World championships: Italian squad forecasts race of attrition

Belgian-style 'bergs,' cool temperatures and strong chance of rain set to make men's race in Imola about survival of the strongest.

This year’s Italian Road World Championships could take on a Belgian tone this weekend, with steep climbs and cool temperatures likely to impact how the race is won.

The worlds’ road races, set to play out over a circuit in Imola this weekend, are punctuated by two steep Belgian-style “bergs” – the Mazzalano and then the Gallisterna – that will test both resilience and recovery. Having scouted out the 28.8-kilometer circuit to be used in Emilia Romagna this weekend, the host squad is braced for battle.

“It’s ‘interesting,'” Alberto Bettiol told TuttoBici. “It’s a route with no possibility of recovery, except perhaps in the passage to Riolo and the final two kilometers in the racetrack. The ascent of the Gallisterna is reminiscent of some of the ‘walls’ in north Belgium.”

The ability to endure repeat ascents of the Mazzalano and Gallisterna climbs could dictate the action Sunday. With the men facing nine repeats of the two-hill loop and the women set to take on five, the 12+ percent pitches of the three-kilometer bergs will make it an attritional race favoring riders that flourish in the Ardennes.

β€œThe climbs are not long but they are challenging, especially the second with its 1,300-meter steep wall,” national coach Davide Cassani said. “It means that in the end it will become very selective and the favorites could be riders like Julian Alaphilippe, Jakob Fuglsang and Wout van Aert.”

“There is not a moment’s respite,” added rising Deceuninck-Quick-Step talent Andrea Bagioli. “When I did it for the first time, I didn’t realize that in the end, step by step, nothing remains in the legs.”

“The boys were able to verify that it is a challenging course,” Cassani said after his squad scouted the route.

Veteran coach Cassani’s team will be led by Bettiol and Vincenzo Nibali, with support from a strong climbing crew including Bagioli, Damiano Caruso, Diego Ulissi, and Gianluca Brambilla. The hosts will be without beefy rouleurs Matteo Trentin or Gianni Moscon, while Davide Formolo is out after breaking his collarbone at the Tour de France.

As if the hills aren’t enough of a challenge, unseasonably cool 14-degree temperatures and a strong likelihood of rain showers could play a factor in determining the 2020 world champion. Though not likely to be as tough as the apocalyptic conditions seen in Harrogate for the 2019 worlds, the inclement weather could mean only the hardiest survive through the six-plus hours of the men’s 258km race.

The long weekend of world championship racing kick-starts Thursday with the women’s elite time trial, with defending champion Chloe Dygert a hot favorite to take the prize over the 31.7km test.

Full details of the parcours, the contenders, and how to watch the action check out the VeloNews preview and what you need to know.