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Road cycling World Championships come to Flanders

Credit: Belga

For the tenth time in the competition’s history, Belgium will host the road cycling World Championships. With several of the world’s strongest riders being Belgian, there are hopes that one will clinch the coveted rainbow jersey.

The 88th edition will take place from 19 to 26 September in four towns and cities: Knokke-Heist and Bruges for the time trial, and Antwerp and Leuven for the road race. The Championships were last held in Belgium in 2002 when the great Mario Cipollini dominated affairs at Zolder, Limburg province.

The week-long schedule comprises events for junior, women’s, and men’s categories:

Time trials

  • 19.9.2021: Men Elite Individual Time Trial; Knokke-Heist – Bruges, 43.3 km
  • 20.9.2021: Men Under 23 Individual Time Trial; Knokke-Heist – Bruges, 30.3 km
  • 20.9.2021: Women Elite Individual Time Trial; Knokke-Heist – Bruges, 30.3 km
  • 21.9.2021: Women Junior Individual Time Trial; Knokke-Heist – Bruges, 19.3 km
  • 21.9.2021: Men Junior Individual Time Trial; Knokke-Heist – Bruges, 22.3 km
  • 22.9.2021: Time Trial Mixed Relay; Knokke-Heist – Bruges, 44.5 km

Road races

  • 24.9.2021: Men Junior Road Race; Leuven, 121.4 km
  • 24.9.2021: Men Under 23 Road Race; Antwerp – Leuven, 160.9 km
  • 25.9.2021: Women Junior Road Race; Leuven, 75 km
  • 25.9.2021: Women Elite Road Race; Antwerp – Leuven, 157.7 km
  • 26.9.2021: Men Elite Road Race; Antwerp – Leuven, 268.3 km

As ever with time trials, aerodynamics is essential with wind resistance being the largest brake to a rider’s speed. This will be particularly important on this course where competitors will come up against a prevailing coastal wind that will complicate procedures.

The course for the road race takes in some of the region’s most testing climbs. Of course, Flanders isn’t renowned for intimidating mountain passes but steep cobbled slopes such as the Moskesstraat or the sharp spike of the Smeysberg (with inclines up to 18%) will be decisive points in the race where the peloton will be split. These hills are popular spots for fans to cheer on riders gasping for breath.

The fearsome Smeysberg. Credit: Belga

Belgian favourites

For those unfamiliar with the sport, cycling can sometimes seem unfathomable with teams changing name as sponsors end partnerships and the various styles of rider, some better-suited to one course than another. Winners of grand tours – the most famous being the three-week Tour de France – become established household names, recognisable beyond the world of cycling. But these riders whose endurance is unparalleled in consecutive mountain stages fare less well on punchier one-day races, such as the World Championships.

Moreover, it can be a little strange to see riders who normally compete in different teams don jerseys bearing the same flag – rivals who for most of the season go head to head can be seen working together in rare shows of cooperation. This and more makes the World Championships so enthralling and this year particularly so, with the race taking place on Belgian soil – the cradle of road racing.

Hot-shots who will wear the Belgian tricolour will be Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel for the men’s road race, and Lotte Kopecky and Jolien D’Hoore in the women’s event.

Wout van Aert (26) is, arguably, the best cyclist in the world right now with 13 wins to his name in 2021 alone – more than any other rider this season. Yet what makes him such a dominant force is his ability to deliver on all terrains. Aside from his prowess in off-road cyclocross events, Van Aert has this year won on serious mountain stages as well as out-sprinting the world’s most powerful riders. Such supremacy is extremely rare as riders normally specialise in one discipline rather than multiple. In addition, he has taken two time trials in 2021. He will lead the Belgian team for the road race, having been runner-up in 2020 (also in the time trial) and taking silver at the Olympics.

Remco Evenepoel (21) returned to racing this year after a serious accident racing last year. Like Van Aert, the prodigious talent is capable of performing in time trials as well as longer road races and this year has clinched seven victories. Having dominated junior events, Evenepoel rapidly progressed to the men’s elite category where, despite being less experienced than other riders, he is always a force to be reckoned with. He narrowly missed out on winning last week’s European Championships.

Remco Evenepoel is formidable in time trials. Credit: Belga

Lotte Kopecky (25) is a huge talent with experience in cyclocross and on the velodrome as well. In June, she was crowned Belgian champion in both the road and time trial events.

Jolien D’Hoore (31) has a background in track cycling and is one of the most formidable sprinters in the women’s pro peloton. An experienced rider, D’Hoore is an Olympic medalist and has been Belgian champion. She intends to take her retirement at the end of this season so a win at the World Championships would be a phenomenal outcome.

Seen as the pinnacle of one-day road races, winners of the World Championships wear a special rainbow jersey for the following year and thereafter the rainbow band on their sleeve through the rest of their careers – a mark of having achieved cyclings highest accolade.

All events will be televised or can be followed on Sporza. For more information about the events and detailed start times see here.

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