The Wild Wild Worlds. Contender vibes.

Rainbows are fun

Worlds, Men’s Road Race, Sunday, chaos.

Who knows what’s going to happen when they line up in Bergen, Norway for 267 kilometers of hard and unpredictable racing?

Peter Sagan (Slovakia) has won the last two rainbow jerseys and a third consecutive win would be mind-blowing and put him in the company of legends like Merckx.

The hitch is that Sagan has been sick and off the bike for three days. Now, he says he’s ready but isn’t quite sure of his form. Would you bet against him? There might also be a little sandbagging going on.

Sagan is mentally in the idea performance zone: he feels zero pressure, he can race absolutely stress-free. He doesn’t need to win after two straight championship victories and he can simply have fun, race on his instincts and experience and throw the dice.

“What is pressure?” noted Sagan. “I don’t like to talk about making history or about the future. What will happen will happen. I’ve nothing to lose; I’m here to enjoy myself. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved and I want to enjoy tomorrow’s race.

Competitively speaking, it’s a prime nice position to be in. Basically, he has full control of his race.

Over in Belgium, Greg Van Avermaet said he’s not afraid. Yes, unlike Sagan the subject is fear, not fun. He has none – he’s beaten both Sagan and people like the two Michael’s, Kwiatkowski and Matthews.

“I’ve already knocked out those men in sprints, so I have to have confidence,” Van Avermaet told Het Nieuwsblad. “I’m not afraid of them and after a long and hard course, I’m fast.”

Oh, he’s fast enough and just recently he placed second in the recent GP Québec behind Peter Sagan. He likes the punishing, selective nature of the course and in particular has a fondness for the small slope right near the line.

“It is a course that offers possibilities: it’s technical, with little cobbles, there is a bit of everything in it and the final as well. There is a small slope about 500 metres from the finish where you can position yourself, so I’m happy about it.”

Classic hardman that he is, he doesn’t care whether there’s rain or not. It’s the end of the season and there are plenty of tired legs in the peloton. Guys like Van Avermaet wouldn’t mind some rain to dampen everyone else’s spirits.  “The weather can make a difference, but wet or dry, the many kilometers will make it tough,” said Van Avermaet.

Speaking of wet, the one rider praying it does rain – the forecast calls for dry – is Michael Kwiatkowski. Two years ago, in Ponferrada, Spain, he won the Worlds Road Race with the raining falling. Precipitation would be a bonus in his book.

“Rain will change the race a lot. Racing for 267km is already a challenge and even more so if it rains, especially at this late point in the season,” said Kwiatkowski. “It rained in Ponferrada but we took control of the race and it worked out perfectly for us. For sure if I feel strong, I can win again, even in the rain. When you’re strong, the rain is worse for your rivals.

There will be plenty of strategy in the Worlds, where it’s country against country instead of trade team versus trade team. As is the annual custom, the talk out of the Italian team is all about the need for teamwork. You know the Italians – sometimes their riders are just not on the same page – so much passion, so little focus.

There may be all kinds of interesting scenarios on the road. Certainly, homeboys Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alexander Kistoff will leverage the “lots of cheering Norwegians on the roadside” strategy. Nothing like fervent applause to up the wattage a few ticks.

However, our vote for most thoughtful strategy goes to Michael Matthews and his Aussi squad. He’s not planning to over-complicate matters when it comes to attacking Sagan. “We’ll have to talk about tactics when the team all arrives but I think we just need to keep throwing stuff at him, I guess,” he said. He refused to say exactly what he would throw at the reigning world champion – water bottles, stale energy bars, rocks, an elbow. Keep an eye on Matthews, especially when he reaches into his jersey pocket.

Tom Dumoulin, who came into the World Championships as a distinct dark horse for the road race now finds himself in an elevated position. After winning two gold medals in the team and individual time trial, he is now in the same performance space as Sagan: loose, supremely confident, everything a bonus.

“I’ve always said I’m at this year’s World Championships for all three titles. The first two races have given me two world titles. I’m still very focused on a third and I really like the idea of becoming a triple world champion,” Dumoulin said at the Dutch team’s final press conference.

The key for Dumoulin will be invention, creativity and knowing the moment to strike. “Sagan, van Avermaet, and Matthews are the big favorites, we don’t have a rider of that caliber. That makes it difficult for us but we can take advantage of a hard, open course. That will require a lot of intuition from the riders, we’ll have to jump in attacks in the final laps and hope that an ideal situation will arise.”

So here it is in a nutshell: Sagan having fun, Van Avermaet fearless, Kwiatkowski hoping for hard, Edvald Boasson Hagen running on applause, Michael Matthews throwing stuff and Tom Dumoulin tapping his creative side.

Sunday is gonna rock.

 

 

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