WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS PREVIEW
CYCLING WEEKLY|September 16, 2021
Taking place in northern Belgium, this year’s Worlds naturally takes its cues from the Classics – with a series of long and lumpy road races coupled with a flat and windswept time trial course
James Shrubsall, Owen Rogers

Road races

ELITE MEN

Sunday 26 September 268km | 2,562m

Forty-two classified climbs. Just pause to take that in. That’s what the men will be tackling on Sunday. ‘Attritional’ is going to be the watchword here.

Leaving Antwerp in the north-west of Belgium, the race heads south for Leuven, as do the women and the Under-23s. This is pretty much where the racing proper begins, things toughen up and the hills kick in. There are two loops – one is tortuous, short and hilly and based in Leuven itself; the other is tortuous, longer and hilly and heads out into the more rural Flanders hills. After reaching Leuven the men ride 1.5 Leuven loops then one Flandrian loop, followed by four Leuven loops, another Flandrian loop and 2.5 more Leuven. The race then finishes uphill in the city centre to crown the champion.

ELITE WOMEN

Saturday 25 September 157.7km | 1,047m

The women will take on 20 climbs, which is more than the men’s Tour of Flanders, although less climbing at just over 1,000 metres. After completing the first leg from Antwerp to Leuven they take on the same loops as the men in an abridged format: the 1.5 Leuven and one Flandrian are followed by the final 2.5 circuits of Leuven before finishing in the same spot as the men.

U23 MEN

Friday 24 September 160km | 1,049m

According to the official stats, the U23 Men’s road race is 2.3km longer than the Elite Women’s, with two metres (yes, two) of extra climbing. We’ll be blowed if we can work out where that extra distance comes from though, because ASO’s own descriptions of the races are identical.

The U23 men leave Antwerp for Leuven before tackling 1.5 Leuven loops, one Flandrian followed by 2.5 Leuven loops to finish on the same uphill stretch in the city centre.

JUNIOR RACES

Boys - Friday 24 September 121.7km | 995m

Girls - Saturday 25 September 75km | 624m

The junior races are the only ones that don’t start in Antwerp. Instead they are based on the sinuous and hilly circuit of Leuven used as part of the Elite and U23 races. The Junior Men take on eight laps, while the Junior Women ride five. Both titles are decided on the same finish line used by the more senior races. Shorter they may be, but the junior races are no picnic; in fact, with the absence of the run-in from Antwerp, the climbing begins straight away – being well warmed up at the start is going to be important in these events.

Time Trials

ELITE MEN

Sunday 19 September 43.3km | 78m

All the Worlds time trials begin at the same place this year – outside the Casino at the coastal town of Knokke- Heist. The perfect place to watch cycling’s high-speed rollers do their thing against the clock. As with the Women, U23s and Juniors, the Elite Men’s time trial heads south from Knokke-Heist to Bruges. This being coastal Belgium, it’s a course characterised by flatlands, dykes and rows of trees growing on a windblown slant.

Ten kilometres in at Oostkerke, the men turn hard right and complete a dogleg all the way into Bruges’s outskirts before doubling back and heading back in on a north-east bearing and finishing on t’Zand in the city centre.

ELITE WOMEN & U23 MEN

Monday 20 September 30.3km | 54m

The Women and the U23 Men both use the same course, starting at the Casino in Knokke-Heist and finishing in Bruges on t’Zand. It’s a similar course to the Elite Men but the dog-leg at Oostkerke is shorter.

JUNIOR MEN & WOMEN

Tues 21 September

22.3km | 44m (Men)

19.3km | 32 (Women)

The bright lights of the Casino will still be out of bounds for these young riders for year or two – just as well seeing as there is zero time to dawdle. From the coast they head in an almost straight line into Bruges to finish, again, on t’Zand. The Junior Men’s course is three kilometres longer than the Women’s, with 12m more climbing, by dint of a couple of judicious wiggles along the way.

MEN

MATHIEU VAN DER POEL (26)

Nation: Netherlands

Worlds appearances: 1

Best Worlds result: 43rd

2021 highlights: Tour de France stage win and the yellow jersey

A string of impressive rides this season from van der Poel came crashing to an end in the Tokyo Olympic Games mountain bike race, where he rode off the lip of a drop, expecting to be guided downwards by a down-ramp that had been removed. He landed on his back, which had been giving him trouble since May and now prevented him from completing the race.

Such is the young Dutchman’s ability, his name appears in ‘contender’ listings like this one in almost any race he chooses to start. Since he began focusing more on the road in the 2019 season VDP has amassed the sort of palmarès that most pros would be happy to take away from a 15-year career. Multiple Classics, the yellow jersey, short stage races, VDP has won them all. But as they unfortunately can do, whether you’re a professional athlete or not, van der Poel’s back is proving to be his kryptonite – at least for the time being. He had to return home from an altitude training camp in Italy last month and more recently was unable to start the five-day Benelux Tour. Both will have formed a key part of van der Poel’s World Championship build-up and his inability to complete them leaves an inevitable question mark over his preparedness for Flanders. His father Adri, who was a pro in the Eighties, has suggested he write off the rest of his road season in order to fully concentrate on cyclo-cross, in which he is the reigning world champion.

However, his Alpecin-Fenix team posted a message of reassurance on social media at the end of August, saying: “His adjusted training and race schedule for the coming months will be made according to his recovery. At this moment there is no reason to question [his] participation at the World Championships and Paris-Roubaix.”

Van der Poel himself is remaining tight-lipped, but it’s hard to imagine him turning up in Flanders anything below full readiness so if he is on the start line, he will be the man to beat.

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