• Peter Sagan has been the man in rainbow stripes this year, who will be the rider to inherit the jersey? (AAP)Source: AAP
257.5 kilometres of sandy Qatari roads will decide who emerges as the world champion for 2016 and gets the honour and the pressure of wearing the fabled jersey next season.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

16 Oct 2016 - 1:29 PM  UPDATED 16 Oct 2016 - 1:33 PM

It's rare that the pure sprinters get a chance to win a world championships. So much so, that other races, like Scheldeprijs and the Champs Elysees stage of the Tour de France are dubbed 'unofficial sprinter's world championships'. 

Now they have their own shot at Worlds glory, any sprinter worthy of the name has set his sights on being in top form in Doha. The star-studded field sees the cream of the crop of the fast men all looking to be the one who takes home the rainbow jersey for their country.

Being in Qatar, the course is as flat as a pool table and with the forecast looking relatively benign, those who are hoping for an attacking race may be disappointed. There will be little to no wind to speak of, so whilst the peloton will race the first 150 kilometres of the race in the Qatari desert, they will only have a light headwind that will switch to a tailwind as they head back into Doha.

Once back in the city, it's straight out to the 15.2 kilometre circuit around 'The Pearl', the man-made island that is mostly comprised of building sites, parks and marinas. It has proven to be quite technical, with a number of crashes in the road races so far.

Nonetheless, a sprint looks almost nailed on for the finish here. Only one of the races so far this week went to the attackers, the junior mens race which doesn't have the same representation of large teams to control the race. It was notable in the womens road race that despite the strongest team in the race, the Dutch, constantly attacking for a 15-20 kilometre section, they weren't able to force anything resembling a dangerous move.

So with a sprint looking near certain who are the contenders? 

Defending champion Peter Sagan (Slovakia) has been one of the most successful champions in recent times, defying the 'curse of the rainbow jersey' to rack up 13 wins for the season. He is of course more than just a pure sprinter but that hasn't stopped him from mixing it up with the best in the flat finishes. A superb bike handler with a knack for following the right wheels in the finish, the lack of a Slovakian leadout train won't hamper Sagan at all. 

He is in very good form at the moment as well, any thought of a post-Olympics mountain bike experiment hangover was quickly dispelled with wins in GP Quebec, European Championsips and the Eneco Tour. Won't be the favourite here, but he's guaranteed to be in the mix.

Fernando Gaviria (Colombia) burst onto the scene last year in San Luis, beating Mark Cavendish at the Argentinian race and hasn't looked back since, going from strength to strength in the professional peloton. It seems odd to be mentioning the 22-year old Colombian in the same breath as the massive names and egos of the sport, especially given that he hasn't ridden a Grand Tour yet.

The reason that Gaviria gets star billing here is his amazing recent form and ability to seemingly get stronger as the race goes on. His recent win at Paris-Tours was monstrous, jumping away from the peloton with 700 metres to go and holding them off with a sustained sprint to the line. In one of the longest races on the calendar, Milan San Remo, it was Gaviria who looked the stongest in the finale and he would likely have won if not for the crash which scuppered his chances. 

Probably the only thing which will hamper Gaviria is a poor Colombian leadout train, but he'll be hard to hold out if he starts his sprint near the front.

Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) will go down as the sprinter of his generation and one of the best of all time. Plenty have written of the Manxman in the last few seasons but 'Cav' has gone out and proven his critics wrong time and time again. He comes into this world championships with an interrupted preparation after falling ill a few weeks ago and was sixth in Paris-Tours on his return. 

The winner of the last sprinters world championships in Copenhagen, Cavendish has a strong British squad at his disposal and if he overcome missing a week of training, then there's no reason it won't be another win to add to the storied Cavendish career. 

The German team has the enviable conundrum of having too many top sprinters to pick from. Andre Greipel will go in as the anointed leader, a decision which is seen as a safer one than backing Marcel Kittel. The 'Gorilla' is a regular these days in the classics riding off the front in the decisive stages of races like Tour of Flanders and Roubaix. Don't read too much into his average form heading in here, Greipel is a past master at peaking at the right time.

Kittel hasn't displayed his abilities in the really long races yet, but is generally considered the faster of the two in a drag race to the line. Kittel's form was also a bit uninspiring in recent months but he looked great as part of the Etixx-QuickStep team time trial gold medal ride.

John Degenkolb would also be a leader on most other teams, but here he'll likely have to settle for playing third fiddle. 

Australian hopes will fall on the shoulders of Caleb Ewan and Michael Matthews. Ewan has been emerging as a sprinter on the World Tour for the past few seasons and it's easy to see the talent that he has. Crouching low over the handlebars and powering clear to take wins was a familiar scene in the Australian summer but one that has been harder to reproduce in Europe. It's also worth noting that Ewan doesn't have much experience in the long classics.

That's where Michael Matthews will come in. Matthews is far from a pure sprinter and really excels in a race that is long or difficult and he's going for the win against other riders with tired legs. There's little question that he'll get the distance here and he'll be a more reliable than Ewan in Doha, at least at this stage of their respective careers.

The Italians will have some egos to massage during the race with Elia Viviani and Giacomo Nizzolo both believing that they should go into the race as the leader. It's fair to say that Viviani enjoys the bigger reputation of the two, but Nizzolo has been the one with the superior form in recent times and probably quite rightly makes the case that he should lead the Italians. Whichever one gets the nod will be the beneficiary of one the best leadouts on the day with Trentin, Guarnieri, Sabatini and Oss all top leadout men for their trade teams.

Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare are similarly fighting (in Bouhanni's case perhaps literally) for the top spot in the French team. Demare can rightly say that he won Milan San Remo this year and should get the leader's duties from that performance alone, as it is probably the most relevant formline for this race. On the other hand, Bouhanni is a lot more of a consistent presence in challenging the best sprinters in the world for wins, at least when he's not getting relegated for underhand tactics.

Alexander Kristoff (Norway), Tom Boonen (Belgium) and Dylan Groenewegen (Netherlands) are three others that are worth keeping an eye on. They may struggle against the leadouts of the other nations here, but with a bit of luck, there's no reason they can't be on the podium.

SBS will be broadcasting the race live. Coverage starts with streaming online from 6.20 pm, then on SBS2 from 10.00 pm. All times AEDT.