If you have a power meter attached to your bike, know your lactate threshold, and are willing to pay hundreds of extra dollars to shave a few grams off your carbon fiber bike, then you've likely had the following two weekends circled on your calendar for years now. Over the next nine days, September 19 to 27, the world's best bike racers will battle for world championship titles on American soil.
There are a number of unknowns about this race. Never before has the world championships featured such a technically demanding road circuit, with a total of 28 sharp turns over the course of each 10-mile lap, with three steep and cobbled climbs in succession. There's no clear favorite, and no dominant team in the race. To try and make sense of this wildly unpredictable bike race, allow us to offer the following five insights.
The U.S. team's best shot at medals will come in the time trials
In 2014, Tejay van Garderen led his BMC racing squad to victory in the team time trial — the one event where racers don't compete for their nation. This year, his American teammate Taylor Phinney will significantly boost the team's effort to repeat. After BMC's narrow victory in the team time trial at the Tour de France, they will enter the race as the odds-on favorite. In the individual time trial, Phinney and van Garderen will both vie for medals, but likely won't be at the same level as specialists like Germany's Tony Martin and Australia's Rohan Dennis.
A sprinter will most definitely win the men's road race
Andre Greipel, the German sprinter nicknamed "the Gorilla" who won four stages of this year's Tour de France, most likely looked at the Richmond road race course and laughed. It's a glorified criterium with a handful of short climbs that will take less than a minute each to ascend. The national teams with proven field sprinters, such as Germany, Australia, and Norway, will control the nearly seven hour long race and make sure it finishes in a bunch kick. You can count on that.
But a classics-style rider could also very likely, certainly win
Those steep cobblestone climbs, and the way they're spaced, with the ascents of Libby Hill and 23rd Street coming almost back to back within two miles of the finish, will undoubtedly string out and split the field. And there in lies the beauty of this race, no one knows how it will play out, and even teams with strong sprinters are bringing dual pronged squads with a protected classics-style rider.
On the German team, for example, Greipel will share leadership with 2015 Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb. Racers will surely remember how an audacious attack netted Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski the rainbow-banded jersey in 2014, and be searching for a similar opportunity in Richmond. While everyone watches favorites like Slovakia's Peter Sagan, keep an eye out for less heralded riders like the Netherland's Tom Jelte-Slagter to make a late race move.
No matter what happens, we should all root for Taylor Phinney
In the spring of 2014, American pro Taylor Phinney lay sprawled against a guardrail on a hairpin turn at the U.S. pro road race championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He'd broken his tibia and completely severed his patella tendon. It seemed he was done bike racing, perhaps forever. But a year and a half later, after intensive physical rehab and a lot of soul searching (he immersed himself in oil painting), Phinney returns as the leader of the six-member U.S. men's team. In August, Phinney sprinted to a stage win at the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, and just maybe, he's regained the fitness to score a top finish in Richmond — which is why we all need to cheer really, really loud.
U.S. bike racing will be forever changed, for the better
The Universal Sports Group and NBC Sports will devote 33 hours of programming, including 27 live hours, to covering the world championships in Richmond, an unprecedented amount of TV time for any race other than the Tour de France. Additionally, the race's organization has implemented a youth outreach program, bringing educational cycling programs to schools in the region, aiming to inspire kids to got out and ride their bikes. If in the next couple decades a racer from the U.S. wins the world championships, Richmond will likely have played a factor.
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