Friday, 25 September 2015

The final junior road race event of the year is right around the corner. Uci World Championships in Richmond will conclude the junior season and with all the top riders from under 19 category on the start line we may be witnessing a fascinating battle for the rainbow.


The route

Circuit profile (photo: richmond2015.com)
 As the official website describes: "All road races will take place on a challenging, technical and inner-city road circuit. The peloton heads west from Downtown Richmond, working their way onto Monument Avenue, a paver-lined, historic boulevard that’s been named one of the “10 Great Streets in America.” Racers will take a 180-degree turn at the Jefferson Davis monument and then maneuver through the Uptown district and Virginia Commonwealth University. Halfway through the circuit, the race heads down into Shockoe Bottom before following the canal and passing Great Shiplock Park, the start of the Virginia Capital Trail. A sharp, off-camber turn at Rocketts Landing brings the riders to the narrow, twisty, cobbled 200-meter climb up to Libby Hill Park in the historic Church Hill neighborhood. A quick descent, followed by three hard turns leads to a 100-meter-long climb up 23rd Street. Once atop this steep cobbled hill, riders descend into Shockoe Bottom. This leads them to the final 300-meter-long climb up Governor Street. At the top, riders face a 680-meter false flat to the finish." 

Adrien Costa during the recon ride on 23rd Street (photo: Nick Davis)

Riders will face eight laps, 16,2km long each. The first twelve kilometers are basically flat and quite easy with just a few technical turns. Then, the real racing starts, we have three hills in the last four kilometers of each lap.

The hills:

Libby Park, 215 meters long, avg. 8%, max 9%
23rd Street, 185m, avg. 12%, max 13%
Governor Street, 295m, avg. 7%, max 8%

Detailed climbs profile
These are the official gradients but actually the Libby Park, according to the riders is little bit easier, mostly 6-7% while 23rd Street is actually harder with the max gradient reaching 20% at some point. The descent after  23rd Street is technical so even a small gap at the top of the climb might be enough to get away.


Libby Hill
Asked few riders what do they think about the course and possible race scenarios.
Pavel Sivakov says "It is gonna be a hard race. Two cobbled climbs, the first without a big grade, around 6-7%, 300m climb. The second is shorter but with a big grade around 15-16%. And after the top it's the same road as in time trial. All climbs are in last 4km so it is really good for late attacks."

"Course is very interesting. Mostly flat with a few sharp turns which makes position in the bunch important. More important though is the final 4km really tough with a technical downhill... I predict utter chaos if wet. Governor street climb and the drag to the finish I think is the hardest part of the course after fatigue from the two cobble climbs" says Keagan Girdlestone.

Tobias Foss from Norway expects a stressful day: "I think it will be a hard race.. It is going to be hard into the hills, because everyone wants to be at the front.. So it is going to be an intense race that needs a lot of concentration and the riders not only get tired physically, but also mentally.. I think it is going to be like the classic races. A lot of stress and a hard course"

Jasper Philipsen hopes it will work well for Belgium team:  "I think a nice route for the Belgium riders with two cobbled climbs. We start with a strong team. I hope a sprint in a smaller group but it can go in all directions I think."

Billy Innes, DS of US junior team expects "Big splits. Small finishing group. It's F1 the whole last five kilometers of every lap. It'll split for sure."


The favorites

If we look at the profile only, without taking care about the weather conditions, tactics and the fact it's the Worlds, the biggest favorites should be Aleksandr Kulikovskiy from Russia. He's silver medalist from last year and a specialist in sprints from reduced group. He's extremely fast on the line and can survive the hills for sure. A year ago in Ponferrada he has already proven that if the race went the way he wants, he can fight for the victory.

Same goes with Serbian rider, Dusan Rajovic. He's fast and capable of surviving the hills. If he will be there with the best at the bottom of Governor Street he might end up with gold medal for sure. Rajovic recently won the final stage of Grand Prix Rüebliland. But it's worth to point out that Rajovic starts alone as the only Serbian rider. It will be extremely difficult for him to stay off the wind and follow the right attacks. If anything goes wrong, like crash or puncture it may be over for him at any moment.

The more possible scenario is that the strongest teams will make the race hard and split the bunch, especially if it rains. Then, it's possible that a late attack of one or few strongest riders will stay away. As the strongest teams of the race I would point: USA, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium of course.

American team is extremely strong. Each of their rider can win this race, trust me. Adrien Costa may not be the sprinter or hills specialist but he's a pure talent so better not give him any space in the final lap or he may sneak out and you will see him again on the podium with rainbow. The other favorite has to be Brandon McNulty, he proved this year that he can sprint if needed and I'm sure he will be up there in the race final. In Driedaagse van Axel cobbled stage he managed to jump across to the elite group of rides, all by himself proving that the classics and cobbles is something that really fits him. He's definitely one of the top favorites.

Danish team is always strong in junior events. No matter how the course is, Danes will be up there in front on the race finale. Same as in US team, each rider is capable of winning. My personal pick is Mathias Norsgaard. Big guy, classic specialist and great puncher can sprint or try a late attack in the final kilometers. He was pretty unlucky this year with few crashes and injuries but lately he showed good form finishing sixth in Grand Prix Rüebliland. In August he won a stage in Le Gleize before riding well in the two Italian classics (Trofeos Emilio Paganessi and Pietro Marelli) where he was up there with the best.

The Netherlands brings Pascal Eenkhoorn who had a superb start of the season winning two big classics and finishing second in Paris Roubaix. Lately, he was eighth in Grand Prix Rüebliland and ninth in Pietro Marelli Memorial so he's clearly in shape. If the race ends with a sprint from a bigger group it should be a chance for Bram Welten to shine. Less then a month ago he won Omloop der Vlaamse Gewesten after sprint from elite group which proved that he's ready for the Worlds.

Belgium team is as strong as the US for sure. If it comes down to a sprint it will be a chance for Robbe Ghys or Jasper Philipsen. If we see a late attack it should be either Stan Dewulf or Aaron Verwilst. Dewulf didn't manage to score a win this year despite being close few times this year in the biggest races, maybe in Richmond he will finally rise his arms crossing the line.

Germany brings the newly crowned gold medalist in time trial, Leo Appelt. Germany TT champion proved that he can sprint well after a hard race like in the opening stage of Niedersachsen-Rundfahrt where he has beaten all the strongest riders of the race in small group sprint. Other strong German riders are sprinter Max Kanter and puncher Martin Salomon.

Switzerland brings two possible winners. Gino Mader, fifth in time trial, recently finished second in Grand Prix Rüebliland after impressive performance on the opening stage where he broke away together with his team mate, Marc Hirschi. They took over a minute gap and the race for GC was over, Hirschi won and Mader was second.

My personal outsider is Clement Betouigt-Suire. Big Frenchman had difficult second part of the season with injuries and I'm not sure how he feels but if he's ready he can win the race. He showed this year that despite being first year junior he can sprint against the best and win races. If we have a difficult conditions with wind and rain and Clement feels good he may surprise many and win the race.

Prediction?

Actually you can't predict how it will finish. There are so many possible scenarios and with all the best riders at the start there are at least twenty names capable of winning. Most of the riders I mention above can win the rainbow but if I have to pick a few I bet on Kulikovskiy, McNulty and Norsgaard.

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