Imola 2020 – Road race talking points

Featured images courtesy of BettiniPhoto and SWPix

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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