Some bike-racing fans might consider the 2018 UCI Road World Championship, to be held between September 22 and 30 in Innsbruck-Tirol, Austria, an anticlimax of the road race season, since it follows the three Grand Tours. But that would be a mistake.

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Though the highlight of the competition, the Elite Men’s road race, lacks the glamor and monetary rewards of the Tour de France, the athletes themselves regard it precisely as what it claims to be, the world road racing championship, and many consider it (and not the Vuelta) as the final race, with the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, of an unofficial ‘Triple Crown of Road Racing’. Only two riders, the legendary Belgian Eddy Merckx (in 1974) and Ireland’s Stephen Roche (in 1987) have managed to win all three races in the same calendar year.

Stephen Roche wearing the yellow jersey. © Profimedia, AFP

More than 1,000 competitive cyclists will travel to Innsbruck to compete in 12 races in the categories Elite Men, Elite Women, Junior Men, Junior Women, and U23 Men. World champions will be crowned in individual time trials, team time trials and road races. Fittingly, the Elite Men road race takes place on the last day of the competition.

The favorite to take the title may well be Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, the defending champion and one of only five riders, including Merckx, to have won the title three times. The 28-year-old Sagan is the only one to have won three world championships in succession, from 2015 to 2017.

The Slovak’s riding style and strength suits the kind of race usually run in the road race championship. He is classified as a ‘puncher,’ meaning that he can survive, though not win, difficult mountain stages and is very competitive in low mountains and sprints.

However, this year’s race is one of the most difficult in its history. The 252.9-km race will be run over six 23.8-km laps and one final lap of 31 km. The six shorter laps over the Olympic Circuit feature two moderately challenging climbs, of 2.6 km at an average gradient of 10.5 % and 7.5 km, at 5.7%. However, the 31-km final lap includes a third ascent of 2.8 km that has an imposing average slope of 11.5 %, with one section at 28 %, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Hell Climb’.

This makes for a total of 4,670 vertical meters and could favor a strong climber who has managed to stay with a breakaway and is able to conquer the tricky final descent into Innsbruck. Think Australian Richie Porte, Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, or Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski, who all used the Vuelta to prepare for this event. But if Sagan manages to remain within striking distance after the final climb, he may make history by becoming the first rider with four world championship titles to his name.

The individual time trial will be run on Wednesday, September 26, over a 52-km course, from Rattenberg to Innsbruck, which features a challenging 5-km climb at an average of 7.1 % and a maximum gradient of 14 %. The race will likely be decided not only by how quickly the racers make it to the top of the climb, but also how much of their strength they left on the slope. It may come down to a duel between the Australian Rohan Dennis, who impressively won a rolling time trial in the Vuelta, and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, the defending champion.

Annemiek Van Vleuten (L) wins before Dutch Anna van der Breggen (R) the sprint at the finish of the ‘La Course by Le Tour de France’ one day women’s cycling race, 112.5 km from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand, France, Tuesday 17 July 2018. © Profimedia, AFP

The Elite Women road race takes place on the penultimate day of the competition, September 29, and covers a distance of 150.6 kilometers divided into a circuit of 84.8 km and three laps of 23.8 km each. The first section includes the taxing ascent to Gnadenwald, a distance of 2.6 km at an average gradient of 10.5 %, with some stretches as steep as 14 % The rest of the race features another climb that must be taken three times. It covers 7.9 km at an average of 5.7 %. The Dutch riders Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten are given good chances to win because of their success in races requiring hill-climbing.

The Elite Women individual time trial will be held on September 25. It covers 27.8 km and includes a modest climb of 1.2 km at an average of 4.2 %. Van der Breggen, defending champion van Vleuten, and a third Dutchwoman, Ellen van Dijk, are regarded as favorites, though the absence of difficult climbs may lead to a surprise.

2018 UCI World Championships Schedule

Sunday (September 23) – Ötztal to Innsbruck, 53.8km – Elite Women’s team time trial
Sunday (September 23) – Ötztal to Innsbruck, 62.1km – Elite Men’s team time trial
Monday (September 24) – Hall-Wattens to Innsbruck, 20.2km – Women’s Junior time trial
Monday (September 24) – Hall-Wattens to Innsbruck, 28.5km – Men’s Under 23 time trial
Tuesday (September 25) – Hall-Wattens to Innsbruck, 28.5km – Men’s Junior time trial
Tuesday (September 25) – Hall-Wattens to Innsbruck, 28.5km – Women’s Elite Individual time trial
Wednesday (September 26) – Alpbachtal Seenland – Innsbruck, 54.2km – Men’s Elite Individual time trial
Thursday (September 27) – Alpbachtal Seenland – Innsbruck, 72.4km – Women’s Junior road race
Thursday (September 27 )– Kufstein – Innsbruck, 138.4km – Men’s Junior road race
Friday (September 28) – Kufstein – Innsbruck, 186.2km – Men’s Under 23 road race
Saturday (September 29) – Kufstein – Innsbruck, 162.3km – Women’s Elite road race
Sunday (September 30) – Kufstein – Innsbruck, 265km – Men’s Elite road race

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