take a look at the course then to see if it will be leaning towards a crapshoot or a future Elite Worlds podium.
I've lost some sleep trying to think about who this course is suited for. Okay, not really but this is a challenging course to try and figure out. This is a medium-difficulty course that could suit a few different types of riders. The riders will tackle a 18.2 kilometer circuit 10 times that will feature 2 climbs on each circuit as well as a downhill final 3 kilometers, which is the same finish the TT had.
These two climbs include the Confederacion climb and the Mirador climb. The Confederacion climb is 5 kilometers in length but only half of that is much of a gradient and the whole climb itself is an average of 3.3%. The max gradient is a mere 8.7%, which isn't something to scoff at but it is nothing sustained. The Mirador has some stronger gradients with a maximum of 10.7% and average of 5.5%. While the gradients are a bit stronger, the length is just 1.1 kilometers. The course isn't a sprinters paradise but it isn't quite as hard as last year's course. Hmmm...
My two cents...I'm thinking a group of 6 to 8 gets away in the finale including a couple of fasts guys and they stay away until the end.
The Who's Who
That means every last country god damn it because what if you have questions about Algeria? or Rwanda? Who will be there for you? Not CyclingNews, that is for damn sure. We shall start from the top of the start list, which was made official today.
- Slovenia might be the defending champs because of Matej Mohoric but they will have a tough time repeating. Luka Pibernik could get into the top 10 but I don't think the future Lampre rider will be contending for the win.
- Belgium is coming in as one of the contenders for the win as they seem to have a weapon for every situation. Tiesj Benoot is their most versatile weapon as he is brilliant on the attack, can climb with nearly anyone on these type of climbs and shows himself off in any sprint. If the race turns out to be more of a straight-up sprint, they have Jasper De Buyst. Need some attacking climbers? Loic Vliegen and Dylan Teuns. Throw in classics rider Kenneth Van Rooy and Floris De Tier, and you have a damn strong team.
- As of right now, Thomas Boudat is my favorite to take the rainbow stripes. The compact sprinter who switches between the road & track and reminds many of Bryan Coquard seems to be the perfect fit for this course that sits between difficult and easy. He is backed up by a strong team in Loic Chetout, Quentin Jauregui, Pierre-Roger Latour and Kevin Ledanois, who won the Tour du Jura 2 weeks ago.
- Russia had a good l'Avenir with Foliforov and Rybalkin going top 5 overall and if the course becomes more selective then they are the two best bets for a high finish. If it sticks together, it will be Evgeny Shalunov who can mix it up in the sprint for the Russians.
- Colombia comes in with one of the strongest teams. Tour de l'Avenir winner Miguel Angel Lopez crashed in the TT but should be ready to attack on the hills here. If there is any sprint, Pan-Am Champ Fernando Gaviria is their best bet for a the win.
- Is Sondre Holst Enger going to show up for Norway here or is he going to just ride an anonymous race? Because he has some amazing talent but this year, besides some Norwegian races, he hasn't been his 2013-self. If Enger can't get his shit together, Katusha recruit Sven Erik Bystrøm and Kristoffer Skjerping will be there for a sprint-type finish. For the hills, they have Odd Eiking and Sindre Lunke. My problem with this team? Not always consistent. They could have the best team on paper but then they finish just so-so.
- While Stefan Küng might be a little disappointed from his bronze in the time trial, he still will have his eyes on the road race. Just like he did in the European U23 RR, he could try and attack near the end to steal a huge win here. Lukas Spengler was in great for earlier this year in some hilly Italian races so maybe he can bring some of that to Ponferrada?
- Will Mathieu van der Poel be able to pull off a shock result at the Worlds with a vicious attack on the final lap? Maybe. Or you know...maybe not. Mike Teunissen is the most seasoned rider on the team but after some injuries this year, his form is just coming back but he did win the Rabo Baronie Breda Classic last week in a mass sprint.
- I love Magnus Cort's attitude. He was quoted as saying this weekend that he was racing for the win and that he would rather attack, go out front and be brought back than ride in and be content with a top 10 finish. Hell yeah. Because 5 years from now, who is going to remember that you got 7th place in the U23 Worlds RR? No. Not even me. You know who was 7th in the 2009 race in Mendrisio? I hear crickets. It was Yevgeni Nepomnyachshiy. I know everyone talks about his ride from that race. If Cort fails, there are the Kragh brother, Asbjørn and Søren, who are good for attacks and Asbjørn has a good sprint on his as well.
- Australia comes in as the hot favorite with wunderkinds Caleb Ewan and Robert Power. Ewan will be hard to overcome as he is a sprinter that can climb well and get over climbs most sprinters can't. Power will get bored, flick it into the big ring and make everyone bleed out their eyes. Put in TT Champ Campbell Flakemore, climber Jack Haig and workmen Sam Spokes & Alex Clements and then you have a damn strong team. I think they will be disappointed if they don't come out with at least a medal.
- For Great Britain, it will depend on who is in form. I think Tao Geoghegan Hart can make the front group but I doubt go for the win. If Owain Doull is in good form then he could go for the podium; if not, then it could be a bit disappointing. I think this course is a bit too much for Dan McLay and his sprint.
- After an anonymous l'Avenir, Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev has a lot to prove. Is he legit or was he a one-hit wonder? He finished 2nd in the Tour Bohemia to Lukas Pöstlberger and seems to be riding well. Maxat Ayazbayev is riding along on a quiet year and it just seems like Kazakhstan will be a team that will be riding there with the front group but not really showing themselves.
- Austria is one of my dark horse teams. They have both Lukas Pöstlberger and Gregor Mühlberger. Pöstlberger had a 60 kilometer solo breakaway at the Tour Bohemia to win while Mühlberger was 11th in the 1.HC Tre Valli Varesine and won the Trofeo Piva Banca earlier this year, which had a hilly course that suits a breakaway, a similar situation to this course. The dark horse of the dark horse team is Michael Gogl, who was 15th in l'Avenir and was 4th on a stage there that had a hard finale with a climb in the final couple kilometers.
- Is this going to be Silvio Herklotz's year to win U23 Worlds. The uber-talented German has had a quiet summer but this is a course that seems to suit him to a T. It has climbs but they are not super hard and even if it comes down to a select sprint, he has a great turn of speed. If the race sticks together and more sprinters hang on, Jan Dieteren can offer a bigger turn of speed that Herklotz. And let's not forget Ruben Zepuntke, who seemed to turn a corner at Tour of Alberta. He packs a sprint at the end of a classics-style course that could be good use.
- If Tanner Putt got a top 10 here for the USA, I would be sooooooo happy.
- *Cue my talk about Davide Martinelli needing to focus on sprinting.* Seriously though, if Martinelli can hang over the climbs then he could stick it to many in the sprint. I'm not talking out of my ass. A top 10 is possibly. Luca Chirico is known to hang on during hilly races and then be around for the sprint at the end and climbs better than Martinelli. Mass sprint? Federico Zurlo. Climbs weed some people out? Iuri Filosi and Gianni Moscon are there but they lack a bit finishing kick; they rely on solo breakaways moves from 20-30km out.
- Hmmmm Portugal has some good riders. Rafael Reis is obviously a strong TT rider after his 4th place on Monday. Ruben Guerreiro is probably their best bet for a strong result but maybe top 20?
- Well I hope Spain has a respectable showing at home. I'm rooting for Mikel Iturria (my Basque love showing) but not expecting too much from the homeboys.
- I doubt Ryan Mullen can come anywhere near his U23 TT result from Monday but Jack Wilson is probably the best bet for a strong ride.
- Alex Kirsch will be hoping the race can stay relatively together for a sprint because he would be an outsider for a medal if everything went right. He definitely doesn't have much help from a weak Luxembourg team.
- Poland is a land I struggle with but I think that their best shot for a good result comes from Pryzemyslaw Kasperkiewicz. PK won a stage in the U23 Peace Race, finished 3rd in the Carpathian Couriers Tour and was 5th in the recent Tour Bohemia. Piotr Brozyna is just a first year U23 but has had a good year as he was the Polish U23 RR Champ and finishing the Tour de l'Avenir.
- Matti Manninen? Well carry Finland as far as you can. He did finish 5th in the European U23 RR after all, which was the sole reason they qualified, so miracles can happen.
- Eritrea had stressful lead up to the race with Metkel Eyob and Meron Teshome being stranded in Sudan with visa issues. Their best rider is obviously Merhawi Kudus and he could possibly get a top 10 for the team if the race breaks up.
- Romania's golden hope is Eduard Grosu, who has had a very strong season with Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa. He has a good sprint on him but with these hills, I don't think he will be able to handle the climbs.
- Louis Meintjes is basically the team here. He will need to do something similar to last year where he attacked near the end and stuck the move, only being dropped by Matej Mohoric. I mean after riding the damn Vuelta, he should be kicking ass but then that goes into that old argument from me about why Pro Continental riders shouldn't be allowed in these races.
- I get so hopeful for Moroccan riders because they tend to be amazing in African racing but once they leave the continent, they never quite live up the those standards they have set. Salah Mraouni comes to mind as he has about 20 top 10's this year but I doubt he will factor at all into the race.
- Ahmet Örken will be carrying Turkey on his back. He is a strong sprinter with a win in the Tour of Qinghai Lake and top 10 finishes in the Tour of Turkey. Question is if he can make it up 20 climbs with the lead group to make a factor.
- Algeria has well...not much. Adil Barbari should be their best finisher. They race a lot in Northern Africa but unless you know your competition and race at their level, then it is going to be a tough time to compete
- Rwanda deserves to celebrate even making the championships and I find the stories of Jean Bosco Nsengimana, Valens Ndayisenga and Vendee U's Bonaventure Uwizeyimana incredibly inspiring. They might not even finish the race but I will be unabashedly cheering for them.
- Slovakia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Latvia and Serbia...crickets. Seriously, nothing substantial to say.
- So this is Albania's first trip to Worlds in quite a long time. I'm fairly certain that even Eugert Zhupa didn't even line up for the country that is known for their indecipherable language and being one of the most isolated states on earth until 1992. While Albania as a whole is on the rebound, their cycling roots are just taking shape now. The tiny Balkan nation have two gems in Xhuliano Kamberaj and Iltjan Nika. They both race in Italy since Albania has no racing infrastructure but they have been producing good results. Kamberaj has been all over the top 10 as a sprinter for Cipollini Ale Rime including 7th in the UCI Circuito del Porto while Nika was 3rd in the Junior Worlds RR last year. Both are young (Kamberaj a '94 while Nika is a '95) so they have some time to develop further.
- James Oram and Dion Smith have had successful seasons racing a mostly USA domestic circuit. Oram has been developing as a stage racer and Smith is more of an all-around sprinter type. They are the only two Kiwis here but they both have the tools to put in good rides. You can sense my unenthusiastic answer, huh?
- There is this Costa Rican, Jeison Vega, that will be interesting to see. Hasn't raced much but seems to be a strong rider. I'm waiting for the next Andrey Amador to come out of there.
- Belarus brings to strong riders in Nikolai Shumov and Aliaksandr Riabushenko. Both were top 25 in the European U23 RR. These riders from Belarus can come out from nowhere so perhaps another top 25?
- From South America and Mexico, there are a few riders that could ride well here. Jose Luis Rodriguez (Chile) rode well in the time trial and seems to climb well for the road race. Ciao Godoy (Brazil) might be nicknamed as the Cannibal but he hasn't been riding up to that name...yet. He can climb well though. Yonder Godoy (Venezuela) rides with Androni Venezuela during the year and while he hasn't made much of an impact with them, he is stepping down a level and could get a results here. Mexico brings Luis Lemus Davila and Ignacio Prado and well...maybe a top 40?
My podium? 1. Thomas Boudat 2. Caleb Ewan 3. Fernando Gaviria. Watch for a twitter preview soon if you make it this far!