There’s no Tour de France hangover this year. Just a week after Le Grand Boucle wrapped up in Paris, the UCI World Championships take place in Italy.
Like every race this fall, the World Championships have found an unnatural and never-to-be-repeated slot on the weekend between the end of the Tour and the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia on October 3 and 4. For fans, it’s just enough time to catch their breath, but for racers, it’s a fine line between tweaking form and resting.
The rider on everyone’s mind heading into Sunday is Wout van Aert. Short of actually winning the Tour himself, he very nearly pulled it off for teammate Primoz Roglic. It might even be pointed out that Roglic only lost time when exposed from behind his phalynx of world-glass teammates, with van Aert, Sepp Kuss, and Tom Dumoulin perhaps the most notable among them.
For France, it was a Tour to forget in many ways. Alaphillipe’s Stage Two win felt a distant memory by the end of the race, although perhaps no rider was as committed to breakaways as the former Milan-San Remo winner. He arrives in Italy as France’s best hope at fielding a world champion, and it’s hard to think of a more exiting rider to don the rainbow jersey in 2021.
There is decidedly more pressure on Spain and Italy. For the first time in nearly thirty years, neither country won a stage at the Tour. Truth be told, there’s only the ageless Alejandro Valverde, world champion last season, to offer up what might be called an honest shot. Matteo Trentin looked in fine form in France for Team CCC, but the Italians, like Valverde’s Spanish Armada, seldom field a cohesive team and almost never rally behind one rider, and that’s the level of support Trentin would need to win.
It feels a bit like another year for a small nation and, just possibly, a breakaway. That suits 2014 World Champion and Tour stage winner Michal Kwiatkowski. It might also be a recipe for Italy Vicenzo Nibali or even a rider like reigning World Champion Mads Pedersen. You have to feel for Pedersen, whose surprise win a year ago fell victim the pandemic; he was barely able to race in the rainbow jersey, though he found podium finishes in two stages at the Tour and rode admirably in support of another World’s contender, Richie Porte.
It’s Porte’s Australian team that gets the nod as the team to watch. A deeper team than usual, they have options with Porte and Michael Matthews. After being snubbed by Sunweb and left off the Tour team, he announced a return to Mitchelton-SCOTT in the upcoming offseason and will ride with a massive chip on his shoulder.
The course is one of the toughest in recent memory, using big parts of the famous Imola race track. It’s a course for puncheurs, but in a season that has been completely unpredictable, don’t expect a steady and to-the-script outing this Sunday.
With no Peter Sagan, lots of teams with riders in unknown form, and the mix of fitness levels from post-Tour, pre-Giro, and pre-Classics riders, it’s a tough race to pick. We’re going with Michal Kwiatkowski because he’s the most fun to watch and adding a second World Championship just seems well-deserved for the Pole’s tireless work and other big wins.