Imola 2020 – Road race talking points

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Four days of hard racing in Imola are over. Four rainbow jerseys handed out at the time trials and road races all decided. Here are five quick talking points from the men’s and women’s road races.

1 King Julian

You could not have asked for a more popular rider to become road world champion. Six Grand Tour stage wins, heroic rides in yellow at the Tour de France, Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo, two times winner at La Flèche Wallonne, Clásica San Sebastián and now the biggest prize – a rainbow jersey.

Julian Alaphilippe is a quality rider, winning the world title in vintage Alaphilippe style by attacking on the final climb on the final lap, chased by the pursuers but in the end untouchable. In the same year that he sadly lost his father to long term illness – we’re all in sheds of tears at the amazing talent this brilliant Frenchman shows on the bike.

The French team took up most of the work at the front. It seemed at one point with 40 km to go that their efforts were for nothing with Tadej Pogačar up the road and the Belgian team doing more work, but actually they played the perfect tactical game. Guillaume Martin went away before the final ascent of the Cima Calisperna before Marc Hirschi, Wout Van Aert, Primož Roglič and Michał Kwiatkowski were all left for dead by the man of the moment.

A rainbow jersey, the first Frenchman since Laurent Brochard in 1997 to become champion of the world, Julian Alaphilippe is a history maker. He’s heroic, he brings endless amounts of joy to cycling fans but more importantly he will look terrific with rainbows across his chest.

Chapeau Julian!

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2 Double Dutch for Anna van der Breggen

The first rider since Jeannie Longo in 1995 to do the double at the World Championships, what a perfect two days for Anna van der Breggen. When she made her move you just knew that nobody could catch her, not even her compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten who did incredibly well to overcome a fractured wrist to take silver.

We said before the Worlds, who on earth can beat the Dutch? For the women’s road race and the time trial – no one. The fourth world road race title for the Netherlands, van der Breggen in the form of her life and the most rewarding tonic for a rider who will retire after the Olympics next year.

Overall champion at the Giro Rosa, Dutch road and time trial national champion, now double world champion in both disciplines – all within a month, just magnificent! The non-stop nature of this Covid-19 cycling season doesn’t end yet though with the Classics coming up soon and who will bet against Anna van der Breggen winning more races?

Elisa Longho Borghini as the home favourite was always going to bring Italian optimism but she just couldn’t catch van der Breggen with van Vleuten playing the tactical game to do everything in slowing up the chase. A third place for Longho Borghini isn’t anything to be sniffed at though.

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3 A bright future in the men’s peloton

While Julian Alaphilippe’s victory is nothing more than spectacular you also cannot underestimate how fantastic it was to see the talent just continue to emerge in cycling. Wout Van Aert was the big favourite today, rode the climbs well but could not bring Alaphilippe back, the Belgian team running out of riders to help Van Aert but still did their work to try. His first world championships at elite level, second place isn’t all bad but Wout Van Aert will know that he was beaten by the strongest man on the road.

After impressing at the Tour de France, Marc Hirschi taking bronze isn’t actually surprising. The talent this young Swiss star has is in abundance, for sure Hirschi will be wearing a rainbow jersey at some point at elite level in the future. European and world U23 road champion in 2018, we’ve known the potential, he’s only 22 – much more to come.

Last weekend we were blown away by Tadej Pogačar winning the Tour de France. Surely that would have knackered out the 21-year-old! Not a chance, the young Slovenian attacking with 40 km to try and set up something for the very man he beat to win yellow, Primož Roglič. Full of admiration for the courageous efforts of Tadej Pogačar.

There were also encouraging rides by those staying in Italy for the next three weeks. Michael Matthews and Jakob Fuglsang finished inside the top ten, great prep for the Giro d’Italia starting next weekend. It was perhaps slightly surprising that those with the Tour already in their legs actually excelled at these world championships but then again it is talent that is prevailing in the peloton right now.

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4 Nothing to be disheartened about for Great Britian

British riders may not take any medals at this year’s worlds but there’s still lots to be pleased about. Geraint Thomas finishing fourth in the time trial was encouraging before a Giro d’Italia that he’s definitely riding into form for. Lizzie Deignan for the women and Tom Pidcock in the men’s race were two names to keep an eye on, both in form and looking for success. Deignan did finish in sixth behind Anna van der Breggen, just left to deal with supreme Dutch tactics and others not leading the chase to catch the eventual winner.

Taking three stage wins and overall, at the U23 Giro at the age of 21, Tom Pidcock was a rider that other contenders would’ve marked as a potential threat. Luke Rowe did immense work to keep Pidcock in contention and despite finishing 42nd today, great to see him up among the final thirty or so riders towards the end of the race.

5 Criticism of the UCI bang on

Before the criticism it is important to say hats off to the UCI for managing to hold a world championship during what is a difficult time. Fair play to Imola for hosting in place of Aigle-Martigny in Switzerland but more importantly the Covid-19 protocols have been adhered to. Alexey Lutsenko did fall victim to a positive test and unfortunately, we once again saw spectators on the climbs without face masks. Wear a mask!

But the criticism aimed at the UCI comes attached to the women’s side of our sport right now. After the Giro Rosa had no coverage whatsoever it is 100% correct to point the finger at cycling’s governing body. An exciting edition of the women’s Giro was hard to follow because of no coverage and limited highlights.

The UCI need to step up and take responsibility. The level of awareness international audiences have of women’s cycling is currently poor. Only the last thirty minutes of the women’s road race was shown on BBC Two, the whole race on the red button, but why not on the main channel for the entire race?

Men’s cycling gets the luxury, the women do not and bizarrely the Giro Rosa won’t be a World Tour race next year. The women’s peloton needs more coverage not less. The UCI say they’re helping but not doing enough right now.

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Imola 2020 – Time Trial Talking Points

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The time trials are over, two rainbow jerseys have been handed out with two remaining. Here are five quick talking points.

1 Ganna grabs his big opportunity

You could not have asked for a better stage to become world champion in a time trial. Of course, we should be in Switzerland right now, but in Imola this was Filippo Ganna’s chance and he took it!

A flat parcours definitely suited the Italian going into the 31.7 km route and he delivered with 35 minutes 54 seconds the winning time. Ganna is one hell of a talent after breaking the individual pursuit world record twice last year and now becomes the first men’s elite time trial champion for his country. Ganna also joins Chris Boardman and Bradley Wiggins – winners of the elite world individual pursuit on the track and the time trial on the road.

To do it in his home country is something to behold, a victory not just for Italy but also Ineos Grenadiers. The rainbow jersey stays within the team after Rohan Dennis conceded the title to his team-mate. In fact, three Ineos riders finished in the top ten, Ganna winning gold, Dennis in fifth but in fourth, a fantastic ride by Geraint Thomas (more below).

Ineos decided to keep Ganna, Dennis and Thomas all in the same bubble because of coronavirus and it has worked a treat. Could Filippo Ganna go on to win the opening stage at the Giro next weekend? In the rainbow jersey that would be special.

Elsewhere a few surprises but some exceptional performances. In his first encounter at a world time trial, Wout Van Aert continued to be brilliant and Stefan Küng took the right decision to leave the Tour early to finish in third. Victor Campenaerts, Tom Dumoulin and Pello Bilbao were three names surprisingly off the pace.

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2 Anna van der Breggen finally becomes a TT world champion

The women’s elite time trial indeed the road race to come always presents a strong Dutch squad. Two times time trial world champion Annemiek van Vleuten was a notable absentee (she rides the road race tomorrow though), the Dutch had Ellen Van Dijk and Anna van der Breggen to hand.

Numerous times on the podium, Van Dijk managed to finish third behind the winner of the day – Anna van der Breggen finally becoming a world champion in time trialling. A year out before she retires and moves on to a coaching role with Boels-Dolmans, there isn’t much that Anna van der Breggen hasn’t won, this the perfect cherry on top of the cake.

A rainbow jersey via the road race now one for a time trial, could she do the double at these world championships? Van Vleuten is back tomorrow despite fracturing her wrist at the Giro Rosa recently.

Many congratulations to Marlen Reusser representing Switzerland to take silver, her first worlds podium after finishing third at the European Road Championships in the same discipline.

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3 Encouraging British performances

Geraint Thomas taking fourth in the time trial is a welcome sign that he’s in form for the Giro d’Italia starting next weekend. Three time trials across the three weeks will be a strength ahead of his GC rivals, so it is not wrong to say that Geraint Thomas is a contender for the pink jersey come Milan.

Alex Dowsett’s quest for a podium in his career goes on but he should be happy with his performance against other competitors. For the women both Lizzy Banks and Alice Barnes finished inside the top twenty – two decent results.

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4 Speedy recovery to Chloe Dygert

After a blistering performance to win the time trial in Yorkshire last year, American Chloe Dygert started in Imola as the red-hot favourite to defend her title. She was riding the perfect race, beating Anna van der Breggen right up until she crashed.

She lost control on a corner, hit a barrier and then treated with a laceration to her left leg. An awful crash for Dygert and incredibly heart breaking to see. The crash could’ve been worse for the 10-time world champion on road and track, sad that she obviously won’t be starting the road race.

All we can say is many speedy recoveries to Chloe Dygert, we cannot wait to see her back racing again with those brilliant pink shoes!

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5 Attention turns to the road races

The final two days offer us the road races. British fans will be fascinated to see how Lizzie Deignan fares and for the men there’s one rider on everyone’s lips – Wout Van Aert.

Both races have total elevation gains over 2,000 metres, it is far from easy. Team tactics will be evident but who will win the two rainbow jerseys? Those that can climb and sprint are in contention – we wait to see how two intriguing races unravel.

UCI Road World Championships 2020 Preview

Featured image courtesy of the UCI

While it is disappointing for Martigny in Switzerland not hosting this year’s World Championships, thank goodness we still have some racing to watch. Imola in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy has saved the fight for rainbows not long after the Tour de France and Giro Rosa has just come to an end. It won’t be the same worlds we’re used to with no U23 and Junior races taking place just elite time trials and road races.

Four races in four days starting with the time trials and then the road races. A flat parcours for the TT but the road race features two major climbs of Mazzolano and the Cima Gallisterna perhaps not suited to pure climbers but puncheurs.

Last year in Yorkshire we saw some exciting racing, some controversy and unexpected victories. Imola last hosted the World Championships in 1968 and Italy itself hosted the worlds in 2013 in Florence. So, what can we expect from riders who already have racing in the legs before more races still to come?

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Thursday 24th September – A repeat performance by Chloe Dygert?

Chloe Dygert’s victory in the women’s elite time trial was arguably the standout moment from Yorkshire 2019. From Ripon to Harrogate, nobody could get anywhere near Dygert’s time of 42 minutes in 11 seconds, a dominant performance.

We haven’t seen enough of the American on the road this year to see how she’ll perform in Imola, not even racing in the rainbow jersey she herself won. The usual suspects will seek to take Chloe Dygert’s time trial crown. Anna van der Breggen for the Netherlands has just won the Giro and could win both world titles this week. Her Dutch compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten isn’t expected to race after fracturing her wrist in Italy a week ago.  

Th disappointment of not wearing the rainbow jersey at all from last year’s worlds up until now could be the motivation she needs.

For Great Britain we have Alice Barnes and Lizzy Banks where a top ten finish would be a great result. Barnes is the current British time trial champion and for Banks she’s already confirmed that this year’s worlds will be used as a learning experience.

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Friday 25th September – Ineos riders to dominate the standings?

The men’s elite time trial could be the perfect opportunity for riders who’ve just completed the Tour de France but also those who might be feeling fresh from Tirreno-Adriatico going into the Giro next weekend. Covid-19 has led to a jumbled-up calendar but actually the scheduling of this year’s Worlds suits all the time trial contenders.

Jumbo-Visma pair Tom Dumoulin and Wout Van Aert did everything to support Primož Roglič at the Tour and despite the disappointment in losing the entire race let’s not forget that Dumoulin and Van Aert finished highly on the Stage 20 TT atop La Planche des Belles Filles. Dumoulin as a former TT world champion is back to his best and Van Aert is the most extraordinary talent in world cycling right now – who knows what he can do!

But could three weeks of racing in France have taken their toll? Riders heading to the Giro might carry more momentum such as Britain’s Geraint Thomas plus Ineos team-mates Filippo Ganna and current defending champion Rohan Dennis.

Three Team Ineos riders have a huge chance especially Ganna, the Italian the home favourite, track specialist and a rider with an enormous engine. Wouldn’t it be something for an Italian World Championships to see an Italian win the men’s elite time trial! Australian Rohan Dennis is the current defender of the rainbows but arrives in Imola with unknown form. The length of the TT might favour Dennis more than Ganna but let’s not discount Geraint Thomas too.

Other riders to look out for include France’s Rémi Cavagna who finished second behind Stefan Küng at last year’s European Championships elite time trial, and Victor Campenaerts who currently has the hour record to his name and is very consistent at time trials.

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Saturday 26th September – Lizzie Deignan for the win?

This year’s women’s road race could be the most exciting yet! Great Britain’s Lizzie Deignan is in fine form after winning GP Plouay, La Course and went close to stage wins at the Giro Rosa. World champion in 2015, Deignan will have the strongest support but will be up against the force that is the Dutch team.

While Annemiek van Vleuten is doubtful with her injury the orange army still have Anna van der Breggen who took the rainbows in 2018, Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak in Bergen 2017 and Marianne Vos who is also in the form of her life. Vos is a three-times world champion, so could she make it number four?

Second overall at the Giro Rosa, Katarzyna Niewiadoma will be closely marked as will Italian home favourite Elisa Longho Borghini and don’t forget Denmark’s Cecile Uttrup Ludwig. The American team is also a dark watch with Leah Thomas backed by Coryn Rivera and Chloe Dygert.

The women’s road race will be extremely hard to call but the main question as we’ve asked for the last three years. Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak in 2017, Anna van der Breggen in 2018 and Annemiek van Vleuten in 2019 – who can stop the Dutch?

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Sunday 27th September – The final curtain closer

Who will take the men’s road race? The last of the four-rainbow jersey’s on offer will be hotly contested, the curtain closer and full of talent within the startlists.

You have to feel for Mads Pedersen, the current defending champion who rode a magnificent race last year but will unlikely carry the rainbow jersey into the upcoming Spring Classics held in October. It was meant to be his year wearing the status of world champion at races he’s capable of winning until Covid-19 came along and scuppered his plans.

So, who will become the next world champion?

While Mads Pedersen won’t be likely to win again there’s still hope in the Danish squad for Jakob Fuglsang. He’s heading to the Giro in top form and a rainbow jersey wouldn’t be a bad prize to take into the race next weekend.

Wout Van Aert is the outstanding favourite as he’s a huge talent but could his freedom be limited because of other team-mates such as Greg Van Avermaet? Other stage winners at the Tour de France such as Marc Hirschi for Switzerland, Alexey Lutsenko for Kazakhstan and 2014 world champion Michał Kwiatkowski all start.

The winner of the Tour de France Tadej Pogačar rides for Slovenia alongside the man he defeated to win the yellow jersey Primož Roglič. Julian Alaphillipe for France had a tremendous year going into Yorkshire before fatigue began to tell – less fancied this weekend, Alaphilippe could be a threat.

One notable absentee is three times world champion Peter Sagan. It was not the Sagan we were used to at the Tour, he’s kept his word that he’ll be riding the Giro, so perhaps understandable that the Slovakian doesn’t start.

Italian fans will be hoping for a Vincenzo Nibali victory but who knows? We have no idea who will win the rainbow jersey and that’s we cannot wait for the World Championships to get underway!

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A rescheduled season

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When coronavirus halted the season it wasn’t the end of the world. The season looked in doubt, our annual fill of cycling disappearing for the foreseeable future just awful. Since Paris-Nice was cut short back in March, the pandemic continues its invisible grip on the globe, innocent people are still dying. Here at The Chain Gang our thoughts are with anyone who has lost a loved one during what is a very painful and stressful time.

Covid-19 is changing our lives, our daily routines and has affected sport in all its forms. Stadiums without football fans is a sad thing to see but for cycling fans we’ve gone without for a long time. The prospect of not seeing the five Monuments, the three Grand Tours and the World Championships was bleak on top of a pressing issue as to whether cycling could socially distance. Caution, new protocols and a desire to save the season was the UCI’s plan and now we’re delighted to see the sport back but not as we know it!

Going without our yearly dose of Paris Roubaix cobbles, women’s cycling, the Tour de France and rainbow jerseys would’ve been a disaster but we’re all very thankful that won’t be the case. A 71-day schedule filled with the three Grand Tours, women’s racing, the Classics and the World Championships assures the future of the teams, the races they rely upon plus the fans appetite. Of course we’d never thought we’d see the Tour de France take place in September nor the Tour of Flanders in October but that’s the new normal, a new story that’s sure to be fast and furious. 

The Vuelta a Burgos has got the revised World Tour calendar underway for every rider to get back into the rhythm of racing. 14 World Tour teams are involved plus Bora-Hansgrohe continued their pre-lockdown form with Austrian Felix Großschartner taking their win tally to 11. Face masks were in abundance, the crowd trying its best to socially distance and with Strade Bianche coming up, it’s fantastic to see the colour and splendour of cycling once more!

So what more have we got to look forward to from now until November?

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The Tour de France will always be the central occasion for cycling as it’s global appeal brings in potential new fans. Held in September, this year’s race is possibly the hardest yet with only one 36km time trial and four summit finishes via all five mountain ranges. Disappointing as it is to see the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse not taking place, teams will still have good preparation with August hosting Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo (with a changed route) and Il Lombardia – three successive weekends of exciting racing on top of the Dauphiné and the Tour of Poland!

While the Tour is the prominent race let’s not forget the other two Grand Tours. The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España have perhaps lost their status as huge annual races but despite the two clashing with Paris Roubaix and the Ardennes Classics, that shouldn’t take away the anticipation from cycling fans. Get ready for ‘Super Sunday’ on October 25th with a summit finish up the Col du Tourmalet at the Vuelta, the men’s and first-ever women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix and then the finale of the Giro – what a day in prospect!

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Rescheduled racing doesn’t mean a rescheduling of individual ambition with lots of questions still to be answered! How will Julian Alaphilippe fare after his heroic efforts in yellow last year? Will Chris Froome win a fifth Tour de France or will Team INEOS prioritise Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas to win their second titles?

New rivals for the yellow jersey are in abudance. Team Jumbo-Visma will have Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič and last year’s third-placed rider Steven Kruijswijk all set to try and dismantle INEOS’s dominance. Also never discount a revitalised Nairo Quintana at Arkea Samsic, Emanuel Buchmann looked good last year, Adam Yates will want to do better plus the French hope who’ll want to make amends after his injury on Stage 19 is Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot. 

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Key names are still up for the Giro. Two-times winner Vincenzo Nibali has already picked out his rivals to win pink and that includes one of the hottest properties in cycling right now.

Twenty years of age, a big career ahead of him, Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel is already being touted as a Grand Tour winner before even securing a Monument. Youth is the future but surely he can’t win a Grand Tour on his debut? It’s only his second season at World Tour level, he has the form after winning the Clásica de San Sebastián last year, he’s the European Time Trial champion and in 2020 he’s already secured overalls at the Vuelta a San Juan and Volta a Algarve. If Evenepoel became the first Belgian Grand Tour winner since Johan De Muynck’s 1978 Giro triumph – I think cycling would be blown away!

Last year’s Giro winner Richard Carapaz made history for his country and he’ll want to repeat the feat. Astana’s Jakub Fuglsang and Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates will also be threats and although he won’t win pink overall, three-times world champion Peter Sagan remains committed to skip the Classics and make his Giro d’Italia debut.

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The Classics are all mixed up to provide entertainment, preparation and intense racing. Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo and Il Lombardia make up August before La Fleche Wallonne on September 30th followed by an October based predominantly in Belgium for the Ardennes and cobbled classics. Races such as E3 Harelbeke and Dwars Door Vlaanderen are unfortunately cancelled but big names will still be up for the challenge.

Alpecin Felix’s Mathieu van der Poel has been left disappointed at not being allowed to ride the Tour so all his aspirations will come at the one-day events. Strade Bianche will his first assessment and who knows what this amazing rider can do after that incredible Amstel Gold victory last season. A Dutch wonderkid, van der Poel could add a lot to what he achieved in 2019 but he’ll have competition. World champion Mads Pedersen for Trek-Segafredo will want to make his rainbow stripes shine and let’s not forget the Belgians too with this year’s Het Nieuwsblad winner Jasper Stuyven, Greg Van Avermaet has his own goals plus Lotto Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert could make personal history in winning all five Monuments if he’s successful at Milan Sanremo.

All squeezed together, the classics look set to be exciting!

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If everything all goes to plan and protocals are adhered too, this new rescheduled season will be enthralling, dramatic and hopefully we’ll see some potential upsets to the usual yearly script. The World Championships in Switzerland are due to be held in their normal September slot but of course as the UCI has stated, if cases of the pandemic start to rise and with talk of a ‘second wave’ in Europe maybe on its way – decisions might see no racing whatsoever.

Caution is the most important word right now but joy is the overall feeling as cycling is back! Teams, riders and the media will all need to be careful. The sport is back with a new schedule which we hope will never have to happen again.

For the love of cycling, we hope everyone enjoys the next 71 days of action!