Wollongong > Wollongong 170km
Unlike in the elite races, the under 23 men don’t have to climb Mount Keira, it’s straight onto the lap circuit and ten times round. That makes it 170km and 2541m of climbing, so not the hardest race in the world, but the climbs should still ensure it’s a selective day.
Wet and windy, not what the doctor ordered. As it’s a city circuit there won’t be echelons, but the weather conditions will increase the difficulty of the race.
This is the section where damage will be done, this is where the climbers and puncheurs need to make the difference. The first climb is Mount Ousley, which you’ll remember from the TT. The climb is around 600m at 7%, it looked steep in the TTs, and will soften the legs before the main hill of the day.
Mount Pleasant is the main course, it’s a big plate of steak and chips! We’re talking about 1km at 9%, and it goes up in two steps. The riders start the climb by taking a fast left-hand turn, and the first 100m of the climb is nice and easy, then it hits double digits. This section lasts for around 200m and features gradients above 17%. The riders then have around 400m of around 6-9% before the hill kicks right up near the crest, again we’re talking about close to 17%.
Once over the climb the road turns right and it’s 300m of fast downhill before the road kicks up to over 10% for another 100m. This means riders need to hit the accelerator as soon as Mount Pleasant is crested, so that they generate enough pace to fly up this little section without needing to use up any energy. Last time of asking, there’s just under 8km to go.
Smaller teams than in the elite races makes it a hard race to predict. We have several sprinters who have turned up in the hope of an easy race, but I can’t see that happening. The teams that don’t want a sprint need to make the Mount Pleasant climb has hard as possible, sprinters need to drop before the final lap.
As most of the big nations arrive with a sprint option, I’m looking forward to seeing how the race unfolds. Given the climbs and the weather, I think most countries are realistic to expect that their sprinters are back up options, not plan A. Someone like Belgium will make the climbs hard, and a few others will join in, I’m expecting an elite group to get off the front with two or three laps to go, then it gets tactical.
What happens in the final lap depends on the composition of the front group, anyone with multiple options will have a big advantage. I’m hoping the front group stays together for the final time up Mount Pleasant, then we’ll see the big guns come out to play. Once the climbing is over the riders are faced with a strong cross/headwind for almost 3km, but then it’s tailwind for the final 4km. If a rider reaches that point with a gap, the tailwind will make sure they won’t get caught, which is perfect for the best puncheurs and climbers.
Romain Grégoire – he starts as the overwhelming favourite due to a stellar season, particularly his four wins out of four races back in April and May, including the under 23 Liège. Despite being just 19, he’s already going to be stepping up to the FDJ world tour team in 2023, that tells you everything you need to know about his potential. His age could well be a stumbling block, the last time someone under 20 won this race was Mohorič, all the way back in 2013, it’s normally hard for the younger riders to compete against the older ones with more racing and experience. If you put age to the side, I can see why he’s the favourite, he’s one of the best puncheurs in this category, but how will he cope with being marked?
Mick van Dijke – he’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to his French rival, he’s 22 and will be 23 in March. He’s had a full year racing as a professional and he’s already impressed in races like the Tour of Denmark. In particular, the final stage with repeated ascents of the Kiddesvej, where he finished 7th, just 4 seconds behind his teammate Christophe Laporte. He’s a rider who I think we’ll see develop into a classic’s specialist, so this is a good route for him. The Dutch have a strong team to challenge for the win, especially after going so close last year.
Paul Penhoët – one of the fastest in the race, and he can climb a bit. It all depends on how France want to ride the race, if the climbs aren’t as selective as first thought, Penhoët will survive and will be one of the quickest finishers in the front group.
Olav Kooij – the quickest finisher in the race, he’s one of the quickest in the whole professional peloton. It’s been a wonder year for Kooij as he looks to cement his place at the top table of sprinting. Not only has been sprinting well, but he’s also climbed well this year, which will give him hope ahead of this race. My sources tell me he’s confident of surviving the climbs, but I’m not convinced as repeated efforts up Mount Pleasant will likely push him over his limit on the final lap. The job of every other team will be to make the pace hard enough to drop him, that’s the problem he’s going to face.
Lennert Van Eetvelt – another of the best puncheurs in the under 23 category. After going through the Lotto junior system, he’ll be turning pro with the team next year, he’s got a big future ahead. This year he was 2nd to Grégoire in Liège and Flèche Ardennaise, was 2nd to Hayter in the baby Giro, but he won GP Jeseníky. He’ll want a hard race and that’s exactly what Belgium will look to deliver, then we’ll see if he can take the win after a lot of 2nd places this season.
Leo Hayter – the winner of the baby Giro and 3rd place in the TT, he’s one of the big-name riders looking to win this race. He’s turning pro with Ineos next year, he’s another with a huge future ahead of him. This year we’ve seen him develop into more of a climber than a puncheur, so I get the impression that Mount Pleasant won’t be long enough for him, but I cannot discount such a talent rider.
Sam Watson – for me he’s the better option for GB. This year he won the under 23 edition of Gent-Wevelgem and impressed in the Tour of Britain, where he was climbing better than ever before. Watson has a very fast finish, but I wouldn’t put him in the sprinter box, he’s fairly like Jake Stewart, a rider who sprints well after a tough day. If GB can get two riders in the front group, it’s game over for everyone else.
Nicolo Buratti – he should be the Italian captain after clocking up three wins in the last month. I would describe him as a punchy rider, the type who’ll love the look of this route.
Per Strand Hagenes – hugely talented but probably a little on the raw side.
Matevž Govekar – the new Slovenian star, someone who’s already taken a pro win for Bahrain in Vuelta a Burgos. He’s another fast finisher who likes a few hills. Slovenia don’t have the strongest of teams, but he’ll hope that the bigger nations hold the race together until the final two laps, then he can fend for himself. His sprint means that he should be challenging for a medal.
Matthew Dinham – the best chance for an Aussie win. He was 2nd in the Aussie under 23 road race, so Mount Pleasant shouldn’t give him too many problems. Another impressive performance in Australia was 2ndplace in the Santos Festival of Cycling, where he also won the white jersey, this kid can climb. He’s spent a lot of time in Europe this year, winning La Maurienne and finishing 11th in Tour de l’Avenir. He might not be one of the big names, but home advantage is huge in these races. This is a guy who was born in Sydney, this is a huge moment in his career.
A rainy edition will make it seem more like a spring classic than the world championships. I’ll go with experience and take a win for Mick van Dijke.