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UCI Road World Championships 2016: men’s road race – preview

Mark Cavendish leads British charge in Doha desert

Mark Cavendish leads Great Britain’s charge for only their third gold medal in the elite men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships on Sunday (October 16).

Cavendish, who won in Copenhagen in 2011 – the last time a sprinter-friendly course was used – is one of only two British men, along with Tom Simpson, to pull on the rainbow jersey of world road race champion.

Peter Sagan celebrates winning the men’s road race in Richmond last year (pic: Sirotti)

And a second world title was one of Cavendish’s trio of targets outlined at the start of the year, the first two of which – wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey and winning an Olympic medal – he has already fulfilled.

The Manx Missile heads back to Qatar having won the Tour of Qatar earlier this year, but there is no shortage of big-name sprinters looking to better the Brit on Sunday.

We’ve take a closer look at the route and the contenders…

The route

A totally pan-flat desert route means no climbs for the sprinters to get over, but stifling heat and the risk of crosswinds means Sunday’s race will be far from straightforward.

The men tackle 150km of desert roads, where the winds could be a factor, before hitting the final circuit for seven laps on the Pearl-Qatar (pic: UCI/Doha 2016)

There is already talk that it may be shortened because of the searing heat, but for now the plan is to roll out from near the Khalifa International Stadium and tackle a 151km route through the desert, where the winds could cause problems.

The peloton then heads onto the artificial Pearl-Qatar island and takes on seven laps of the technical 15.2km circuit before the anticipated sprint finish.

Great Britain team

Mark Cavendish headlines the Great British team, though the Manxman has suffered illness in the run-in to the race.

He’s backed by a strong team in Qatar, with nine riders set to be selected from a shortlist of ten for Sunday’s race.

Ben Swift and Geraint Thomas are likely to play an important part in Mark Cavendish’s lead-out (Pic: Sirotti)

Among those in Qatar are British champion Adam Blythe, rising sprint star Dan McLay and, ahead of his winter move from Team Sky to Project TJ Sport, sprinter Ben Swift.

All three have proved their sprinting credentials in the past, not least Swift who was second at Milan-San Remo this year, and will play an important part in Cavendish’s lead-out.

Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard were the men who led Cavendish out in Copenhagen, meanwhile, and both return again with big roles to play, particularly if the winds whip up.

Great Britain team for men’s world road race: (nine from) Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Adam Blythe (Tinkoff), Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, Ben Swift, Geraint Thomas (all Team Sky), Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon 18)

The contenders

Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)

It seems strange to think now that Mark Cavendish was written off ahead of the start of the 2016 season, his best years supposedly behind him.

Since then he has balanced road and track commitments throughout 2016, and won the Tour of Qatar, bagged four Tour de France stages, won world Madison gold and Olympic omnium silver.

In the Tour de France especially, Cavendish was back to his imperious best in the bunch sprints, and the Manxman will hope to return to that sort of form in Doha.

Mark Cavendish won this year’s Tour of Qatar, setting the tone for a superb season so far (pic: ASO)

He also knows how to ride in the crosswinds, and will back himself to be the right side of any splits should they form.

Cavendish has won nine stages in Qatar, alongside claiming two overall Tour of Qatar titles, so he knows what it takes to win in the desert.

He fulfilled his first two ambitions for this season, and if he is fully recovered from his illness you wouldn’t back against him completing a hat-trick.

Andre Greipel (Germany)

Germany are blessed with plenty of options for Sunday’s race, with German champion Andre Greipel joined by Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb in the six-man line-up.

With newly re-crowned world time trial champion Tony Martin also in the lead-out, whichever sprinter they pin their colours too has a huge chance.

Germany have plenty of sprinting options, but while Marcel Kittel has the all-out speed, Andre Greipel is adept on tough, long courses (pic: Sirotti)

While Kittel has the all-out speed, however, Greipel has proved himself a serious contender when the going gets tough.

It was The Gorilla who won the second stage of last year’s Tour de France, when crosswinds shredded the peloton in Zeeland, remember.

A stage win on the Champs-Elysees reiterated his sprinting form at this year’s Tour, while his national title was won at the expense of Kittel – who finished third – on a 215.6km course in Erfurt.

Both Kittel and Greipel are contenders, but Greipel has proved himself in tough terrain before – there may be no climbs, but it’s far more than all-out speed needed to win in Qatar.

Alexander Kristoff (Norway)

One man who knows all about winning in Qatar is Alexander Kristoff, having won six stages across the last two Tours of Qatar – three at each.

Kristoff was unable to add to his Tour de France stage wins tally at this year’s Tour, despite six top-five finishes, but his sprinting ability is not in question on his day.

Alexander Kristoff has won six times in Qatar in the last two years (pic: Sirotti)

Norway have managed to qualify a full nine-man squad for the race too, something the likes of Germany did not, meaning Kristoff will be well-supported in the desert.

Edvald Boasson Hagen and Sondre Holst Enger will form part of his lead-out train, with the former in particular likely to play a very important role on the final circuit.

Kristoff has been unable to better his sprinting rivals on the biggest stages this season, but he remains one of the big contenders for the rainbow jersey, not least because of his recent form in the Qatari desert.

Tom Boonen (Belgium)

Kristoff’s six stage wins pale in comparison to Tom Boonen’s success in Qatar, however, with the Belgian veteran having bagged 22 stage victories in total, alongside four overall wins and seven points jerseys.

Quite simply, when there is wind about there are few other riders you’d want in your corner than Tommeke Boonen.

Tom Boonen celebrates one of his 22 Tour of Qatar stage wins (pic: OPQS/Tim de Waele)

If the winds whip up on Sunday, Boonen will go from being a dark horse to a serious contender, and Belgium certainly have the riders to make the racing hard in Doha.

Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet is another possible outsider, for starters, while Jens Debusschere offers another sprinting option.

Boonen, the 2005 world champion, is no longer the force he once was but the 35-year-old’s victory at RideLondon earlier this year was a reminder never to write him off, particularly on a taxing course.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia)

Defending champion Peter Sagan has enjoyed quite the year in the rainbow jersey, and while he had to wait until the end of March for his first victory as world champion, he hasn’t looked back since.

The Slovakian had the perfect course in Richmond, and duly responded by claiming the rainbow bands for the first – and surely not the last – time.

Peter Sagan has been in supreme form in his year in the rainbow jersey (pic: Sirotti)

And after previous world champions have struggled in the jersey, Sagan disproved any ‘curse’ by finishing top of this year’s UCI WorldTour rankings.

Victories at Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders; two stage wins apiece at the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse; three stage wins and another green jersey at the Tour de France; GP de Quebec victory (and second-place at the GP de Montreal); European champion; and, most recently, two stage wins at the Eneco Tour – this has been quite a year.

So while Sagan does not have the out-and-out speed his sprinting rivals possess, and will be racing in Qatar with just brother Juraj and their Tinkoff team-mate Michael Kolar for company, you simply can’t write him off.

Sagan has proved time and again he can win without a lead-out, he has the tactical nous to compete with faster riders and he will not be troubled if the winds whip up.

The Slovakian will want a hard race, but will be a man to watch regardless.

Fernando Gaviria (Colombia)

At just 22, Fernando Gaviria has enjoyed a successful first year in the WorldTour peloton with Etixx-QuickStep, and took victory at Paris-Tours on Sunday to prove his form ahead of the Worlds.

That was his seventh individual victory of the season on the road, while he was crowned world omnium champion on the track in London in March and finished just outside the medals in the same discipline at Rio 2016.

Fernando Gaviria has wasted little time making his mark on the WorldTour (pic: Sirotti)

He has pledged himself fully to the road now, however, and claiming the rainbow jersey would send a great statement of intent.

Only three riders – Karel Kaers (20), Jean-Pierre Monsere and Lance Armstrong (21) have won the world road race at younger than 22, but Gaviria’s Paris-Tours victory proved he has talent beyond his years.

Rather than facing the bunch sprint, Gaviria attacked solo in the final kilometre and held on to claim victory – he will be watched like a hawk on the final circuit in Doha on Sunday, but with plenty of sprinting speed too he won’t be worried.

Other riders to watch

It’s easy to just list all the big-name sprinters taking part, but with a pan-flat course it is hard to look beyond the race ending in a bunch sprint.

Some nations will want hard racing, and have the riders to make it hard too, however, like the Netherlands – who boast two-time Tour of Qatar champion Niki Terpstra in their number, while Dylan Groenewegen and Danny van Poppel will be on sprinting duty.

Milan-San Remo champion Arnaud Demare is one of France’s two main sprinting options, alongside Nacer Bouhanni (pic: Sirotti)

France are also blessed with plenty of sprinting talent, led by Nacer Bouhanni – but the fiery sprint star has been playing catch-up since a hotel fracas led to him needing surgery and missing the Tour de France.

Arnaud Demare, Milan-San Remo winner, may therefore be the sprinter the French work for instead.

Italy could also choose to work for a number of riders, with Matteo Trentin a man to watch as the laps count down, and any one of Daniele Bennati, Giacomo Nizzolo and Olympic omnium champion Elia Viviani likely to be their man for the bunch sprint.

Australia, meanwhile, have Caleb Ewan as their stand-out sprinter, with Mark Renshaw likely to be his lead-out man, but Michael Matthews and even Steele von Hoff are capable of a result too if circumstances work in their favour.

If the winds play a part, it could be a dark horse claiming victory on Sunday, but realistically it should be a day for the sprinters, with the rainbow jersey decided in a frantic bunch gallop.

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