The dust may only just be settling from the Tour de France, but in this jam-packed redesigned pro cycling calendar, there’s no time for rest for riders – or fans. The UCI Road World Championships take place this week in Imola, Italy, from Thursday through Sunday.
With a climb-heavy course, a fleet of top talent in both the men’s and women’s fields and strong prospects across the board for Team USA, there’s a lot to watch out for and be excited about, so here’s everything you need to know.
Short, steep climbs for the road race and a flat time trial
The UCI was forced into finding a late replacement for original hosts Aigle-Martigny after COVID restrictions forced the Swiss venue to pull out, and in its place, they found Imola, deep in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region.
The men’s and women’s road race will both play out entirely on one loop of 28.8 kilometers headlined by two short, sharp “muro,” or walls. The circuit, looping around both the iconic Imola motor racing course and the vineyards of central Italy, features the Mazzolano and the Cima Gallisterna climbs, both below three kilometers in length, but both featuring ramps at or above 10 percent in gradient.
With the men racing nine laps and the women five, it all sums up to one heck of a lot of climbing, with the men course packing over 5,000 meters ascent in the 258km race, and the women’s course climbing 2,800 meter in 143km.
“It will be a difficult course: riders will need to cope with repeated efforts, there will not be much recovery between the two difficulties, and the second will be followed by three kilometers of descent on a winding road,” said Italian national coach Davide Cassani. “Team tactics will be important to get the leaders to the end. The finish will be solo or in a small group.”
Men and women will both race the same 31.7km time trial course, which is mostly flat and “will be for the pure specialists,” according to Cassani. U23 and junior events were canceled for what will be a streamline world’s schedule.
A long-list of contenders but some notable absences:
With Belgian national coach Rik Verbrugghe forecasting that the route favors “riders who can handle Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia,” both men’s and women’s road races are open to many.
The presence or absence of defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten could have a major part to play in the women’s race. Having eyed the tough hilly Imola course with a smile, the dominant Dutchwoman fractured her wrist at the Giro Rosa earlier this month, and her appearance at the race is still in doubt, though looking more hopeful by the day.
Should the defending champion fail to make the startline Saturday, the Dutch team will still be the ones to beat. The orange-clad powerhouse will be represented by recent Giro Rosa champion Anna van der Breggen, Marianne Vos and Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak.
Those likely to put up the strongest opposition to The Netherlands include home star Elisa Longo Borghini, Mavi Garcia (Spain), Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland), who is hot off a strong Giro Rosa and well-suited to the climbs of Italy. Australia’s Amanda Spratt is doubtful for the race after also crashing at the Giro Rosa.
While van Vleuten is still tentative about her title defense, men’s champ Mads Pedersen has confirmed he will not defend his rainbow jersey. The brawny Dane, along with Mathieu van der Poel and Peter Sagan, has opted out of racing a course that does not suit them.
Nonetheless, the list of contenders for the men’s road race is long and diverse.
Both the Colombian and Belgian teams pack strength in depth. The power-packed Belgian team includes Wout van Aert, Greg Van Avermaet, Jasper Stuyven, Oliver Naesen and Tiesj Benoot, all who will show up in Italy on red-hot form having just completed the Tour de France. With Van Aert having already taken Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, two Tour de France stages and looking unstoppable on any terrain, the 26-year-old is arguably shouldering the burden of “favorite” for the race. Daniel Martínez, Miguel Ángel López, Rigoberto Urán, Esteban Chaves and Nairo Quintana – but no Egan Bernal – will race in the Colombian colors.
Hosts Italy will be headlined by Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Bettiol, and have good odds of taking a home win. While the French boasts a strong team led by Julian Alpahilippe and Romain Bardet, team coach Thomas Voeckler told L’Equipe they would be “outsiders” on account of a parcours not so suited to them.
While team strength plays a part in surviving the world championships, it often comes down to individual prowess, and the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Spain), Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), Michael Kwiatkowski (Poland), Michael Woods (Canada), and Slovenian friends-turned-rivals Tadej Pogačar and Primoż Roglič are also strong contenders.
The British team is lacking its senior names with the Yates brothers and Geraint Thomas sitting out the road race. Instead, the Brits will be led by young trio Tom Pidcock, James Knox and Hugh Carthy.
The time trial will be all about the specialists.
On the men’s side, defending champion Rohan Dennis (Australia) will be challenged by Stefan Küng (Switzerland), who as European champion tactically exited the Tour de France early to rest in preparation.
Victor Campenaerts (Belgium), Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands), Kasper Asgreen (Denmark), and Italian track specialist Filippo Ganna also will be well-set to pose a challenge.
Women’s defending champion Chloe Dygert (USA) is a hot favorite for her race Thursday, even though she hasn’t raced on the road since claiming her rainbow jersey in Harrogate last September. The potential absence of van Vleuten will mark a bonus for Dygert, but even without the Dutch star, the contenders for the women’s race still includes Dutchwomen van der Breggen and Ellen van Dijk, and veterans Amber Neben (USA) and Lisa Brennauer (Germany).
No junior or U23 events
There will be no junior or U23 events in 2020 due to COVID complications, with the UCI explaining that “the majority of the top athletes in the elite men and women categories are already in Europe, as opposed to their younger counterparts whose national delegations … will not be able to travel to Italy due to travel restrictions.”
As a result, American junior champions Quinn Simmons and Megan Jastrab will not have the opportunity to defend their titles, though they will be entitled to continue racing in their rainbow bands through 2021.
Tour talents and defending champions for Team USA
USA Cycling qualified only four spots for the men’s road race, though the women’s squad will be seven-strong. National coach Jim Miller is hoping for great things across the competitions.
“Despite the challenges we have all faced, I believe we have a highly focused team, and we expect to have a team capable of competing with the best in the world,” he said.
The men’s team includes Sepp Kuss and Neilson Powless, both hot off breakout Tour de France performances that saw Kuss confirm his position as one of the world’s top climbers and revealed Powless’ endless ambitions to go on the offense in powerful breakaways. They will be joined by Lawson Craddock and Brandon McNulty, who will also ride the time trial.
The women’s team boasts depth, experience and firepower, with Dygert and Coryn Rivera backed by Amber Neben, Leah Thomas, Lauren Stephens, Ruth Winder and Tayler Wiles. Dygert will be joined by Neben and Thomas for the time trial.
How to watch, and when to watch:
In the USA, all races will be broadcast live on NBC Olympic channel, while Flobikes will show the racing in Canada.
In Europe, all racing will be broadcast by both Eurosport and the GCN Race Pass.
- Thursday, September 24: Women’s individual time trial – 2:40pm Local Time / 5:40am PT / 8:40am ET
- Friday, September 25: Men’s individual time trial – 2:25pm Local Time / 5:25am PT / 8:25am ET
- Saturday, September 26: Women’s road race – 12:45pm Local Time / 3:45am PT / 6:45am ET
- Sunday, September 27: Men’s road race – 10:00am Local Time / 1:00am PT / 4:00am ET