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Ex-Spanish pros say 2014 worlds course is wide open

The town of Ponferrada, Spain will host the annual event in late September

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Spain’s cycling “royalty” converged on Ponferrada on Wednesday to review road courses set for next year’s world championships. The verdict? An open race that favors the brave.

Organizers brought in Spain’s top retired pros, including Miguel Indurain, Igor Astarloa, Óscar Freire, Pedro Delgado, and Abraham Olano, to take a closer look at the road race circuit that was finalized and approved by the UCI over the past few weeks.

The three-time world champion Freire, who retired after the 2012 world championships, said the Ponferrada circuit, with two short but steep climbs and a technical descent, would have been one ideal for him.

“It’s a shame I am still not racing, because there is not a climb that’s so steep that it blows out your legs,” Freire said. “It’s a circuit for a rider who’s going well. There are possibilities for someone to do a lot of damage, but also for someone who can hang in there. There could be a sprint of up to 50 riders.”

After some delays getting the Ponferrada organization up and running, things are back on track, with the road courses finalized and approved.

When revealed last week, some were surprised to see a traditional world championship circuit that was not nearly as difficult as many predicted when the small Spanish city surrounded by high mountains was awarded the worlds.

In fact, the UCI turned down a more selective, mountainous alternative that local organizers were promoting.

“It’s a hard circuit, but it’s not selective,” said Spanish national coach Javier Mínguez. “The other option that we had proposed was much more selective, but that’s only my opinion. It’s a race that could see escapes, splits, on a very fast circuit that could see more candidates for victory than in Florence.”

The road races will be held over an 18.2-kilometer circuit, with two climbs and 306 vertical meters each lap. The elite men will race 14 laps on the circuit, making for a long race at 254.8km. After rolling 3km through the urban streets of Ponferrada, the first climb is about 5km, with an average grade of 5 percent on a wide, well-surfaced road that tops out at 8km.

After a quick, technical descent, the second climb is just over 1km long, with an average grade of 5.7 percent, with ramps as steep as 10 percent. From there, it’s a fast, 4.4km drop back to the start-finish line.

“The circuit is not very selective,” said Delgado, the only of the entourage who did not win rainbow stripes during his career. “It could turn out that there could be more selection on the descent than the climbs. It could come down to a sprint of 30. If it’s wet, it will be a lot harder.”

Olano, the only rider to win the world title in both the road race and the individual time trial, predicted a fast race. Olano said the course is ideal for the likes of Peter Sagan or the Spanish riders, such as Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodríguez.

“There is a lot of visibility on the climb, so it will be easier to control, but at the same time, it’s very fast,” Olano said. “Later, the drop back down to the town will be very stretched out, and there won’t be a lot of time to regroup, and that will make the rhythm of the peloton very fast. The average will be very high, which will make for a reduced group.”

Astarloa, who won the worlds in 2003, said the long distance will take its toll on the peloton.

“The circuit isn’t that difficult, but in the end, it’s the riders and the distance that make for a hard race,” he said. “Like any worlds that pass through a city, there are traffic circles, curves, small things that will prevent a mass sprint. Technically, the descent off the first climb is most challenging.”

Schedule for the 2014 world championships

Sunday, September 21: Elite team time trial; 36.15km for women, 57.1km for men

Monday, September 22: Junior women’s time trial, 13.9km; U-23 time trial, 36.15km

Tuesday, September 23: Junior men’s time trial, 29.5km; elite women’s time trial, 29.5km

Wednesday, September 24: Elite men’s time trial, 47.1km

Thursday, September 25: Road race training

Friday, September 26: Junior women’s road race, 72.8km; U23 road race, 182km

Saturday, September 27: Junior men’s road race, 127.4km; elite women’s road race, 127.4km

Sunday, September 28: Elite men’s road race, 254.8km