Preview: The elite men’s road race at the 2022 Road World Championships

Can Alaphilippe go three in a row? Will Van Aert make up for the frustration of last year? Will Pogačar be the new world champ?

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We’re fast approaching the final event of the 2022 Road World Championships in Wollongong: the elite men’s road race. Read on for our preview of the course, the contenders, and more ahead of what should be a thrilling contest to close out the week.


The favourites

First up, here’s a quick glance at the riders we’ve got as the favourites for Sunday. Head on down the page for more on each of these riders.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Van Aert, Pogačar
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Van der Poel, Alaphilippe, Evenepoel
⭐⭐⭐: Matthews, Cosnefroy, Cort, Girmay
⭐⭐: Trentin, Van Baarle
⭐: Sagan, Küng

The course

The course for Sunday’s race can be broken into three distinct sections. First up is a 27.7 km opening section from the end of the neutral zone in Stanwell Park down the coast to Wollongong (via the stunning Sea Cliff Bridge).

Next, the riders will do a single loop up and down Mt. Keira. This 34.2 km loop includes an 8.7 km climb which starts out steep but ultimately settles down to average around 5%.

Then there’s a total of 12 laps of a 17.1 km loop of central Wollongong. This local circuit features two notable climbs: one spans 900 metres at 4.5%, and then there’s the Mt. Pleasant climb which is a challenging 1.1 km at 7.7% with a maximum grade of 14%. The latter is one of those climbs where the average gradient doesn’t really tell the full story. This is a climb with very steep ramps at the bottom and the top, with a much easier section in between.

The final few kilometres of the circuit are relatively flat before finishing on the Wollongong foreshore.

In all, the riders will cover 266.9 km and climb a total of 3,945 metres.

How it might unfold

Sunday’s race is shaping up as your classic one-day race of attrition. We can expect an early breakaway to get up the road and soak up some TV time – look to some of the smaller nations to be present in this move – before the real action begins in the back half of the race.

Sadly, the Mt. Keira loop is very unlikely to impact the race in any meaningful way. While its opening ramps are difficult, at more than 230 km from the finish, it’s too far out to play any significant role. It’s a shame really – the climb is beautiful and challenging, and further laps would make for a fascinating race. Instead, it’s on the 12 city-centre circuits that the race will be decided. (Why so many city circuit laps? That’s something the UCI was pushing for.)

This city circuit is tricky. The two ramps on Mount Pleasant are very steep which will sap riders legs with each lap. The circuit is also chock full of turns, meaning lots of slowing down and accelerating which will also serve to fatigue the legs. Expect the peloton to thin down as the city laps tick by, with the bigger teams riding a high tempo to bring back the break while also whittling away at the bunch.

There’s sure to be plenty of attacks in the closing laps. The two main climbs come with around 10 km and 8 km to go in each lap (so there are notable climbs peaking roughly 8, 10, 25, 27, 42 and 44 km from the finish) but with plenty of other small rises, the winning move could come from just about anywhere on the circuit.

After almost 4,000 metres of climbing it’s hard to see a massive group coming to the finish for a bunch sprint, but a smaller group is certainly possible. In fact, the most likely outcome seems to be a small group of the world’s best punching clear in the last lap or two and going to the finish to contest a small-group sprint.

A solo winner is a real possibility too, for someone who’s got the strength to get away on the final lap and hold off those chasing. The frequent turns on the circuit will advantage attackers – it’ll be very easy to get out of sight of the bunch.

A note on national teams

The Worlds road race is one of only a handful of races on the calendar where riders race in national colours rather than in their trade teams. The biggest difference here is that not all teams are equal.

Where regular road races have teams of equal numbers, the size of Worlds teams is effectively determined by the strength of that nation. In essence, the strongest cycling nations end up with a full quota of eight riders (e.g. Belgium, Netherlands, Australia etc.) while the smallest nations end up with just a single rider (e.g. Ukraine, Mongolia, Romania etc.)

On paper, more riders means more cards to play, and a greater ability to control and influence the race. But a strong team isn’t always necessary for victory – Peter Sagan won three Worlds road races in a row with only a few teammates.

Note the mix of different bikes and different helmets.

Given riders race for their country so rarely, it’s not unusual to see some strange dynamics in Worlds road races. Sometimes teams aren’t as cohesive as they could be (see the Spanish men’s team in 2013, or the Australian men in 2015) and conversely, sometimes trade team loyalties bleed across country lines.

Racing in national teams also makes identifying riders a little trickier than normal. Riders aren’t wearing the same kits we’re used to seeing them in all season long. One way to narrow down which rider you’re looking at is to consider both the national team kit they’re wearing, and the trade team helmet they’re wearing and the bike they’re on. The combination of national team plus trade team can help identify the rider.

The contenders

There are a handful of riders we see as most likely to take home the rainbow jersey on Sunday afternoon. Perhaps chief among them is Belgium’s Wout van Aert.

Van Aert’s incredible versatility is well established by this point. For a bigger rider he’s an excellent climber, and for a wonderful sprinter he’s brilliant at getting away late and winning solo. Regardless of how this race plays out, Van Aert can win it. If it’s a small-group sprint, he can win that. If he attacks late and gets away on his own (see stage 4 of the Tour de France this year) he can win that way too. 

Van Aert skipped the ITT for this so we know he means business. Maybe the biggest question will be how the Belgian team uses its resources and how much support Van Aert gets.

Van Aert in training in Australia before Worlds.

On the Belgian squad, too, is recent Vuelta a España winner Remco Evenepoel who famously upset Van Aert and his other teammates with his conduct at Worlds last year. Will Evenepoel do a better job of supporting Van Aert this time? Or will he get his own chance this time around? The course suits him just fine too – if he can get away late on his own, he’ll be hard to chase down.

Evenepoel showed in last Sunday’s TT that he’s recovered fine from the Vuelta, or at least well enough for a 40-minute effort. A nearly seven-hour race is a different story though, so Evenepoel’s contribution will be fascinating to watch. Plus, with the likes of Jasper Stuyven (Belgium’s best with fourth last year on home soil) and Yves Lampaert on the squad, Belgium has plenty of cards to play.

Perhaps the other five-star favourite is two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar. The Slovenian is best known for his stage-racing prowess but he’s shown in the past season or so that he’s also a wonderful one-day racer. He’s won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he’s won Il Lombardia, and just last week he won GP de Montreal. That victory was significant because it shows that Pogačar is both in good form coming in to Sunday’s race, but also because he outsprinted Van Aert and others to win, which could be relevant this weekend.

With that in mind, Pogačar can win on Sunday by going it alone or from a small group, depending on what is required of him. Either way, you can be sure that Pogačar will be in the mix and be on the move if he spots an opportunity.

Pogačar rode to sixth in the Worlds time trial on Sunday but the road race is his bigger focus.

Mathieu van der Poel has a great shot at winning on Sunday too. The Dutch team leader is well capable of making it over all the climbs, and his recent win at the GP de Wallonie suggests he has built nicely towards Sunday’s race. Like Van Aert and Pogačar, Van der Poel is equally at home sprinting from a small group, or going it alone with a late dig. Assuming he’s as fit as he seems to be, Van der Poel will be right amongst it late in Sunday’s race.

As usual the Dutch team is impressively strong and Van der Poel is far from the team’s only option. Last year’s runner-up (and Paris-Roubaix winner) Dylan van Baarle shouldn’t be too troubled by the volume of climbing and will need chasing if he gets away late. And Bauke Mollema might fancy his chances of a late dig too – especially after the frustration of the mixed TTT relay – leaving Van der Poel to wait things out for a sprint. Either way, expect to see plenty of Dutch jerseys near the front of the bunch in the city circuits on Sunday.

Van der Poel had a solid hit-out in the mixed TTT relay on Wednesday in what was a frustrating day for the Dutch.

Normally Julian Alaphilippe would be a five-star favourite on this course. It’s hilly, which he doesn’t mind, and it’s got a tantalising launchpad about 10 km from the finish, which is the Frenchman’s jam. But this year has been a tough one for ‘Lou Lou’ who crashed badly at Liège, and again at the Vuelta.

It’s not exactly clear whether the two-time defending champion is back in good form nor how much impact he’ll be able to have on Sunday’s race. If he’s back to his best he can absolutely win the race, but it seems unlikely he’ll be at 100% given his disrupted lead-up.

Thankfully for France, Alaphilippe is only one part of a very strong team. Pavel Sivakov, Christophe Laporte, and Romain Bardet will all be there, so too Benoît Cosnefroy who recently landed in Australia and will provide another strong focal point. Cosnefroy recently won GP de Québec with a very impressive late solo move, so he clearly comes in with strong form in hilly one-dayers. One to keep an eye on.

Cosnefroy won GP de Québec recently ahead of Michael Matthews and Biniam Girmay. All three are contenders for Sunday. (Photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

The home nation of Australia comes into Sunday’s race with a few compelling options. Michael Matthews will be the team’s best shot if the race is looking like ending in a reduced bunch sprint. The versatile Canberran shouldn’t be too concerned by the amount of climbing and if he’s there in the lead group at the end, he’s a great chance of adding another Worlds medal to his palmares.

The versatile Simon Clarke should also be able to go deep into the race and can draw on his significant experience if he’s there when it counts.

Biniam Girmay will lead a six-strong Eritrean team and should certainly be considered among the contenders. The 22-year-old has had a breakout season with wins at Gent-Wevelgem, a stage of the Giro d’Italia, and a bunch of near-misses besides. He was third at the GP de Québec earlier this month and second at GP de Wallonie a week ago, so he’s clearly in pretty good shape.

Biniam Girmay made history earlier this year by becoming the first Black African to win a Belgian Classic, at Gent-Wevelgem. His win at the Giro d’Italia was similarly historic. A win at Worlds would be another massive milestone for African cycling.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia) is a bit of a curious one. Based on his form in recent times you’d probably say he’s unlikely to get over 4,000 metres and still be at the front of the race. But you just never know. The three-time world champion will have to find his best form in years to win Sunday’s race, but stranger things have certainly happened. If he wins it, it’ll be through a reduced bunch sprint.

Denmark has a couple of compelling options in Magnus Cort and Jakob Fuglsang. Both are more than capable of making it through a hilly one-day race, with Cort the team’s best option in a reduced bunch sprint, and Fuglsang the likely go-to for a late-race attack of some description.

Marc Soler will lead an underpowered Spanish outfit (thanks to the UCI’s WorldTour relegation battle), but should still be considered among the contenders. He comes into Worlds fresh off a stage win at the Vuelta a España where he attacked solo on the last climb. A good omen coming into a hilly Worlds road race?

Great Britain has a couple riders who come in with a point to prove. Ethan Hayter was left disappointed after a mechanical ruined his chances of a time trial medal last week, while Fred Wright has been so close to a big win on so many occasions that he’s now overdue for a breakthrough victory. It will be interesting to see how Team GB deploys its resources on the day and whether the volume of climbing proves too much for the British contenders.

Could Ethan Hayter be a chance of a medal on Sunday? (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Team Italy will probably be riding in support of 2019 silver medallist Matteo Trentin. Trentin’s another one of those riders who climbs well but also has a punchy finish from a reduced bunch. 2022 hasn’t been Trentin’s best year, but he did win a stage of the Tour de Luxembourg last week so he’ll come to the race feeling confident. Tour of Flanders winner Alberto Bettiol will also be there as part of a strong eight-rider Italian squad with plenty of options.

Colombia brings two stars to the race in Nairo Quintana and Sergio Higuita but based on previous results in one-day races, they won’t necessarily start among the favourites. Higuita is probably the team’s best hope of a medal as a versatile rider who can both climb well and has a good sprint (see his win on stage 4 of this year’s Tour de Romandie).

Over on Team USA, Neilson Powless is probably the team’s best chance of a medal but rising star Magnus Sheffield gives the squad another card to play.

For other riders that could feature late in proceedings, consider Norway’s recently crowned world time trial champion Tobias Foss; the versatile South African Daryl Impey who, like so many mentioned above, has a strong sprint in hard, hilly races; in-form Swiss powerhouse Stefan Küng; and Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Bob Jungels (Luxembourg) who, on a good day, could be a real threat with a late solo.

Küng (right) was third in this race back in 2019. He’d be a popular winner.

Weather

After a few days of rain in Wollongong, it looks like the weather is set to clear for Sunday’s race. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a top temperature of 19 ºC (66 ºF) with only the slightest chance of rain and light winds throughout – perfect conditions for bike racing. Unless things change dramatically in the next few days, the weather’s unlikely to impact the race in any real way.

How to watch

You should be able to find live coverage of Sunday’s race regardless of where in the world you are. If you’re in Australia, you’ll be able to find the race on free-to-air TV via the Nine Network. In the US and Canada, FloBikes will have the coverage you’re after.

This post from event organisers has details for broadcast arrangements elsewhere but if you aren’t in one of the countries listed, one or both of GCN+/Eurosport and the UCI YouTube channel should have you covered.

The race is expected to run from 10:15am to 4:50pm local time (AEST). That’s:

  • 2:15am to 8:50am on Sunday morning in Europe (CEST)
  • 5:15pm on 11:50pm on Saturday evening on the west coast of the US (PDT), and
  • 8:15pm on Saturday evening until 2:50am on Sunday morning on the east coast of the US (EDT).

Who’s your pick to win the elite men’s road race at Wollongong Worlds?

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