2022 World Championships Women’s Road Race Preview

Helensburgh > Wollongong 164.3km

The women’s road race promises to be a fascinating event. Last year, Italy ended the Dutch stranglehold on the rainbow jersey, and they once again look like the strongest teams in the race. We’ve now seen Mount Pleasant, but this is the first time we get to see Mount Keira. We also have the embarrassing situation of the under 23 race happening within the elite race, it’s a terrible look for the sport. With many of the young riders working as domestiques, it devalues what should be the pinnacle for the young athletes competing for this title. As much as I’m looking forward to the race, I can’t wait to see the little girl once again doing hill repeats on Mount Pleasant, keep your eye out for her multiple kit changes as she keeps everyone entertained. I do hope she recovers well from today’s exertions, early to bed for her.

Weather

Another rainy day. Hopefully everyone watched the racing on Friday and are careful on that dodgy corner.

Key Points

Mount Keira comes very early in the race, after just 34km of racing. Will anyone dare go fast up the climb with over 130km to go?

We have 6 laps of the circuit to finish 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.

Tactics

The big news is that van Vleuten will start, despite having a broken bone in her elbow. Yesterday, she said that she couldn’t get out the saddle, which will make Mount Pleasant a nightmare for her. We’ll have to see if she recovers a little more, but there’s no chance she’s going to be at her best. Italy already has a one-woman advantage over the Netherlands, with van Vleuten struggling, they are in an incredible strong position for the race.

I’m interested to see how Italy approach the race, I would expect Longo Borghini and Balsamo to be protected, but what about Persico? She’s had a phenomenal season, and could well be used as a co-captain, but with three leaders that would leave them with just five domestiques. If they do go down this route, they need to blow the race apart early on, that will allow them to play all three cards in the finale.

Of course, the Netherlands are still very strong. They will look towards Vos and Vollering, the route looks a good one for Vos. They normally dictate this race, but this year could be different as Italy looked very strong. Not having to boss the race will help the team, especially if van Vleuten is struggling. If Italy control the race, it means that the Netherlands can save Mackaij, van Dijk, Markus, and Van Anrooij for later in the day. Italy might have the numerical advantage, but the Dutch have so much quality in their ranks, I’m looking forward to them going head-to-head.

The other teams don’t have the strength to control the race, they’ll be sitting back letting Italy and the Netherlands go to war, then looking to pounce in the finale. Australia look strong, but they need to ride a clever race. They don’t have one of the big favourites to take the win, but they have riders who have the quality to spring a surprise.

After the men’s under 23 road race, there’s been a lot of speculation about how selective the elite races will be. This race is longer than all the spring classics, and it has more climbing than all those races too. I think this race will be very selective, I expect war.

Contenders

Marianne Vos – starts as the favourite, a position she’s used to. Vos is looking to win her fourth road race title, 9 years after her last win and 16 years after her first. This year hasn’t been plain sailing, she was disappointing in the spring classics due to illness but bounced back with a brilliant performance in the Giro and Tour de France. A reduced sprint would be perfect for her, she’s still one of the fastest in the world, making her almost unbeatable in a reduced sprint. Mount Pleasant won’t be easy for her, so it’s up to the other teams to put the pressure on and see if they can drop her.

Demi Vollering – a better climber than Vos, she gives the Netherlands a great “climbing” option. Not only does she climb very well, but she also has a fast sprint after a tough day in the saddle. In recent months she’s been close to taking a big win, maybe she’s been saving it up for this race.

Elisa Longo Borghini – it’s been another great season for the Italian, one where she won Paris-Roubaix and was consistent in all the big races. She’s won some huge races throughout her career, but this is one that’s always eluded her. She’ll love the look of Mount Pleasant but will be a little worried about the sprinting speed of some of her rivals. I’m hoping this means we see her attack from distance. 

Elisa Balsamo – the current champion will start with a good chance of retaining her title. Mount Pleasant will be a big test for her, but she’s climbed well this year and won’t fear it. If the pace on the climbs is steady, it will be hard to drop Balsamo, and we know she’s one of the few who can beat Vos in a sprint.

Silvia Persico – she’s had the breakthrough years to end all breakthrough years. She wasn’t a main contender in the spring classics, but a switch was flicked in June, and she’s been brilliant ever since. She can climb and has a very fast finish, she recently won an uphill sprint in the Vuelta against most of the main contenders here, but not Vos. We’ll have to wait and see how Italy use her, given her lack of experience she could find herself working for Longo Borghini and Balsamo, but I hope she’s allowed freedom to attack and make the race hard for the Netherlands.

Lotte Kopecky – Belgium don’t have a strong team; she’ll need other teams to ensure we get a sprint. Mount Pleasant is on her limit if the climbers go full gas she’ll get dropped.

Cecilie Uttrup – one of the climbers who’ll be licking their lips. There’s no point her wasting energy early in the race, it’s all about saving her matches for the last couple of laps. Uttrup is very explosive, and her sprint has improved in recent times, she’s one of the favourites but must ride a clever race as she’ll be outnumbered by the bigger nations.

Grace Brown – the big Aussie hope. To win the rainbow jersey she needs to get ahead of the race, then let it come to her. She’s well known as a breakaway expert, attacking from distance is right up her street. Winning will be hard, but in the right group she could walk away with her second medal of the week.

Mavi García – I love watching the Spaniard race, she loves attacking and putting others under pressure. You can guarantee she’ll go for it on Mount Pleasant, and then see what happens. She has the climbing ability to put most under pressure, but she doesn’t have the best sprint.

Marlen Reusser – underestimate her at your peril. Yes, she’s a brilliant TT rider, but she’s not “just” a TT rider. This year she finished 5th in Flanders and 4th in De Brabantse Pijl, she copes very well with punchy climbs. Like Grace Brown, she’ll look to get ahead of the race, and see if she can repeat her stunning win in the Tour de France.

Prediction Time

It’s time for Elisa Longo Borghini to win the rainbow jersey.

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