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Who can rule the Worlds?

The Elite Men’s World Championships Road Race is the finale of every World Championships. It is always a gruelling and tense affair because there is a lot at stake – the coveted rainbow jersey. This year’s course is based on the city of Innsbruck, in the Austrian Tyrol, and is one of the toughest in living memory. ShimanoRoad gives you the rundown of the key riders in this year’s race, the highlights of their season so far, and why they might win.

Peter Sagan

Season highlights
2018 has seen Peter Sagan continue his successful formula of aiming at the cobbled Spring classics, the Tour de France then the World Championships. He won Gent-Wevelgem for the third time, then dominated Paris-Roubaix. In July he took his sixth green jersey in the Tour de France. In the last few weeks Sagan has ridden a relatively quiet Vuelta Espana, though he still managed to pick up a stage win on Stage 3.

The bike
A Specialized S-Works Venge aero bike with disc brakes and a custom paint-job. Sagan rides a Dura-Ace Di2 groupset and pedals. On the Venge the Di2 junction box is neatly tucked into the aero seatpost.

Record at Worlds
Phenomenal. Sagan has won the past three years, an unprecedented feat. We’ve grown so used to seeing him in a rainbow jersey it would be hard to imagine him back in any other jersey.

National team
Theoretically this is Sagan’s weak point. His Slovakian team has neither the strength in depth nor the big names of the French, Italian and Belgian teams. Sagan does however have loyal domestiques such as his brother Juraj and Michal Kolar. Their role will be to look after Sagan in the first half of the race. In the finale he can look after himself.

Why he might win
The peloton has learnt never to under-estimate Peter Sagan. He can win bike races on diverse terrain. In 2015 in Richmond, U.S.A, many commentators thought the steep climb would be too difficult for him, but nevertheless he came away with a rainbow jersey.

Wout Poels

Season highlights
Poels’ season has been solid, almost entirely dedicated to supporting his team leaders at Team Sky. He was recruited to the team to act as a super-domestique for Chris Froome, rather than develop into a serious Grand Tour rival. His results this season reflect his role, though when given more freedom to ride for himself, as at the recent Tour of Britain, Poels showed strongly.

The bike
A Pinarello Dogma F10 X-light. This edition of the now well-established Dogma is somewhere between an aero and a conventional road bike. Poels, like his Team Sky colleagues, uses Dura-Ace Di2 groupsets with the junction box hidden inside the down tube. The wheels are Shimano too, usually Dura-Ace C40s.

Record at Worlds
Poels didn’t finish last year in Bergen, but his role there was to support leader Tom Dumoulin. Given more freedom, on a course that fits his climbing talents better, could Poels go for glory?

National team
The Dutch always field a strong team at the World Championships. This year they have focused on selecting climbers. Wilco Kelderman, Steven Kruijswijk and Bauke Mollema have all earned their places with strong showings on the mountain roads of the Vuelta Espana. Tom Dumoulin is expected to be their most protected rider, but if he falters could Poels step in?

Why he might win
Poels is an outsider for the World Championships win, and that takes the pressure off. He has shown his Monument-winning form before at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, another long hilly race. If he harbours an ambition to take his career up a notch, Poels will have the motivation to win.

Michal Kwiatkowski

Season highlights
By his high standards Michal Kwiatkowski has had a quiet season. Highlights include winning the Polish National Championships and the Tour of Poland, but much of his season has been spent in the service of Team Sky’s leaders. At the Tour de France in particular, Kwiatko was an invaluable super-domestique for Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome.

The bike
Kwiatkowski rides the same Pinarello Dogma F10 X-Light, with Dura-Ace components and wheels, as his Team Sky colleague Wout Poels, but Kwiatko’s bikes have a custom colour scheme in red and white, to celebrate his Polish nation champion status. Will they have to soon be repainted with rainbows?

Record at Worlds
Kwiatkowski made the jump from promising young rider to superstar when he won the 2014 World Championships road race in Ponferrada, Spain. Attacking with 6km to go, during a lull in the action, Kwiatko played a brilliant tactical card and held off the chasers to take Poland’s first ever rainbow jersey. Since Ponferrada, Kwiatkowski hasn’t been on a Worlds’ podium.

National team
Much like Peter Sagan’s Slovakian team, the Poles have a clearcut leader in Kwiatkowski, and a supporting cast of strong domestiques. From Team Sky there are Michal Golas and young talent Lukas Wisniowski. The Bodnar brothers Lukasz and Maciej can also be relied on to put in the work.

Why he might win
Kwiatkowski’s talent as a bike rider needs no introduction. He is a gifted all-rounder and tactically intelligent. Given freedom from his usual role at Team Sky, he will be looking for ways to put himself in the right position on the final steep climb to Gramart. He can be confident in both his climbing and sprinting, the only question is his form after a long summer of racing.

Julian Alaphilippe

Season highlights
Alaphilippe has been the stand-out rider of the 2018 season. He has won Fleche Wallonne, two stages of the Tour de France and the King of the Mountains classification, the Clasica San Sebastian, the Tour of Britain and most recently, the Tour of Slovenia.

The bike
A Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6. The lightest race bike Specialized produce, Alaphilippe runs a fairly standard set-up with a Dura-Ace Di2 groupset. Usually he has a 53-39 chainset and 11-28 on his cassette, but the hellish climb to Gramart might see lower gears being used.

Record at Worlds
The 2017 Worlds in Bergen finished in a reduced bunch sprint, and in 10th place was Julian Alaphilippe. Previous results in other championship races also point to an ability to pull out a performance on the big day; he was 2nd in the 2016 European Championships and 4th in the Rio Olympic Games road race.

National team
The French national coach Cyrille Guimard has the luxury of many celebrated climbers to choose for his team – other than Alaphilippe there is Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil. But he will need all-rounders too, Lilian Calmejane, Tony Gallopin and Kenny Elissonde are all likely to ride. The only question is whether the legendary manager Guimard can get his team to work as a unit.

Why he might win
Alaphilippe rides with panache and controlled aggression. He has claimed that he is neither a sprinter nor a climber, but in truth he can be both. 2018 has seen him move from the category of ‘promising’ to ‘accomplished’. His confidence must be stratospheric and if he can just keep his form going another week, he will be one of the big contenders in Innsbruck.

Tom Dumoulin

Season highlights
For a rider with a Grand Tour on his palmares (the Giro d’Italia in 2017) accepting 2nd place will always be bittersweet, and this is what Dumoulin has had to do twice in 2018. Second in both the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, and without any road race victories, Dumoulin could be forgiven for being disappointed with his 2018 campaign. Could the Worlds be his redemption?

The bike
A Giant TCR with Shimano Dura-Ace brakes, gears and pedals. Dumoulin uses 175mm cranks and a Dura-Ace power meter.

Record at Worlds
Dumoulin is the reigning Individual and Team time-trial World Champion. In Bergen he was also in the group that sprinted out the medals, though because he doesn’t have much of a sprint he coasted into 25th place. In Richmond in 2015 he finished 11th and in Ponferrada in 2014 he finished 22nd.

Why he might win
The peloton has learnt never to under-estimate Peter Sagan. He can win bike races on diverse terrain. In 2015 in Richmond, U.S.A, many commentators thought the steep climb would be too difficult for him, but nevertheless he came away with a rainbow jersey.

National team
Every rider takes pride in wearing their national jersey, but there is something about the Dutch and the colour orange that seems to inspire a special devotion. Their team will be powerful and highly motivated. Like most of the bigger teams they will be aiming to have a combination of options for the win and supporting ‘bottle-carriers’.

Why he might win
For Tom Dumoulin, a great deal will depend upon his performance in the Individual Time-Trial and his level of motivation thereafter. His style is measured and controlled, which works well over the three weeks of a Grand Tour. He does not have the explosive acceleration of riders like Julian Alaphilippe, but perhaps the severity of the course in Innsbruck will play to his favour. If others burn themselves out too early and Dumoulin is patient, could he bring home two rainbow jerseys from Austria?

Simon Yates

Season highlights
2018 has been the year Simon Yates stepped up to the highest level in cycling – that of Grand Tour winner. His ride in the Giro d’Italia was impressive and though ultimately he didn’t win in Rome, Yates brought a renewed strength and confidence to the Vuelta.

The bike
The Vuelta winner rides a Scott Addict equipped with a Dura-Ace shifting and braking. His handlebars are fitted with both sprinters switches on the drops and climbers switches on the tops.

Record at Worlds
Yates has never been in the hunt for the rainbow jersey, but then none of the courses of recent years have suited his abilities. Arguably his brother is the better one-day racer, having won the Clasica San Sebastian in 2015.

National team
Traditionally Great Britain was not a strong team at the Worlds. But the surge in Britain’s strength as a cycling nation, and a team ethos that matches the Italians, puts Great Britain in the forefront of the upcoming race. Ian Stannard, climber Hugh Carthy, national champion Connor Swift and Simon’s brother Adam, will all race in Innsbruck.

Why he might win
If Yates can carry the euphoria of his Vuelta win up to Innsbruck, he will be a force to be reckoned with at the World Championships. His climbing ability suits the challenging course, he has a strong team behind him, and he won’t be afraid of the opposition.

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