Everything you need to know about the 2020 UCI Road World Championships

The event, which was moved last month from Switzerland to Italy, has been shortened and will take place from 24–27 September.

By ZK Goh

One of the first major world championships in an Olympic sport since the coronavirus pandemic hit will take place when the 2020 UCI Road World Championships get underway in Imola, Italy, on Thursday (24 September).

Road cycling's world championships come right off the back of two Grand Tours – the Tour de France for men and Giro d'Italia Femminile for women – and will see the world's top cyclists compete for the rainbow jersey in four events.

The Championships, which were to have taken place a week earlier in Aigle and Martigny, Switzerland, had to be moved to Italy at short notice last month after the re-imposition of restrictions on sporting events in Switzerland in response to a growing incidence of the coronavirus.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has also led to the cancellation of all junior and under-23 races at the Worlds, in addition to the mixed team time trial which made its debut in 2019.

The women's individual time trial will take place on Thursday, 24 September, with the men's time trial the following day. The women's road race follows on Saturday, before the men's road race on Sunday.

Flat time trial course

The individual time trial courses will be identical for both the men and the women, with a single 31.7 km circuit around the Emilia-Romagna region surrounding Imola.

It is a fairly flat parcours, with only 200m of climbing, and features the second-shortest distance for a men's time trial since the event was introduced in 1994 (only the 2017 race in Bergen was shorter at 31.0 km, but that included an uphill finish). However, the women face the longest course yet planned for a world championships time trial, with last year's Yorkshire race (30.4 km) the next-longest.

Defending women's champion Chloé Dygert-Owen has not raced competitively on the road at all this year, and although she is listed on the start list for Team USA, it is hard to gauge her form coming into the event. Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen heads to Imola in good form, having won the European title three weeks ago, before claiming the only Grand Tour title of the women's season, the Giro Rosa, and should provide Dygert-Owen with a stern test.

Rohan Dennis, the Australian two-time defending men's world champion, finished third in a short flat time trial at the Tirreno-Adriatico last week and figures among the favourites. The two men who beat him in that stage, Italian champion Filippo Ganna and two-time European champion Victor Campenaerts of Belgium, also figure to be in the mix, as does Great Britain's Geraint Thomas who was fourth.

Current European champion Stefan Küng is Switzerland's only representative in the time trial, and he withdrew mid-way through the Tour de France to focus on the Worlds. Other strong time triallists competing at the Tour include Olympic silver medallist Tom Dumoulin, although he may be held back by the Netherlands to focus on the road race.

One big name missing is last year's silver medallist, Remco Evenepoel, who will miss the Championships after fracturing his pelvis last month in a crash at the Giro di Lombardia.

The course profile for the men's and women's individual time trial at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships. (Graphic: UCI)

Of Evenepoel's absence, Geraint Thomas told the Olympic Channel: "The reason he's not here is obviously not very nice, you don't want to see that, and he's an incredible rider. He's got a good team around him and I'm sure he'll be back stronger."

Asked about his thoughts on the competition, Thomas said: "It's the first time I've actually come to the road Worlds feeling in shape, in my best shape.

"Tirreno was encouraging, to be in the mix with Campenaerts and Rohan, after riding the GC (General Classification) as well, so that was a good boost. Good confidence, obviously.

"This is the first time I've done a TT (time trial) that's not in a stage race for a while. I've only done the Nationals twice and the Olympics once; I've never done the Worlds. So it's different to what I'm used to, really. So it'll be a good hit out."

Classics-style road race

The two road races will favour riders more used to the punchy climbs of the Belgian classics.

The men and women will ride on the same 28.8 km circuit that starts and ends at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari motor racing circuit in Imola, with the men's race completing nine laps (258.2 km) and the women's race five laps (143 km).

There are two short but steep climbs on each lap – the Mazzolano (2.8 km at 5.9%, with a maximum gradient of 13%) and the Cima Gallisterna (2.7 km at 6.4%, with a maximum gradient of 14%), which should provide plenty of opportunities to attack and thin the bunch.

The course profile for the men's and women's elite road races at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships. The men will complete nine laps of the circuit and the women five laps. (Graphic: UCI)

The sharp climbs could favour riders like Belgium's Wout van Aert and Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe on the men's side. The original course in Switzerland would have featured far more traditional mountain climbs, so the shorter classics-style efforts should open up the possibilities.

However, defending champion Mads Pedersen has said he will not be involved, in part due to the amount of climbing (some 5000m for the men), while Mathieu van der Poel, who challenged Pedersen for a time last year before running out of steam at the end, has decided similarly.

Defending women's champion Annemiek van Vleuten, who would have been favoured to retain her title on a course that looks to suit her to a tee, was a doubt to start the race after crashing at the women's Giro and suffering a broken wrist. However, after surgery and a faster-than-expected recovery, she will take to the start line in a wrist cast. Her compatriot Van der Breggen, the Rio 2016 road race champion and 2018 world champ, should also be among the contenders.

Another top challenger, Australia's Amanda Spratt, was involved in the crash with Van Vleuten at the Giro Rosa and suffered a concussion in the process. It remains unclear if she will be able to race in Imola.

"Bubble" environment

As with many sports that have made a comeback, including road cycling itself at the various WorldTour stage races that have resumed, a protective "bubble" will be put in place for the World Championships.

There will be three levels of "bubbles", within which members are expected to limit their contact with others. Riders and national team staff members will form the highest-priority "bubble", with almost no interaction outside of this bubble except for limited contact with UCI staff and scheduled press conferences and mixed zone commitments with the media.

Every member of a "bubble" will be tested for Covid-19 prior to entering the secure environment, with riders and team members needing to pass two PCR tests (six and three days before their arrival) before they are admitted into the bubble.

Additionally, the UCI says it will revoke the accreditation of any person seen without a face mask "for an extended period", with the exception of cyclists who are training, warming up, or racing.

However, fans are expected by the roadside, as at any cycling race. They have been asked to observe all required guidelines, such as wearing a mask and observing social distancing.

2020 UCI Road World Championships schedule

Information is subject to change. Correct as of 18 September 2020, according to the UCI Road Calendar.

Thursday 24 September 2020

Women's elite individual time trial (31.7 km)

Friday 25 September 2020

Men's elite individual time trial (31.7 km)

Saturday 26 September 2020

Women's elite individual road race (143.0 km)

Sunday 27 September 2020

Men's elite individual road race (258.2 km)