Sprinter Michael Matthew says the World Road Race Championship in Doha, Qatar is a crap shoot. He’s right — though he left out a few qualifiers. It’s a brutally dry and hot, 250K, potentially windy, mega roundabout crap shoot.
The experts are all over the map: some vote for Sagan some for Cavendish, some are feeling sentimental about Tom Boonen, a few tapped Matthews, Greipel and Kittel. Fans who also like boxing, are calling for the fiery Nacer Bouhanni to take home a rainbow jersey with sand in it.
So yeah, it’s a tough, tough Las Vegas call — and that feels about right given Vegas is also located in the dessert.
While the winds could play Classics havoc in this race, the forecast now calls for nothing too extreme in terms of wind. In my mind that puts Boonen out of the running. It will just be too hard to make the race too hard without some serious cross winds.
The real defining metric is whether a train is useful or not on this course when the final circuits are on a relatively technical Pearl Island section with plenty of roundabouts and tight turns.
That fact would seem to rule out the possibility of a well-drilled and organized train being able to impose its will on the peloton. For that reason, we’re knocking out Kittel and probably Greipel.
So that leaves the guys who are excellent bike handlers — sprinters who can bob and weave, float and bounce from wheel to wheel, sprinters who can improvise and create their own opportunities.
That kind of skill turns the advantage to current World Champion Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and Michael Matthews. Now, how do we still narrow this down?
So, who wants it the most, who needs it, who would do anything to score the rainbow stripes? Sagan has already had an amazing year winning races even when he isn’t particularly focused. His luck, timing, strategic judgment and just plain freaking talent and panache have given him a boatload of big wins.
The bonus for Sagan is he comes into Qatar with zero pressure and nothing to prove. That makes him dangerous but the fact is, we think Sagan has reached the end of a long, long season and doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. If he sees and opportunity, he’ll take it but we don’t see him winning.
Now, Michael Matthews is a whole different situation. He’s young, he’s hungry and he doesn’t need a train to get the job done. He’s also displayed a rock solid confidence and he isn’t afraid to say what he needs in a race and take the bull by the horns. That said, we’re putting him down for second or third.
We think that Mark Cavendish is the guy who is going to take home that jersey with all the color bands on it, the one that looks like a rainbow. Cavendish is hungrier, he likes the biggest stages and he wants to close the 2016 season with indisputable proof that he’s still the fastest sprinter in the world.
Only hitch here is that Cav is apparently getting over a cold or a stomach issue. But you know what? That sounds a little like a psychological ploy to take the pressure off. We suspect Cav will be 110% motivated in Doha. He wants this one bad and we think he’s going to get it.