Preview: 18 things you should know about the women’s Worlds road race

by Matt de Neef


This Saturday, in the Yorkshire town of Bradford, the best women in professional road cycling will compete in the 2019 World Championships road race. It’s one of the biggest races of the year and the race that will decide who gets to wear the rainbow jersey for the next 12 months. Here’s what you need to know.


It’s one of the longest races on the elite women’s calendar.

At 150km long, the women’s Worlds road race is the third-longest single-day race of the season. Only the Ronde van Drenthe (165km) and the Tour of Flanders (159km) are longer.

The course consists of a big lap, and then three finishing circuits.

Starting in Bradford, west of Leeds, the riders will head north on a big lap of the Yorkshire countryside, before swooping east and then south towards Harrogate. This opening ‘lap’ takes the riders on 108km of winding, lumpy, often-narrow country roads, before reaching the finishing circuits.

They’ll race three laps of the lumpy 13.8km circuit to close out the race.

There’s nearly 2,400m of climbing on the day.

That makes it one of the hilliest races on the women’s calendar. There aren’t any super-long climbs for the riders to contend with, but in true Yorkshire style, there are plenty of short (and sometimes sharp) rises throughout.

Amid the many short rises in the opening big loop are two climbs of note. The Norwood Edge climb is 1.9km at 9.2% and peaks after just 15.5km. The Lofthouse climb peaks after 47.9km and is 4.5km at 6%. Given how far from the finish these climbs are, they’re unlikely to have much of an impact on the race. Instead it will be the finishing circuits that help shape the race.

The finishing circuit features nine short climbs of different lengths.

The shortest climb is just a couple hundred metres long at about 5%, the longest is 1.6km at 3.4%. In short, these climbs aren’t super hard, but they are numerous, meaning they’ll have a sapping effect on the peloton.

The last 650m is uphill.

The race ends with a tricky little drag to the line. It starts off relatively steep (7.5% or so), flattens off briefly with about 400m to go, and then rises gently for the last few hundred metres.

A reduced bunch sprint or late move is likely to decide the race.

Given the frequency and volume of climbing, it’s hard to see a big group reaching the finish for a bunch gallop. The peloton will thin right down as the kilometres tick by and as riders drop out the back of the bunch. This is your classic (and cliched) “race of attrition”.

The winner is likely to come from a reduced bunch sprint, or from a late attack (either solo or in a small group). And with so many climbs throughout the race, and particularly in the closing circuit, there are many potential launch pads for a winning move.

The riders race in national teams, rather than in trade teams.

Worlds is one of only a few races throughout the year where riders leave their trade team responsibilities behind (mostly) and instead represent their country. The result is a different dynamic to what we see at most races — the big cycling nations (e.g. The Netherlands, Australia) have the strongest teams with the most riders, and therefore the most cards to play.

(Pro tip for identifying riders at Worlds: most will wear their trade team helmet and ride their trade team bike. The combination of trade team gear plus national colours can help you deduce which rider is which. For example, USA kit + Boels-Dolmans helmet? That can only be Katie Hall. Aussie kit + Canyon-SRAM helmet? That’s Tiffany Cromwell.)

Marianne Vos is the red-hot favourite.

This is the perfect course for the three-time world champion. As Vos has shown so many times this season, she’s simply the best in the world when it comes to an uphill sprint.

The Dutchwoman won four stages at the Giro Rosa, all of which were uphill sprints of some kind. Her win at La Course was also won with a brutal sprint on the uphill ramp to the line. Note that in many of the examples above, she made her move earlier than you normally would in a sprint — she’s simply strong enough to open a gap and hold it. Something similar is very possible on Saturday.

Vos won this year’s La Course in emphatic fashion, courtesy of a scintillating attack on the final climb to the line.

Vos has been back to her dominant best this year and has 19 wins to her name already. She brings in excellent form, having won three stages and the overall at the Tour of Norway last month, and then five stages (of seven) and the overall at the Tour de l’Ardeche a couple weeks back. She will be nigh on impossible to stop if the race comes down to a reduced bunch kick.

Scarily, she’s one of many great options for The Netherlands.

The Dutch team is ridiculously strong.

There’s no doubt The Netherlands has the strongest team on the startlist. Between Vos, Anna van der Breggen and Chantal Blaak they have three past world champions on the squad (five titles between them), and that’s leaving out two-time world ITT champion (and back-to-back Giro Rosa winner) Annemiek van Vleuten, Lucinda Brand, and Amy Pieters. In short, it’s a crazy-strong line-up, with options to win from any scenario.

If Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten go on the attack late, they absolutely have to be followed. Both have won many races in this fashion (Van der Breggen won last year’s Worlds this way, Van Vleuten set up her Giro Rosa win with a solo victory a few months back). Chantal Blaak is very dangerous from a breakaway too. She won the 2017 Worlds with a late move, and similarly Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this year (by more than a minute).

Chantal Blaak wins 2017 UCI Road World Championships.
Blaak won the 2017 Worlds road race with a solo attack.

Lucinda Brand is also dangerous if given enough latitude. And if it comes to a sprint and somehow Vos isn’t in the picture, Amy Pieters is capable of stepping in. She’s a handy sprinter and brings good form to the race, having recently won the European road title.

However the race unfolds, the Dutch will have a say. They’ve got too many of the world’s best riders to not affect the outcome and they’ll be bitterly disappointed if they don’t win.

Chloe Dygert-Owen is a massive threat to the Dutch dominance.

Chloe Dygert-Owen has never raced an elite road race in Europe. She’s never competed in an elite Worlds road race, either. And yet, at 22, the plucky American is a real chance of a medal on Saturday, if not a gold medal.

Dygert-Owen utterly smashed the Worlds ITT on Tuesday, putting more than 90 seconds into Van der Breggen and defending champion Van Vleuten — the biggest winning margin ever in a Worlds ITT, by any rider. In doing so she also became the youngest ever winner of an elite world ITT title.

Dygert-Owen beat some massive names of the sport to win the Worlds time trial on Tuesday.

Dygert-Owen might be the best in the world against the clock, but the size of a rider’s engine is only one factor when it comes to road racing. Then again, Dygert-Owen is hardly a slouch in that discipline either.

At the recent Colorado Classic, she won all four stages, the overall, the points classification, the QOM jersey, and the best young rider jersey. She simply rode away from everyone, four days in a row, to win every prize on offer. Not a bad lead-up to Worlds.

Of course, the Worlds road race is not the Colorado Classic — Dygert-Owen will face much stiffer competition in Yorkshire. She’s barely raced against the likes of Vos, Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten in the past and she might find it a little trickier to leave them in her dust. That said, she did it on Tuesday and at this point, the American could do little to surprise us, such is her immense talent.

Team USA has two other strong options.

Dygert-Owen should get the nod as team leader, but Coryn Rivera and national champion Ruth Winder need to be considered too. The former won two stages at the Lotto Belgium Tour earlier this month, and is a strong sprinter at the end of hard, hilly races. See her wins at the 2017 Tour of Flanders and Trofeo Alfredo Binda, for example.

In 2017 Rivera became the first American ever to win the Tour of Flanders.

Winder is more likely to go on the attack, and has done so to great effect in the past. She’ll be dangerous if she can get in a late breakaway with some other strong riders for company.

Lizzie Deignan is a big chance of a second world title.

It was four years ago in Richmond, USA that Deignan (then Armitstead) won her first road world title. Four years on, she’s not just racing on home soil, the course literally goes past her parents’ place.

“I’ve ridden the route so many times just by accident, before it was even announced as the women’s road race,” she said this week. “Hundreds. Thousands. Every time I wheeled my bike out of my parents’ garage I turned right and I was on the Worlds circuit.”

Deignan has had a rather modest season this year — her first back from maternity leave — but her ability to perform on the big stage is beyond doubt, particularly in races she really wants to win. She won the Women’s Tour of Britain earlier this year off the back of a stage win, and she’ll be desperate to win another rainbow jersey in front of her many local fans.

Deignan won the Women’s Tour earlier this year, ahead of Kasia Niewiadoma and Amy Pieters.

Deignan has a strong sprint, but she’ll likely need a group smaller than a reduced bunch to sprint from if she’s to win that way. Expect her to feature in dangerous moves late, and if she can get clear — either on her own, or in a small group — she’ll be in with a very good chance.

Amanda Spratt always needs to be factored in.

The Aussie took the silver medal last year after riding off in search of Van der Breggen and holding on for second. This year’s course might not suit her quite as well as the mountainous Innsbruck course did, but it’s hard to imagine her not featuring in some capacity.

Spratt on her way to a silver medal last year.

Look to Spratt’s stellar ride at La Course in July as a possible indicator of how the Aussies might approach things. Her best chance of victory is a well-timed late move, preferably on her own, but possibly in a small group.

Should things stay together for a bunch sprint, Chloe Hosking could be a real chance for Australia. On paper the course might be too hard for her, but she’s won on hilly circuits before and she also brings in some good form, as seen with her win on stage 2 of the recent Madrid Challenge.

Keep an eye on Kasia Niewiadoma.

Remember the Pole’s win at Amstel Gold Race earlier this year? She attacked late, got away solo, and held on for the win. The Yorkshire Worlds course is not too dissimilar to the Amstel route — plenty of short climbs that offer plenty of opportunities for a late move.

To win, Niewiadoma needs a lot of things to fall her way — namely for the Dutch to let her go and not chase until it’s too late (like at Amstel Gold). It’s hard to see that happening, but she has to try her luck — if she’s going to win, she probably needs to get clear on her own.

Niewiadoma held off a chase from van Vleuten to win Amstel Gold earlier this year.

Don’t discount Arlenis Sierra.

The Cuban won a stage and the overall at the Giro Toscana earlier this month and has a very handy sprint. She can also get away late, as she showed demonstratively at Cadel’s Race earlier this year.

She’s an outsider for sure, but if it comes to a bunch sprint, just keep an eye out for her. Stranger things have happened.

Italy has a couple of strong options.

Elisa Longo Borghini has been performing well at the highest level for nearly a decade now (she took bronze at the 2012 Worlds) and she usually steps up when she needs to. It’s hard to see her winning, but on her day, if she gets in a late move, the top five or maybe even the podium is a realistic goal.

2012 worlds
Longo Borghini (right) after finishing third at the 2012 Worlds (behind Vos and Rachel Neylan).

Soraya Paladin has flown under the radar in recent years despite a bunch of strong results and is capable of a good finish on just about any terrain. She won the Giro delle Marche in Rosa just last week, so she brings good form to Yorkshire. Expect her to feature in some capacity.

The conditions could have a considerable impact on the race.

It’s been a thoroughly wet week in Yorkshire and, judging by the forecast, there’s more rain on the way. Throw in narrow, winding roads and some off-camber corners in the finishing circuit and you’ve got plenty of potential for chaos. Hopefully the weather doesn’t affect the race in a meaningful way — nobody wants to see riders crash out. We certainly don’t want to see any standing water on the road like the U23 male time-triallists had to deal with.

It’s been a wet start to the Yorkshire Worlds.

You should be able to watch the race live wherever you are.

If you’re in Australia, check out SBS OnDemand or the Cycling Central website for livestreaming from 8:40pm to 1:15am AEST. The race will also be on SBS Viceland from 10:45pm. If you’re in the UK, flick over to BBC2’s coverage from 11:30am to 4:30pm local time. In the US, NBS Sports Gold has you covered via the annual Cycling Pass.

As ever, check your local guides for the latest information. And if there’s no official coverage where you are, you should be able to stream the race live via the UCI YouTube Channel.

Want to follow the race on Twitter? The official account is @yorkshire2019 and the official hashtag is #Yorkshire2019.

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