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The challenges facing Wollongong 2022, a ‘rare and atypical Worlds’

It's been an intriguing build-up to Worlds so far, and the story isn't over yet.

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It’s a little less than three weeks now until the 2022 Road World Championships get underway in Wollongong, Australia. While national teams are busy finalising and announcing their squads, there have been a few interesting developments along the way that point to Worlds being a little unusual this year.

For some nations, the ongoing relegation fight in the men’s WorldTour is having an unfortunate impact on the selection process. And for other nations, Worlds being so far away from cycling’s European heartland is posing a significant headache, given the increased cost of international travel post-COVID.

On Monday evening, Cycling Ireland announced that it wouldn’t be sending any riders to Wollongong, citing both the high cost of getting to Australia and the lack of guaranteed success.

“Competing in Australia will stretch our resources far beyond what has been anticipated this year,” said Cycling Ireland’s high performance director Iain Dyer. “For the road riders, attending the European Championships in all categories this year was a significant commitment and one we felt we could manage effectively. The World Championships in Australia is a different proposition altogether.”

Cycling Ireland’s CEO Matt McKerrow noted that the cost of flights and accommodation for some events this year has been 70-80% higher than in previous years. Dyer added that “it’s important that a projected outcome from attending an event is linked to key development aims, a qualifying process, or Olympic and Paralympic success.”

Over in New Zealand, the news broke last week that riders who want to race Worlds in Wollongong will have to foot part of the bill themselves. While New Zealand and Australia are relatively close neighbours, the riders that would be representing New Zealand at Worlds are European-based professionals.

Interim CEO of Cycling New Zealand, Monica Robbers, told Stuff.co.nz that sending a team of European-based riders to Wollongong would currently cost more than double the NZ$45,000 the governing body received from High Performance Sport New Zealand for its entire road program for 2022. That limited funding was a result of losing its principle sponsor, Vantage, at the end of 2021.

Cycling New Zealand pitched in an extra NZ$50,000 to lower the costs for athletes who want to go to Wollongong, but those riders will still to have pay some costs.

Some riders opted out of selection for that reason, including retiring pro Sam Bewley.

“There are quite a few WorldTour guys, the majority of WorldTour guys I’d say, that have told Cycling NZ that they won’t be putting their name in the ring for selection purely because of the cost of going down there,” Bewley told Stuff. “It’s pretty sad.”

New Zealand is not necessarily alone in this; riders from other small cycling nations sometimes have to contribute to the cost of getting to Worlds as well.

Meanwhile over in Spain, there are selection issues of a different kind. Head coach of the national team, Pascual Momparler, told Marca that he’s having trouble getting enough riders to field an elite men’s team for Worlds because many of the top riders are busy trying to save their trade teams from relegation.

“There are many teams that do not leave their cyclists with us,” he said. “Some don’t ‘lend’ [a rider] because he breaks the schedule to try to save his [trade] team and others don’t let you because maybe they have a cyclist who can lead the team and other teammates can help that runner to add some points.

“It cannot be that a race that is run by national teams distributes points to professional teams. Many teams are refusing [to allow riders to race Worlds] and this could be a catastrophe for many [national] teams. Including ours.”

Momparler said that Movistar and Cofidis being locked in the battle against WorldTour relegation makes things particularly tricky.

“I understand that the teams want to secure their place on the WorldTour, because that is what the sponsor pays for, but I also see myself in a situation that is not comfortable,” he said. “There are also other teams like Ineos that don’t let the riders go because they want to win the UCI WorldTour and they want to have their riders fresh for the Italian classics.

“The UCI has put everyone between a rock and a hard place [with the relegation battle]. It’s going to be a rare and atypical World Championships, where we have to see what we do.”

The current state of the men’s WorldTour relegation battle. Image: Inrng.com

Right now, Momparler says, it’s not clear who’s going to be on Spain’s eight-rider squad for the elite men’s road race in Wollongong. He knows Juan Ayuso and Marc Soler from UAE Team Emirates are available for the road race, and that Oier Lazkano (Movistar) will be available for the time trial. But he hasn’t had the all-clear on anyone else.

Notably, 2018 world champion Alejandro Valverde might well be absent from Wollongong, with Movistar keen to use him to secure late-season UCI points. Likewise with Alex Aranburu.

“Ion Izagirre and Jesús Herrada would also have a place, but it is not clear that they can come,” Momparler said of the Cofidis duo. “Ineos wants to win the UCI ranking from Jumbo[-Visma] and they are going to run the rest of the year at ‘full’. They don’t want their cyclists in Australia. What can I do in this situation?”

Ineos preventing its riders from coming to Worlds would mean no Jonathan Castroviejo, Omar Fraile, and no Carlos Rodriguez.

It will be intriguing to watch as Spain and other nations announce their squads for Wollongong over the coming weeks. Will big names like Valverde really miss out? Will the startlists for Worlds be noticeably weaker than normal, given the cost of getting to Australia and the ongoing relegation battle in the elite men’s field?

Watch this space.

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