The UCI World Championships return to Wollongong, Australia towards the end of September. The coastal city will host nearly a dozen road disciplines during the week-long event, and at the end of each day a new (or repeat) champion will be crowned.
And it’s fair to say that the World Championships aren’t quite like the other big races of the year. So what will make this iteration of the road race special, and who can leave their mark and walk away with the rainbow jersey for the year to come?
Wollongong’s road trip around the not-so-flat city
Contrary to what most people think of Australia, the 2022 Championships will actually feature some pretty impressive elevation changes, both in time trials and road races.
Similar to a “classic”, the one-day event for men and women will start north of town in Helensburgh, with a gradual descent along the coast. Subject to ocean winds, this could cause an early separation before the main climb of the day – an 8.7km journey to the summit of Mount Keria, culminating at 473m above sea level.
Although not a particularly long climb, Mount Keira varies between around 5% and 10% and will be an early test for riders leading up to a technical descent and an even more technical street circuit. The men will run the Wollongong City Loop twelve times for a total distance of 266.9km, while the women will run six circuits totaling 164.3km.
The really exciting part of the race is sure to come from the multiple laps around the city loop, each punctuated in the middle of a steep climb up Mount Pleasant, a 1.1km climb up to 14% in some sections . There’s no doubt that every time the riders reach that climb, a few more will fall off the back, really separating who wants to cross the line first and who manages to keep their legs cool on the twisty city streets.
Who does the course favor?
There are many different events and disciplines, and the chasm between a short 34.2 km TT through the narrow city streets and the road race with a total elevation gain of 3,945 meters is huge. And given the nature of world championships, you never really know who will cross the line first, so it’s a good chance to find good odds on a number of sports betting mobile apps before the start of the week.
But focusing specifically on road racing, there are a few names that rise to the top.
Julian Alaphillippe is the reigning two-time world champion, which is an incredibly impressive feat. With a lot at stake to defend his right to wear the rainbow stripes, he could be a strong contender for another year with technical riding expertise thanks to his cyclo cross background.
After jumping on the Vuelta A España, Tadej Pogacer should be fresh to really push himself on the last event of the season. Given the fast corners and technical nature of the laps, an early breakaway and a steep climb up Mount Keira could favor the Tour de France runner-up. But given the start of the race, it is unlikely to be decisive in any way (there are still 225 km to go after the summit).
With the similarity to a typical ‘classic’ if you can really call the various one day races similar, there are a number of specialists worth keeping an eye on as they will likely always be up front while the weaker runners fall back each lap. The Quebec and Montreal Grands Prix Cycliste come just before the World Championships and could be a great preview of who’s fit before making the trip down.
Mathieu van der Poel showed his talent by winning the Tour of Flanders this year and in 2020, and he also has a cyclocross background that can help on technical areas of the circuit when well-timed attacks can prove decisive. Dylan van Baarle, another Dutch rider won Paris-Roubaix this year, and proved his ability with many solid finishes on individual events, even finishing second at the UCI World Championships last year. Belgium’s Remco Evenpoel won their second Clasica de San Sebastian in three years and would be one to watch. Although he races for the same team and Alaphillippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team), personal glory often trumps teamwork during this race.
It would be wrong to talk about an Aussie race without mentioning Michael Matthews, who is the hometown boy to watch. He won the U23 Worlds in 2010, the last two Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, the 2018 Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal and finished in the top three of the UCI World Championship on a few occasions.
How are the World Championships different from other major races?
Basically, the UCI Road World Championship is similar to a “classic” one-day race, but during the week riders can also participate in the individual time trial, which is a sought-after victory in its own right.
If nothing else, the fact that it’s the last official race of the season makes it an unusual race, with every rider really pushing to claim the rainbow jersey for next year. Moreover, by lacking the length and mountain stages of a Grand Tour, the World Championships do not always favor climbers or all-around riders. We have seen many sprinters achieve victory, such as Peter Sagan winning three World Championships in a row a few years ago. If they can stay forward, there is a long enough flat stretch to complete this course that a sprint finish is almost guaranteed.