Analysis: Van der Poel, Sagan, Alaphilippe emerge as early worlds favorites
The Yorkshire World Championships should suit the most versatile riders in the pro men’s peloton; those riders who can fight in the peloton, climb the English peaks, and sprint from a reduced group.
The hilly course in northern England features several punishingly steep climbs, as well as a hilly final circuit that finishes in Harrogate. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the list of favorites is comprised of punchy riders who have proven themselves to excel in hilly and flat terrain.
European sports gaming websites have Mathieu van der Poel as the top favorite, with the most common odds listed at 9/4 (30.77 percent), with Peter Sagan next at 9/2 (18.18 percent), Julian Alaphilippe at 13/2 (13.33 percent), and Philippe Gilbert at 21/2 (8.7 percent).
While these numbers are a hardly guarantee of a victory, they are an indication of how the oddsmakers view the favorites to win. Below, we take a deeper look at these favorites, and how each rider is shaping up before the race.
Alaphilippe enters the race following two close calls at the Canadian one-day races, where he was aggressive but outmatched in Quebec and Montreal. He was able to attack in the final battles in each race, however he wasn’t able to drop the field.
Alaphilippe says that no matter what happens in Yorkshire, the 2019 season “will remain perhaps as the most beautiful of my career.” It is hard to disagree with him given his wins in Milano-Sanremo, La Flèche Wallonne and the Tour de France – stages and 14 days in yellow.
Last year, he kept flying after the Tour ended in Paris with his Clásica San Sebastián and Tour of Britain wins. In 2019, the 27-year-old is more measured and lethal. He raced only six days after Paris compared to 15 in 2018. He says that the season has already been sweet, but a rainbow jersey would be the cherry on the cake.
The Slovakian won his first worlds with an uphill power push in Richmond. He defended it for next two editions in Doha and Bergen. Sagan under-performed this year even without the pressure of the rainbow jersey that is now with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team). He “only” won four times and took the seventh green points jersey title at the Tour de France.
After a break following the Tour, Sagan has quietly been building towards what could be a record-setting fourth title. Fans lacked the fireworks – Sagan will save those for Yorkshire – but seen sparks ahead of what could be a grand finale.
Sagan was also aggressive in the Canadian races, however his rivals matched his moves in the waning kilometers in both Quebec and Montreal, and he was unable to drop them in the final push to the line. His second-place finish at Quebec should put his rivals on alert.
Mathieu van der Poel
It’s easy to see why Mathieu van der Poel is the top favorite at worlds. The Dutchman has the raw and explosive power to accelerate away from the bunch on steep climbs—something he did again and again at the recent Tour of Britain, where he won three stages and the overall.
— Cyclocross24.com (@cyclocross24) September 10, 2019
Van der Poel’s eye-popping stage win during the British tour’s fourth stage, in particular, was a show of force. As rival Matteo Trentin said during the race, ‘He left us there like a bunch of juniors.”
The explosive attack was confirmation that van der Poel is hitting his stride at the perfect time. And his accolades come after one of the most impressive debut seasons on record. Van der Poel’s Amstel Gold Race win, 29 years after his father, underscored his ability to compete in the elite road ranks and win on a technical course like the one fans will see in Yorkshire. And besides the sheer power and skill, van der Poel also has a strong Dutch team in orange.
Gilbert captains a Belgian team that has several options, including Greg van Avermaet and 19-year-old Remco Evenpoel. Gilbert, now 37, showed at the Vuelta a España that he’s hitting top form just in time for the hilly road championships. He won two stages at the Vuelta: a hilly stage in Spain’s Basque country, and a flat sprint ahead of Irish sprinter Sam Bennett.
Gilbert’s racing intellect is second to none, and his cagy tactics could also benefit Team Belgium on the hilly final circuit. Gilbert could be team Belgium’s ace for a long- to medium-sized breakaway.
Greg Van Avermaet
‘Golden Greg’ van Avermaet could be Team Belgium’s best shot to win, should the worlds race come down to a sprint between a diminished group of favorites. Van Avermaet is a cagy veteran who has an explosive sprint. He won the Olympic title in 2016 after surviving the day’s brutal climb, and then out kicking his competition. He can play on that experience and strong, multi-pronged team.
Van Avermaet’s recent results indicate that he is nearing top form. He won Sunday’s GP de Montréal over the weekend, out sprinting Italian ace Diego Ulissi in a long drag to the line. After that win, he said, “This is an extra boost in confidence. [The Worlds in Yorkshire] will be one of my last chances to finally take that rainbow jersey.”
Italy will not have ‘The Shark’ Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) but it will have strong men like Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) and Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott). Trentin can move through the pack, climb well – which he showed on the roads to Gap in the Tour de France – and sprint with the best.
Trentin also flies under the radar. His name is not one of the first when insiders list favorites. It should be, and especially if the Yorkshire skies open up because he can also navigate wet roads well. And his recent stage win at the Tour of Britain shows that Trentin is on top form.
German John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) suffered through the Vuelta a España. His experience and sprint could put him at the sharp end after 285 kilometers.
Degenkolb’s team is strong, but there are those worth mentioning: Denmark, Great Britain, and Belgium. Denmark will fire with several guns: Jakob Fuglsang (Team Astana), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step), and Michael Valgren (Dimension Data).
The Brits can count on Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who has not had the success of his twin bother Simon in the grand tours, but manages one-day races better. The team can also bet on Ben Swift (Ineos), another rider like Trentin who flies mostly under the radar.
Canadian Michael Woods is another darkhorse worth mentioning. He is a punchy rider who excels on the hilly terrain found in Yorkshire, and last year he showed the strength and tactical acumen to finish on the podium, third place behind Valverde.
Speaking of Valverde: we can’t leave him off of this list. While he may be a bit lithe to compete with van Avermaet and Trentin in a diminished sprint, Valverde has the experience and racing acumen to make it into the final move on the hilly course. Should a breakaway go from the front group, bet on Valverde making it into the final group.
It would not be that surprising, but simply amazing if Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step) won. Evenepoel would be the youngest in history to do so and the first to win back to back titles from the junior to the elites. Last year, he attacked and rode solo to win the junior title. That similar tactic saw him ride clear to the Clásica San Sebastián win in August. He is so impressive that the Belgian team is considering him as one of its leaders in a team already stacked with talent.