• (L-R) Will Annemiek van Vleuten (C), Anna van der Breggen (L) and Katrin Garfoot (R) feature in tonight's women's elite road race? (Getty)
Get ready for a showdown of epic proportions as the world's best cyclists take to Bergen's streets to decide who will wear the rainbow stripes in the women’s peloton.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Source:
Cycling Central
23 Sep 2017 - 10:14 AM 

The course

The course in Norway offers a bit of everything for the riders. The 18.8 km circuit is lumpy in parts and technical in others, with a flat finish that will have the sprinters hoping they can hold on until the end.

Looming large as the main obstacle of the 18.8 km course is Mount Ulriken, also known as Salmon Hill. Salmon Hill was compared to Mt Buninyong by Australian head coach Martin Barras after conducting a course recon. It's a climb in two parts: a steady drag up, a false-flat section then a steeper drive towards the summit. The climbs combine to form an ascent of 3.6 km at 4.5%, but with the variable difficulty of the slopes, it will be a harder proposition for riders on the day.

A technical descent follows, a good opportunity for talented descenders to extend any gaps at the top of the climb. Once back on the flat, it is a relatively sedate run back in to the finish, with eight kilometres of comparatively easy terrain.

It’s a balanced course and the winner will be decided on how the profile is tackled eight times by the bigger teams.

 

Catch all the action of the UCI Road World Championships tonight with the junior men first up at 5.30pm AEST then the women's road race at 9.30pm AEST streaming here. You can also watch the women's race on SBS Viceland from 10.40pm AEST.

The contenders

The strongest nation is unquestionably the Netherlands. The Dutch have the two outright favourites for the event, Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten, as well as six other riders who could be leaders in their own right for any other national team.

The one weakness in the imposing line-up is the lack of a pure sprinter. Marianne Vos would do a very good job no doubt, but after last year in Doha where prohibitive favourite Kirsten Wild was upstaged, the Dutch will no doubt look to make certain of things here.

They'll likely use their number aggressively from an agreed midpoint of the race, thinning the numbers out and giving their strong riders a chance to make the difference.

Van der Breggen took out an unprecedented sweep of some of the biggest events of the WorldTour: the three Ardennes classics and the Giro Rosa. Van Vleuten was unlucky not to win the Giro Rosa herself but turned the tables on van der Breggen at the recent Boels Rentals Ladies Tour, and with her 12 second victory in the world championships time trial just days ago.

Their own biggest rivals on the WorldTour, it will be interesting to see how the two will work together. They will be the key to the race, any early move that goes and wants to have a chance of succeeding will need an orange jersey there. Any late move by another country will more than likely find themselves outnumbered by the Dutch.  

For the other nations, the glimmer of hope is van der Breggen and van Vleuten don’t appear too accustomed to working together and both really want a maiden road worlds title. Van der Breggen was noticeably displeased after she was displaced at the top of the time-trial podium by van Vleuten and there has been considerable conjecture and debate about which of the pair deserves the role of leader. After her emotional win in the TT, van Vleuten may be entitled to the single leadership of the team.

Worth noting is their recent battle at Boels Rental Tour, the two escaped on the hardest section of the course, but couldn’t cooperate together at all, drifting back to the chasers before attacking again, a stage that was won by van der Breggen in the sprint, with van Vleuten claiming the larger battle of the overall Tour win. 

Australia come into the race off the back of controversy over the selection process, where the selection panel initially opted for five riders, out of a maximum of seven. That has since been increased to seven after a successful appeal by Rachel Neylan and Chloe Hosking, with a host of competent riders missing out.

Despite the initial dubious call of leaving out riders, the Australians go into the race with good camaraderie among the squad and a number of options. The team boasts strong climbers, Amanda Spratt and Shara Gillow, among the strongest in the women’s peloton this year. Both shone at the Giro Rosa and La Course and Gillow came agonisingly close to taking an impressive victory at Strade Bianche.

They'll likely be tasked with initiating and handling other teams' aggression over Salmon Hill. Katrin Garfoot is the unknown, as she was preparing specifically for the time trial, but her immense strength will certainly feature at some stage during the race.

Sarah Roy and Gracie Elvin are more classic-type riders, both packing a decent sprint and will back their chances from a small group. Elvin had two big goals for the season: the Tour of Flanders and the world championships. She was second at Flanders and she’s coming into the race with mixed form but a lot of positivity around her training. Roy was third at the recent GP de Plouay and has shown her ability in the tough races that end in a sprint. She and Elvin can also force the issue from breakaways.

 

Neylan has the distinction of taking Australia’s best result in world championships for the women, a silver medal in 2012. Hosking is Australia’s trump card if the race comes down to a sprint. If a larger group reaches the finish, the Aussie speedster will be present and one of the fastest to the line. She’s not poor over the climbs either, but it’s hard to see a scenario where the race finishes with a group larger than 20 riders or so, which may make it difficult for Hosking.

Australia’s head coach, Barras, eyes Spratt and Gillow as his squad's best chances, surprising given the distance between the climbs on the circuits. Elvin or Roy may be better options for the win given they can pack a punch in a reduced bunch sprint while Spratt and Gillow would need to go solo.

The other big factor is Coryn Rivera (USA). The pint-sized American has proven she is far more than just a sprinter, dominating races where sprinters have no right to be, winning the Tour of Flanders and looking to be a force in the early season classics.

Her form dropped off a bit in the second half of the season, but she looks back to her best with a second place in the Madrid Challenge and contributing to the team time trial victory of Sunweb. The American is one rider that none of the other nations wants to see near the front of the race coming into the final lap.

The other contenders are in a similar position to Australia; they’ll have to work around what the Dutch are doing and look to take their opportunities when they can.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) is a consummate professional and can be relied upon to put in a top drawer performance. A perennial factor in the finale of the hardest races, you can almost guarantee there will be a moment in the race where she’ll be putting in an attack the other favourites must close down or risk losing the race. She’ll be ably supported by Elena Cecchini, with former world champion Giorgia Bronzini looking for a sprint finish.

2015 world champion Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) looked to be one of the big favourites coming into the race, with a strong win at the GP de Plouay and consistently up the front of the big races throughout the year, often playing the foil to trade teammate van der Breggen in her biggest wins.

But just three weeks before the world championships, Deignan underwent surgery for appendix removal. Her condition is up in the air and it’s unlikely even she knows how well she’ll go. The Brits do have a few other options as well, the Barnes sisters will be factors if it comes down to a bunch finish.

A final few quick names to remember for the final few laps of racing in Bergen. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) has been on the cusp of true stardom in the sport in the last few seasons. Still only young, her numerous results in top company suggest a massive victory is just around the corner. She’ll have to overcome the disadvantage of a small team, but if she picks the right move, she’ll be in pole position for the win. 

Amalie Dideriksen (Denmark) is the defending champion and while many wrote off the 21 year-old’s win as a fluke, it was largely due to the domestique role she plays within the world’s best team, Boels-Dolmans. She proved she’s ready for more with her win last year and continued her pattern of big victories out of the blue this season, taking out the tough classic the Ronde van Drenthe.

Ashley Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) will attack on the climbs, and while it's been some time since she claimed a big win, she’s got the ability and the toughness to win.

Lotta Lepisto (Finland) can almost be thrust into the same bracket as Coryn Rivera, albeit she just lacks that ability to go with the best over the climbs. A slightly larger group going into the finish will suit the Finn perfectly.

It shapes as an intriguing race, the Dutch appear to be holding all the cards coming into the event and the course should encourage open, attacking racing. It certainly won’t be one you’ll want to miss.

Catch all the action of the UCI Road World Championships tonight with the Junior Men first up at 5.30pm AEST then the women's road race at 9.30pm AEST streaming here. You can also watch the women's race on SBS Viceland from 10.40pm AEST.