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The Most Iconic World Championship Moments to Remember

By Joshua Donaldson

100 years from its inception, the Road Race World Championships have changed significantly, with some incredible moments that have shaped the way we see the sport.

Here, we chart some of the most iconic moments that have defined the rainbow jersey.

The ‘First’ Champion: Alfredo Binda, 1927

Although the idea for a world championship was put forward in 1920, the first road race with professionals – as we see it today – was not held until 1927 at the Nurburgring in Germany.

Up to that point, the championships had been a time trial, but on the motor-racing circuit, Binda – one of the most iconic riders ever – was on the start line looking to make history. On a course that by today’s standards would be considered short, at just over 182kms, the Italian brutalised the field, winning in style with just 17 men finishing behind him.

France’s Maurice Archambaud and Italy’s Alfredo Binda competing in the 1935 Giro. © AFP / AFP / Profimedia

He would go onto win two more world titles, giving him a tally of three, a feat that, although equaled, has never been bettered.

Binda was the first pro winner and he set in motion what we see today.

Pioneer: Elsy Jacobs, 1958

Like Binda’s effort in 1927, there had to be a first women’s road race champion. And, although it took another 31 years for the UCI to bring the women’s race into the spotlight, it was a historic event in Reims, France, when the female peloton took to the start line for that inaugural race.

And it was a 25-year-old rider from Luxembourg who would steal the show. Jacobs, who would go on to dominate her national road race in the coming years, was first over the line in Reims, winning by a comfortable margin.

Elsy Jacobs
The incredible Elsy. © Profimedia

The women’s race has changed dramatically since those early years. It’s now seen as one of the most entertaining and hotly contested events of world championship week, with people like Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten dominating in recent years.

1958 would be Jacob’s only world crown, but she will always be remembered as being the first.

Across The Pond: Eddy Merckx, 1974

A list of iconic moments, no matter the race, must include the Cannibal. Winning nearly a third of the races he competed in, Merckx was no stranger to success on the biggest stage. In fact, he had already worn the rainbow jersey twice in 1967 and 1971. But his victory in 1974, his third and last,  is iconic for another reason – the location.

Since 1927, the world championships had only been held on the European continent, cycling’s heartland. But, that year, the race was taken across the Atlantic to Montreal, Canada, where a tough, undulating circuit was devised to test the peloton. It was no surprise that Merckx triumphed, beating out his historic rival, Raymond Poulidor, by just two seconds.

Eddy Merckx
At the beginning of the 15th stage. © Profimedia

By visiting Montreal, a city that would hold the Summer Olympics two years later, the World Championships opened itself up to a whole new world and new possibilities, where it could inspire new riders from across the globe.

By now the race has visited every habitable continent except for Africa, and that is likely to change this decade with Rwanda, a cycling power on the rise, seen as a possible destination.

But, back to Montreal, where this victory for Merckx secured him the triple crown for winning two grand tours and the worlds in the same year, a feat only achieved once since – in 1987 by Stephen Roche.

The Comeback: Greg LeMond, 1989

Do you believe in miracles? Well, if you know LeMond’s story, you should. This winner of the world title in 1983 was also a prestigious stage racer, with victories at the Tour De France in 1986 and 1989. But in the spring of 1987 his story took a turn. Accidentally shot by his brother-in-law on a hunting trip, LeMond fought for his life and, at one stage, was just 20 minutes from death.

A comeback into cycling seemed impossible, but by 1989, LeMond was contending again and in the closest Tour de France finish of all time, beat Laurent Fignon by nine seconds in a sporting fairytale that has stood the test of time.

Hinault and LeMond
Bernard Hinault (L) and Greg Lemond (R) at the 1986 Tour. © Profimedia

But what followed in Chambery a couple of months later was equally outstanding. In a sprint finish, a la 1983, the American beat the Soviet Union’s Dimitri Konyshev and Ireland’s Sean Kelly to the line to cap off an incredible year. He would go on to win the Tour in 1990, but would see his fortunes suffer during the EPO era.

His story, iconic. His second World Championship win, exactly the same.

Dutch Delight: Marianne Vos, 2013

Over the course of the World Championships, has there ever been a stronger team than the Dutch women’s team since 2006? One catalyst of this is Vos – a rider for all weathers, all terrains and all conditions. From 2006 until 2013, she finished no lower than second at the world championships, winning it three times.

But, a lot of this was because of her extraordinary team. Since 2006, a Dutch rider has finished on the podium in every edition other than 2014. Since 2017, they have taken home the rainbow jersey each and every time. Unsurprisingly, they are the most successful nation by a long shot in the history of the women’s road race.

Marianne Vos
Vos’ iconic win in 2013. © Profimedia

Vos’ victory in 2013 was iconic for that teamwork. As the race whittled down in Florence, her and Anna van der Breggen worked together, attacking the field and making moves until Vos launched with her traditional kick on the final climb. No one could match her as she left Sweden’s Emma Johannson and Italy’s Rosella Ratto for dead.

That would be the final podium, as Vos won by 15 seconds. This race not only encapsulated what an incredible rider she is, it showed how one team can dominate the world.

Three-peat: Peter Sagan, 2017

His efforts in 2015 and 2016 were quite incredible, but in 2017, Sagan was on a different level. On a course that suited punchy sprinters, there were quicker men in the field while Sagan was going for a historic third world title in a row, only achieved once before by French rider Jeannie Longo.

Peter Sagan
If you image search the web for Peter Sagan, a 30-year-old Slovak professional racing cyclist, the results will be dominated by the colour green. © Profimedia

Heading into the last four kilometres, Sagan was wheel surfing with no teammates left. What followed was a masterclass. He started by following an attack by Ben Swift, shutting moves down because he wanted to take it to a sprint, confident he could outmuscle the likes of Alexander Kristoff and Michael Matthews. The riders went at it again a few hundred metres later, and Sagan was there shutting them down, showing his strength, but, critically, not overexerting himself.

His positioning into the final corner was perfect. He slotted in behind Kristoff and waited for the big Norwegian to start his sprint. As soon as he did that, Sagan sat and waited for the perfect moment, before pouncing and winning it with a bike throw. It was a clinic on how to win a race and an iconic moment for an iconic rider.

Did we miss any moments worth mentioning? Let us know tell us about your favourite memory from the world championships!