The circuit is pretty easy until the final four kilometres where there are three short climbs in quick succession, with quick descending in between and very little flat road.
The cobbled Libby Hill is first, a short climb of 300 metres at 6 per cent, and is immediately followed by the steep climb up 23rd street, 100 metres at 11 per cent. The last 300 metre climb up Governor street at 6.8 per cent finishes within the final kilometer, and there is a false flat through to the finish.
The under 23 race was won by a lone attacker, whilst the elite women’s was fought out in a sprint from the front group of nine. The course will give opportunities to a range of riders to be competitive, strong sprinters will fancy their chances of contesting a bunch sprint, and teams like Belgium and Italy will be trying to make the race really hard to eliminate the fast men.
Of the key lead-up races to this year’s world championships, the GP Plouay looks to be the most important. It is held on a very similar course, and Lizzie Armistead won the women’s edition and then backed it with another win here.
Australian Michael Matthews (above) has been building his form nicely coming into this race, taking a win in Alberta, and then finishing second behind an escapee in GP Quebec, outsprinting Kristoff. The GP Quebec is another key form race, as it features a very similar succession of climbs to end. Matthews played it smart there, staying hidden whilst others attacked, and saved his energy for the sprint. He will try to employ similar tactics here, as he showed in Amstel that when he goes on the attack, he can fry his legs for the sprint. He has proven himself one of the best in the world on the short, punchy climbs, and with his strong sprint to finish off, he will consider this a golden opportunity.
Matthews will share leadership of the Australian squad with Simon Gerrans (AUS), who has had a season filled with crashes. He has set his eyes on the world championships, and is rarely far off the win when he nominates a target. At his best, he would look to win in a sprint from a small bunch, as that is how he has taken his best results to date. There’s almost no form to quote, he had a quiet Vuelta a Espana, riding mostly in support of Esteban Chaves. You can’t rule out a champion like Gerrans, and he’ll love this course.
Alexander Kristoff (NOR) won in Plouay, continuing his impressive season. He has become the leading contender in hard races, both those that end in bunch sprints and more selective races. He won’t be the most explosive rider on the climbs, and will have to rely on some help to keep the race together. That might be a problem as the Norwegian squad is only sxi riders, with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Lars-Petter Norhaug his best helpers. He is among the toughest riders in the field, and one of the fastest.
Other sprinters and roleurs who could hold on over the climbs and feature in the finale are Peter Sagan (SVK), John Degenkolb (GER), Nacer Bouhanni (FRA), Juan Jose Lobato (ESP) and Tom Boonen (BEL). Of those, it would be good to see Boonen do well, after his year of personal tragedy and injury. He has been returning to the form which saw him win the 2005 World Championships, and this race represents his last real shot at the rainbow jersey.
Italy will be the team that will look to split the race to pieces. They have a number of strong candidates if the race gets selective. Triple Grand Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali has been in ominous form in recent one-day races and could go all the way. Diego Ulissi has all the right attributes to be a premier classics rider, but hasn’t quite put it all together yet. Fabio Felline will likely try and wait for a sprint, but he is superb climber and can go on the attack.
The other team that holds a number of cards is Belgium, with the formidable duo of Greg Van Avermaet and 2012 world champion Phillipe Gilbert. Two very similar riders, with powerful attacks on the punchy climbs their specialty, they have failed to work well together in the past. It would be a very hard one-two combination to beat if they can work effectively together. If the race is particularly selective, it is hard to look past one of these two winning, as they have so much power on these short climbs.
With the racing chaotic in the final kilometres, it will be tough to pick the winner but sure to be great viewing.