Thursday, 13 October 2016

After an exciting time trial in which we could experience watching perfect ride from Brandon McNulty it's now time for a main course for juniors: the road race.



History 

Junior road race was first time held in 1976 when Roberto Visentini from Italy won the gold medal. Italy is also the most successful team in history of road race with eleven gold medals and total number of 26 medals. On the other hand the last time when Italy claimed gold came in 2007 when Diego Ulissi won his second title in road race in Aguascalientes. 2007 was indeed special for Italy as they filled the whole podium with Daniele Ratto finishing second and Elia Favilli third. Ulissi is also one of the two riders in history of road race who managed to win twice. The second one is his countryman Gabrielle Palumbo. Felix Gall can join this elite club if he manages to win tomorrow. The history shows that junior road race is much more unpredictable then the time trial. Despite their famous palmares in junior ranks, Cancellara, Sagan, Jungels, Kittel or Kwiatkowski never claimed a medal in World Champs road race. In 2015 we have seen an exciting battle on the last lap with a lot of attacks and splits. In the end Felix Gall won just ahead of Frenchman Clément Bétouigt-Suire and Rasmus Lund Pedersen from Denmark. What's unique is that all three riders were first year juniors and two of them, Gall and Suire, are going to start tomorrow.

Route 



Junior road race, just as time trial, is going to be held entirely on The Pearl Island. Riders will face eight laps of 15,2km circuit which gives a total distance of 135,5 kilometers. You can watch the video recon of the circuit here.The route is obviously the same as in time trial but it doesn't mean it will affect the race in the same way. First of all, the amount of roundabouts will have much bigger impact then it the time trial making the course more technical. We can expect a lot of crashes at the beginning with many less experienced guys from exotic countries at the start. Also, there is a chance that the wind will pick up but probably not high enough to cause the echelons but  enough to make some splits and favors the strongest guys in final laps. Also, it's worth to stay in front of the group as you won't have to waste energy after every roundabout and 90 degree turn.

Inigo Elosegui once again shared his thoughts about the course: "I think that it will be much harder than people think. It is so flat that the speed will be really high during the whole race, and of course there are many teams that don´t want a bunch sprint. Because of that I think that the peloton will be reduced due to the high speed and for sure in the last kilometers some strong riders will try to make a break till the finish line, which is not easy but yes possible after so many fast kilometers in the legs."

Belgian Jasper Philipsen, one of the pre race favorites who unfortunately won't start because of health issues, and future rider of BMC Devo Team expects a big bunch sprint: "The wind is not going to play a big role in my eyes. The race of the u23 will be a good preview. It's difficult to predict how the race will end. The heat is going to play a big role but I guess it's going to be a bunch sprint."

Dutch rider Jarno Mobach, winner of Paris Roubaix, also expects hard racing and fast pace on the technical circuit  "I think the course is rather technical with some sharp corners and a lot of roundabouts, especially with a peloton this big makes it technical. Furthermore, according to the weather forecast there will be quite some wind however I don't think it will play a major role as you change a lot of direction throughout the course. I don't know whether it will be a bunch sprint or not but I hope the race will be hard enough to split up the peloton."

His teammate Nils Eekhoff  shared the opinion: "It’s going to be a hard race. Because of the heat riders will fall off the bunch, but also because of the roundabouts. In the time trial you could go over them in a straight line, but during the road race there is a whole bunch that have to pass them. Then you will get a straight long line of riders what want to go back to the front, this causes a jojo effect what is very intensive. The road race itself can go a lot of ways, it can be a bunch sprint, a solo or a sprint of a selected group."

Favorites

Flat circuit is much easier to control then hilly terrain for sure. We can expect that the winner will come from one of the strongest countries. Small teams with three or four riders can fight for top10 or top5 but to win a medal you have to be well positioned in the bunch on the final kilometers. To do that you need a strong team behind you. Unless the race splits and some guys attacks in the final kilometers.

Despite missing their leader Jasper Philipsen I believe that Belgium will be one of the teams who aim for bunch sprint. Same as France. Billy Innes, sports director of US National Junior Program agrees on that: "The road race will be complicated as you have two major teams (France and Belgium) working for a bunch sprint and everyone else looking to split it up. For sure, no matter his form, Suire is the favorite to win, but it will really depend on how France tries to control the race and how he is able to keep cool. I think anyone who hasn't gone through heat protocol training will be at a disadvantage no matter the pace of the race. If it's windy it'll play into the hands of the Dutch, Norwegians and Danes who are always capable in crosswinds and a selection will be made-but that might happen anyway"

Belgium team will be lead by Gerben Thijssen, who impressed in sprints in recent months. He won two bunch sprints in Trofeo Karlsebrg and won a classic Omloop der Vlaamse Gewesten after a sprint from a small group and just ten days ago he won bunch sprint in Nederhasselt in the last episode of Belgium Cup beating Clement Betouigt Suire on the line. His teammate for tomorrow, Sasha Weemaes was third in that race and can play a key role tomorrow.

France is another team looking for a bunch sprint tomorrow. Clement Betouigt Suire is very strong guy, very matured and fast and clearly one of the favorites despite just one win on international level this year in Tour de I'Abitibi. His recent 2nd place in Nederhasselt shows his shape came just in time. Silver medal from last year also shows what he's capable of. French team is very strong this year, they managed to dominate the junior race during the Euro Champs and tomorrow they will look after their sprinter and try to set him up for a sprint.

Apart from that we have several teams that will try to split the bunch and avoid big bunch sprint finish. Denmark is the first one to mention. Fredrik Rodenberg Madsen, current national champion and 2nd in sprint stage of Keizer der Juniores recently, should be a leader for sprint finish but Danish team is very strong in general, as always, and we can expect them to try split the bunch in final kilometers. Mikkel Bjerg and Julius Johansen showed their class already in Doha finishing second and fourth in TT while Jakob Egholm has been strong all year and could play his own cards either.

USA will be lead by World Champion Brandon McNulty is not a sprinter but you can expect him to finish high from a reduced bunch sprint after a hard race. US team will be another one that will try to split the bunch. Each of their rider is capable of joining a winning move with Gage Hecht, cyclocross specialists, stage winner from Tour de I'Abitibi, Tyler Stites and bronze medalists from TT Ian Garrison.

Slovenian team is another strong one in general. Jaka Primozic leads PCS ranking for juniors but three of his international wins came from two stages and GC of Trophy Milan Panic, where the field wasn't impressive. On the other hand Primozic did well in almost every race he enters including impressive solo win of the queen stage in Oberösterreich Juniorenrundfahrt which also gave him GC win. He's one of the strongest guys in junior category right now and definitely can win tomorrow. Tadej Pogacar recently won Giro della Lunigiana and bronze medal in Plumelec but I think he would prefer harder course.

Netherlands has a strong card to play either. Jarno Mobach, same as Primozic, is kind of a rider who is always up there in every race he enters. His big win came from Paris Roubaix and he already finished tenth in TT in Doha. Nils Eekhoff is fast on the line, especially after hard race. He won sprint stage in Course de la Paix and also finished fourth recently in Plumelec.

Italy is a team that always perform well in junior world champs. I think they would prefer much harder course but they can also aim for glory on flat race. Their two main sprinters should be Michele Gazzoli and Moreno Marchetti. Both barely rode outside of Italy where they managed to score impressive amount of wins but once they ride on international level they usually do well. Gazzoli was ninth in Gent Wevelgem, second in Piccolo SanRemo and third in Ronde Van Vlaanderen. Marchetti won seven races in Italy this year and also finished in top10 of both Beti Metallo and Gent Wevelgem.

Other names to watch tomorrow: Felix Gall, Stefan Bissegger, Marc Hirschi, Joakim Kjemhus, Niklas Markl, Richard Holec, Matus Stocek, Campbell Stewart, Szymon Krawczyk.

Asked some of the riders who they consider as favorites.

Inigo Elosegui says: "I think it is really difficult to name only some favorites for this race, but maybe teams like the Netherlands with Eekhof and Mobach in the lead, Belgium with Philipsen, Switzerland with Bissegger and Hirschi and France with such a strong team will be the main contenders, without forgotten about strong teams like Italy and Denmark." 

Jarno Mobach himself picked up Belgium as main contenders: "I know the Belgian team will go for the sprint with some fast guys such as Thijssen and Philipsen, but I think the guys who play major roles in the nations cups will be in the front as well." while his teammate Nils Eekhoff expects a bunch sprint from smaller group: "Personally I think it is going to be a sprint of a select group of about 40 riders."

Prediction


It will be a bold prediction but I think we won't see a big bunch sprint. Strongest teams will manage to split the bunch in final kilometers. I think McNulty, Mobach and Primozic can complete the podium.

Startlist
Web
Live timing

As the race is going to have live coverage tomorrow don't forget to check my twitter for some live tweets.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Doha, Qatar. Not an ideal place for World Champs, probably you won't deny it. The most important race of the year for juniors are probably gonna held with no spectators which is sad thing. But despite of that I'm still excited to see all the top guys racing against each other once a year. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

History 

Junior TT World Champs was first run in 1994 when Dean Rogers from Australia won the gold medal in Agrigento. Historically, Germany is the most successive country with six gold medals including two from Marcel Kittel and two in the latest editions with Lennard Kamna winning in 2015 and Leo Appelt in 2016 beating two Americans: Adrien Costa and Brandon McNulty. Apart from Kittel, only two other riders managed to win the gold twice: Fabian Cancellara and Mikhail Ignatiev.
Despite their famous dominance in junior ranks, Denmark have won the gold only once. Mads Würtz Schmidt was the winner is his home race in Copenhagen. In Richmond last year, Leo Appelt put a tremendous ride and set the time that would give him fourth spot in espoirs race. Not bad for a junior.

Route


 Junior time trial, and road race, is going to be held entirely on The Pearl Island. Riders will tackle two loops or nearly 15km circuit which gives a total distance of 28,9 kilometers. You can watch the video recon of the circuit here. Racing on the artificial island means that wind won't affect riders as much as it would if they went through desert as elite riders will. On the other hand, as you could easily spot in u23 TT, the wind can change during the day and early starters might have an advantage. It's not hard to notice that there is crazy amount of roundabouts on the circuit but they shouldn't be a big problem during the time trial. And of course the route is flat, dead flat. The last few hundred meters are uphill but it's less then 1% so riders won't even notice it.

It doesn't mean there are no difficulties at all. Billy Innes, sports director of US National Junior Program shared with me some thoughts about the route: "The course is technical enough that good handling skills will be a plus, but not so crucial. Depending on the how the wind is on race day and how it's channeling through the buildings, that could be a challenge for the later wave of riders. 

He also believes that temperature will be the biggest factor. "It's hot. Very hot in Doha. Managing body temperature will be the most important tactic. If you go out too hard and get too close to the red line then it will be difficult to maintain the pace over the entire distance."

Brandon McNulty, bronze medalist from Richmond and one of the biggest favorites for gold in time trial shares his opinion:  "For both the time trial and road race I think the heat will really play a factor. Everyone reacts differently to heat so the road race may turn into a battle of attrition. Really anything can happen, especially in junior racing" 

Inigo Elosegui, strong rouleur from Basque Country who will ride for Fundacion Eusakdi next year also believes that heat will be more crucial then the wind:  "The course is completely flat, and maybe the wind will not be as decisive as I thought. Of course it will be important to control it, but for example today we have ride in the course and then in the dessert and the course was clearly more covered of wind. There also are many roundabouts that will make the circuit more technical than previously thought, despite it is a circuit with good roads in which you can push hard the pedals. But in my opinion the main problem will be the hot and the dehydration, so more than any other thing it will be essential to drink a lot of water the previous day" 


Favorites 

To be honest I expect pretty unpredictable race. I think there were not many people who picked Marco Mathis as a favorite for u23 race. The wind direction and heat maybe shake the favorites list but that's cycling and you can't be sure how the conditions will affect the race. So my list of favorites is based on the assumption that everyone has pretty similar conditions and the temperature won't affect them that much.

Can't start the list of favorites with any other rider then last year bronze medalist, Brandon McNulty. Young American was already a favorite last year, together with Adrien Costa. McNulty, despite racing a lot on US domestic scene for his Lux Development Team has managed to win three important time trials in junior events. In May he has won Tour du Pays de Vaud TT beating two strong Swiss riders: Stefan Bissegger and Marc Hirschi. Then, less then a month later he won TT and GC during Trofeo Karlsberg putting almost 50 second on second Ethan Hayter and over a minute on third Ian Garrison, his team mate from US team. Brandon is of course current national champion in time trial. With no surprises and no wind change, McNulty is the main favorite for gold.

Both Swiss riders Marc Hirschi and Stefan Bissegger are main opponents for McNulty. Hirschi, current vice European champion in time trial would probably prefer much harder course but with his current shape and all impressive results in TT this year you can't rule him out. Hirschi won time trial during GP Rüebliland Juniors where he has beaten some of his main opponents for tomorrow: Mobach, Philipsen, Bissegger and Eekhoff. He's also current national champion. Also it's worth to notice that Hirschi is one of the riders who decided to start early tomorrow. He will begin his TT effort over two hours before McNulty. He may benefit if the wind will change later on.

Bissegger, current World Champion in the individual pursuit on track, will start his effort as one of the last riders and the course should suit him perfectly. On the hilly course in Plumelec he was fourth and he's the only guy who has managed to beat McNulty this year on European soil as Bissegger won the prologue during Tour du Pays de Vaud. Last year Appelt managed to combine IP on track with TT during the Worlds perfectly and won gold medal and rainbow jersey in both competitions, Bissegger, who has beaten world junior record in IP, can follow his path.

Alexys Brunel, current European Champion in time trial is another strong contender. Same as Hirschi, I believe Brunel would prefer harder and hillier course but on a good day he may fight for a medal. Also, French team has another interesting rider for tomorrow, Florentin Lecamus. He will be one of the first riders to start and it could be one of his benefits. Lecamus is tall, strong rider so dead flat road and windy conditions in Qatar should suit him perfectly.

Iver Knotten from Norway is another strong contender. Knotten, current national champion in TT, has won three important time trials during this season, two of them were part of Nations Cup events against very strong field. First in May he won TT during Course de la Paix beating guys like Brunel, Primozic and Bjerg. Later that month he won again during Trophée Centre Morbihan beating Kazakh Gorbushin once again but also Flicke and Bjerg who are going to be his opponents tomorrow. Just a month ago in Plumelec he finished third in time trial and won bronze medal.

Apart from McNulty, the highest placed rider in Richmond who's going to start tomorrow is Jasper Philipsen, sixth last year.  Future classic contender is also a great rider in TT. I think the main goal for Philipsen is going to be the road race on Friday where he can sprint for gold but I think good result tomorrow would give him confidence before the road race. Current Belgian champion in one of my favorites for tomorrow.

Finally, I have to mention the Germans, especially after what they did today in u23 TT. As I mentioned at the start, Germany has one no less then six gold medals in junior time trial. I doubt they have such strong contender for tomorrow as they did in previous years but I think Bastian Flicke, bronze medalist in IP on track and also won TT during Cottbuser Etappenfahrt while doing OK in every other TT he did this year in the biggest junior races. If he prepared especially for tomorrows effort I believe he may surprise many.

I have asked Billy Innes about the favorites for tomorrow: "I'm always worried about the Germans after getting beaten by them two years in a row and of course Hirschi and Bissenger from Switzerland, Brunel from France and Knotten from Norway are all excellent riders and major threats to McNulty and Garrison." 

Inigo Elosegui shared his opinion:  "In my opinion the main contender for the gold medal will be Brandon McNulty, as he has prove in the last to years how strong he is in time trials, but we can´t forget riders like Brunel, Knotten or Bisseger, that have proved to be in a really good shape and they have a course for pure time trialists. But, despite the circuit doesn´t suits him, I can´t forget about Marc Hirschi, that is very strong in all terrains and it is a good contender for the medals, same as Phillipsen who will surely will want to improve his last year´s result. 

Other names to watch:  Mikel Bjerg, Julius Johansen, Ian Garrison, Jarno Mobach, Jaka Primozic, Nils Eekhoff, Andreas Laknessund.

Startlist
Web
Live timing

As the race is going to have live coverage tomorrow don't forget to check my twitter tomorrow for some live tweets.