CYCLING Preview: World Road Championships start in Innsbruck

The headline for the 91st UCI World Road Race Championships is whether Slovakia’s Peter Sagan will make history with his fourth straight world title in the men’s road race. But he won’t be racing until the final day of the event on the 30th. The schedule:

∙ 23 September:
Men’s Team Time Trial (62.8 km)
Women’s Team Time Trial (54.5 km)

∙ 24 September:
Women’s Junior Time Trial (20 km)
Men’s U-23 Time Trial (27.8 km)

∙ 25 September:
Men’s Junior Time Trial (27.8 km)
Women’s Individual Time Trial (27.8 km; three major climbs)

∙ 26 September:
Men’s Individual Time Trial (52.5 km; one major climb)

∙ 27 September:
Women’s Junior Road Race (71.7 km: one lap ~ two major climbs)
Men’s Junior Road Race (132.4 km: two laps ~ three major climbs)

∙ 28 September:
Men’s U-23 Road Race (179.9 km: three laps ~ five major climbs)

∙ 29 September:
Women’s Road Race (156.2 km: four laps ~ four major climbs)

∙ 30 September:
Men’s Road Race (258.5 km: seven laps ~ nine major climbs)

The climbing portions of each lap start below 600 m and end above 1,000 m, making this race for the mountain racers than for the sprinters. Is that aimed at ending Sagan’s streak?

Most of the top riders are entered in one of the events, but not all. British Grand Tour winners Chris Froome (Giro d’Italia) and Geraint Thomas (Tour de France) are not in, but the line-ups are fearsome in any case. Returning medalists include:

Men’s Time Trial:
∙ Tom Dumoulin (NED) ~ 2017 World Champion; 2014 Worlds bronze medalist
∙ Tony Martin (GER) ~ 2011-12-13-16 World Champion; 2014 silver medalist; 2009-10 bronzes
∙ Vasil Kiryienka (BLR) ~ 2015 World Champion; 2016 Worlds silver medalist
∙ Jonathan Castroviejo (ESP) ~ 2016 Worlds bronze medalist

Men’s Road Race:
∙ Peter Sagan (SVK) ~ 2015-16-17 World Champion
∙ Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) ~ 2014 World Champion
∙ Rui Costa (POR) ~ 2013 World Champion
∙ Alejandro Valverde (ESP) ~ Worlds silver 2003-05, bronzes 2006-12-13-14

The men’s Road Race field has been shaped by the race course with its emphasis on climbing. Based on the recent Vuelta a Espana, Sagan has shown he’s very fit, but it’s hard to see him winning on this brutal layout. No one has ever won four World Road Race titles; Sagan would be the first.

But he will have a lot of competition from Vuelta winner Simon Yates (GBR), who was great in the mountains all over Spain, the climbers like Valverde, Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, Spain’s Enric Mas, France’s Thibaut Pinot, or even American Ben King, who won two of the climbing stages at La Vuelta? The top two in the “King of the Mountains” category at La Vuelta are also entered in the Road Race: Thomas de Gendt (BEL) and Dutch rider Bauke Mollema.

The Time Trial has been dominated by Germany’s Martin and last year by Dumoulin. Australia’s Rohan Dennis won both of the Individual Time Trials during the Vuelta a Espana, with Kwiatkowski also riding well in both.

In the women’s races, the returning medalists include:

Women’s Time Trial:
∙ Annemiek van Vleuten (NED) ~ World Champion 2017
∙ Amber Neben (USA) ~ World Champion 2008-16
∙ Anna van der Breggen (NED) ~ Worlds silver medalist 2015-17
∙ Ellen van Dijk (NED) ~ World Champion 2013, silver medalist 2016
∙ Lisa Brennauer (GER) ~ World Champion 2014; bronze medalist 2015

Women’s Road Race:
∙ Chantal Blaak (NED) ~ World Champion 2017
∙ Giorgia Bronzini (ITA) ~ World Champion 2010-11; bronze medalist 2007
∙ Amalie Dideriksen (DEN) ~ World Champion 2016
∙ Lotta Lepisto (FIN) ~ Worlds bronze medalist 2016
∙ Megan Guarnier (USA) ~ Worlds bronze medalist 2015
∙ Trixi Worrack (GER) ~ Worlds silver medalist 2006
∙ Rachel Neylan (AUS) ~ Worlds silver medalist 2012
∙ Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA) ~ Worlds bronze medalist 2012
∙ Rossella Ratto (ITA) ~ Worlds bronze medalist 2013
∙ Lisa Brennauer (GER) ~ Worlds silver medalist 2014

Van Vleuten is the Women’s World Tour points leader and the Dutch have dominated the circuit in 2018, with the top three in the points standings and wins in the last eight individual events on the tour! American Coryn Rivera, South Africa’s Ashleigh Moolman and Aussie Amanda Spratt have also been medal winners or strong contenders in many races and Poland’s Kasia Niewiadoma cannot be ignored.

In the Time Trial, the amazing Neben, now 43, hasn’t raced much this year, but did win her second straight U.S. Time Trial crown in Knoxville, Tennessee earlier this year. She’s raced five times this year, winning all four Time Trials she’s entered, plus a ninth in the U.S. Road Race Championships!

NBC’s Olympic Channel has coverage of the Team Time Trials on Sunday. Look for results here.