UCI Road World Championships 2018: What and who to look out for

The Austrian region of Innsbruck-Tirol hosts the most mountainous championships in over 20 years.

By ZK Goh

The 2018 UCI Road World Championships are being held in the Tirol region of Austria around Innsbruck.

It's the third time in history the Road World Championships have taken place in Austria, but unlike the first two, this year's road races will probably not finish in bunch sprints.

The event will feature some of the most challenging parcours in recent times.

Climbers' delight

This year's routes favour the climbers. Of the six elite races, only the women's team time trial doesn't include a significant climb.

The men's road race on 30 September features a 265-kilometre course that will pass through many of Innsbruck’s most famous sights. But riders face 4,670 metres of altitude gain, meaning they won't have much time to appreciate their surroundings.

That includes seven climbs from Innsbruck up to the cable car station at Patscherkofel, which hosted the Olympic men's downhill in 1964 and 1976.

The cyclists must also overcome a 2.6-km summit of Gnadenwald with a maximum gradient of 14 per cent, and an even tougher effort up to Gramartboden — more popularly known as Höttinger Höll ("Highway to Hell", 3.2 km with a maximum gradient of 28 per cent) — just 8 km from the finish.

It’s the most mountainous World Championship road race course since the 1995 event in Duitama, Colombia.

Vincenzo Nibali, who will lead the Italian team, had a chance to check out the route earlier this year and struggled with the ascents.

The route would also appear to rule out three-time defending champion Peter Sagan, who's aiming to be the first man in history to win four titles.

Other than Nibali, favourites for the race include Slovenia's Primoz Roglic, Tour de France mountains classification winner Julian Alaphilippe (France), and 2014 world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland. Watch out also for Alaphilippe's teammate Thibaut Pinot, who rode some of the climbs of the race when he won the Tour of the Alps earlier this year.

Olympic champ to world champ?

The women's race on 29 September won't take in the final "Highway to Hell" climb, but they will still ascend to the base of the Patscherkofel three times in a difficult 156.5-km course.

It will be equally intriguing as the men's, with the Netherlands having arguably the strongest team. Rio 2016 champion Anna van der Breggen, who finished second last year, and teammate Annemiek van Vleuten are both expected to do well.

Van Vleuten led home a one-two on mountainous terrain earlier this year at La Course by Le Tour de France, while she also won the Giro Rosa stage race.

Chasing time trial glory

Team Sunweb are the defending champions in both the men's and women's team time trial (TTT), the only World Championship events to feature trade teams instead of national teams.

This year sees the last TTT for trade teams, with national teams expected to contest the discipline in 2019 before it is dropped from the world championships programme in 2020.

Five of their six-strong men's team from last year are back to challenge once more, including last year's individual time trial (ITT) champ Tom Dumoulin.

Two-time champions BMC Racing Team have included Rohan Dennis, who won two time-trial stages at the recent Vuelta, and Olympic road race champion Greg van Avermaet in their squad, and should pose a stern test.

On the women's side, Mitchelton-Scott, who have included current women's ITT world champion van Vleuten in their team, and 2016 TTT world champions Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team will attempt to prevent Sunweb from successfully defending their title.

In a nod to gender equality, both winning men's and women's teams will receive equal prize money from the UCI.

The women's individual course includes a steep climb to Absam with 100 metres of vertical gain, and should favour both van Vleuten and van der Breggen, who will attempt a rare ITT–road race double.

Meanwhile expect to see Dumoulin and Dennis among the top names on the men's side, alongside European champion Victor Campenaerts of Belgium. Germany's four-time world champion Tony Martin is also competing. The biggest test for the men is the ascent to Gnadenwald, averaging 7.1 per cent over five kilometres.

You can find more road cycling content on the Olympic Channel.

The 2018 UCI Road World Championships will be streamed live on the Olympic Channel (United States only).