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UCI Road World Championships: 10 riders to watch in the elite men’s road race

Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe headline the final race of this year's worlds.

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After Saturday’s thrilling action in the elite women’s road race, the men will line up Sunday for the final showdown of this year’s UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia.

Defending champion Julian Alaphilippe (France) will be hunting a record-equaling third-straight title but after a bruising season the Frenchman will face a series of fitter and healthier challengers.

Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel lead the line for Belgium, while Mathieu van der Poel captains a strong looking Dutch outfit.

Two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar has rediscovered his form after a sublime win over Van Aert in Canada but the open course suits a number of classics and grand tour specialist alike.

VeloNews picks 10 riders to watch in the men’s race.

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Wout van Aert (Belgium)

The Belgian has only pinned on a race number four times across one-day races since his impressive Tour de France, but that hasn’t stopped him finding his form in a relatively short space of time with a win a three top fives in the last few weeks. He heads into the men’s race as the provisional rider to beat and with a team bursting with ambitions to make up for last year’s horror show when the Belgians failed to act as a unit and eventually let the race slip through their fingers.

The federation, and the riders themselves, were keen to put on a united front at the team’s pre-race press conference earlier this week but talk is cheap and actions on the road will matter most. Any cracks in loyalty will be brutally seized upon by their rivals, while Evenepoel’s gloss has ever so slightly worn off following his Vuelta exploits. That’s understandable and it could make the conversation around leadership much easier if the youngster sacrifices himself for his teammate.

As for Van Aert, there’s not much more you can say. He’s one of a handful of riders in the modern peloton who are simply unstoppable on their day. One question mark over his sprint from select groups does linger, especially after he lost out to Tadej Pogačar in Montreal. The course suits his credentials as a rider, although he’s shown he can win bunch sprints and races through the mountains.

Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)

Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates celebrates winning during the 11th Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal 2022  (Photo: Getty Images)

Mohorič and Roglič are both missing but Slovenia lines up with a two-time Tour de France winner and a rider who, like Van Aert and the next rider on this list, seemingly has no limits when it comes to what he can do on a bike.

Credit to Pogačar, he could have slunk off after his Tour de France defeat to lick his wounds and prepare for next year’s assault but he took a break and then rattled off a couple of average rides in Europe before venturing to Canada to win his first one-day race since Strade Bianche. He beat Van Aert in the sprint for the line in Montreal and that could well be a factor when it comes to how the race unfolds in Wollongong. Like Van Aert, the Slovenian can win through a variety of scenarios, and while some have pointed to his team as a weakness he knows that Slovenia will not need to control the race unless they really mess up. Pogačar can therefore afford to sit back and allow the race to open up around him before making his move. He’s in a really good place.

Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands)

Like Van Aert and Pogačar, the Dutch rider has raced sparingly since the Tour, but unlike the previous pair, Van der Poel didn’t make it to Paris and has had a stop-start sort of season that well and truly peaked in the spring before the 27-year-old ran out of steam during the summer.

He bounced back with a trio of one-day wins in Belgium but none of those races went above 200km and that could be a factor when it comes to the attritional side of worlds. We all remember what happened to Van der Poel in Harrogate.

That said, Van der Poel is an unstoppable force when he’s on song and with a well-drilled team around him he’s sure to be a major factor in the race. It’s really hard to find a weakness.

Michael Matthews (Australia)

Michael Matthews of Australia takes a picture on the podium ceremony after the 95th UCI Road World Championships 2022 – Team Time Trial Mixed Relay. (Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images) (Photo: Getty Images)

This time last year, in fact even this spring, Matthews looked like a spent force. The wins had dried up, faster riders had moved on, and it looked as though the versatile Australian was past his best. Then he won a breathtaking stage to Mende at the Tour de France that revived his career and demonstrated both his class and tenacity. Second in Quebec, he definitely has the form, although there was a bit of sickness on the eve of the championships. He picked up a bronze in the TTT so he should be back on track but it will be fascinating to see how the Australian takes on the road race.

In a straight-up fight against the three riders above him on this list, he’ll lose nine times out of 10, so then it comes to down to how the Australian team looks to dismantle the European opposition or whether they aim to race a conservative tactic in the hope that they can come away with a medal of any kind. Matthews can probably drop Van der Poel on the climbs but doing that to Van Aert and Pogačar, and then beating them in a sprint is a different matter entirely. Perhaps the blueprint from Mende is the way forward but there’s little chance Matthews will be allowed to go clear in a break before the finish.

Remo Evenepoel (Belgium)

The young Belgian “only” managed third in the elite men’s time trial but after an exhausting Vuelta it would be harsh to expect the 22-year-old to be firing on all cylinders after a maiden grand tour win.

However, Evenepoel certainly can’t be written off for the road race. He has the durability, explosiveness, and audacity to attack before the final lap, while there are few riders better than him on short punchy climbs. There might be some questions over his condition given he’s been working towards grand tour success, and because a mental break after the Vuelta could be what he needs most, but the Quick-Step rider has the capacity to win the race or at the very least dictate how the final plays out. Any drama within the Belgian camp will be fascinating to watch either way.

Magnus Cort (Denmark)

There’s no Michael Valgren or Mads Pedersen but the Danes often find a way of embarrassing some of the biggest cycling nations with podiums and standout rides in international races. This time around it’s Magnus Cort who, although he hasn’t been in the best of form of late, was impressive in Canada as a domestique and has the credentials to spring a surprise if the race comes down to a reduced sprint.

The 29-year-old is such a canny rider, and he has a great knack of anticipating the moves before they happen. He’s not quite on the level of the absolute favorites but watch as he remains entirely invisible for the first 230km before coming through when it matters most.

Julian Alaphilippe (France)

Julian Alaphilippe of France and Remco Evenepoel during the 77th Tour of Spain 2022 (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images) (Photo: Getty Images)

We are going with reputation over form here because Alaphilippe has endured a woeful season due to injury, crashes, and COVID. It’s hard to put all of that aside, especially as his last outing at the Vuelta ended with the two-time defending champion lying in agony on the tarmac after yet another fall.

Aiming for a record-tying third straight title looks like mission impossible for the French rider and there’s no amount of business class flight that will help him at this point. Honestly, he could be the weak link in the French team with Christophe Laporte, Romain Bardet, and Benoît Cosnefroy showing better form and fitness at this point in the campaign.

It’s Alaphilippe and he’s produced some near miracles in the past but this one looks like a stretch. Credit to him for still making the long trip and defending his title though.

Biniam Girmay (Eritrea)

Girmay has never competed in the elite race before but the 22-year-old has enjoyed a breakout year in 2022 with a Gent-Wevelgem victory, a Giro d’Italia stage win, and a national title to add to his growing palmares.

In recent weeks he has picked up several top-10s, including third in Quebec, so the form is obviously there ahead of Sunday’s road race. Although Eritrea doesn’t have the numbers or the firepower of some other teams, Girmay can still count on a Merhawi Kudus and others to shepherd him through the first few hours of racing before the real fun starts.

By the time the race hits the final lap, it’s hard to imagine any of the main favorites enjoying much support and it will be up to Girmay to pick his moves wisely. A podium is a genuine target.

Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands)

The Dutch rider was second last year after Van der Poel faded and it’s not impossible to envisage a similar situation happening again. The soon-to-be Jumbo-Visma rider hasn’t raced since the Vuelta but that’s exactly what happened last year and he went on to recuse the race for the men in orange after their leader succumbed to fatigue.

The Paris-Roubaix winner won’t be watched as closely as some of the main contenders but that could be a huge strength if Van Baarle has the legs and the design to infiltrate an attack with two or three laps remaining. He also has the power to go the distance if Van der Poel has another off day.

Alberto Bettiol (Italy)

The last rider on the list is Alberto Bettiol, who hasn’t enjoyed the best of results at elite world championships. The 28-year-old has still only won two races in his career but he’s due another major title and on a course that suits his style of aggressive riding he could be a major dark horse. Italy hasn’t won the men’s elite race since 2008, and they’ve only earned one medal since then, with a silver for Matteo Trentin in 2019.

Bettiol appears in decent enough form with Trentin and Andrea Bagioli acting as key wingmen. Can Bettiol win? Yes, but he needs a near-perfect race and to remember that Pogačar isn’t on his team.