World Championship rider ratings: Lotte Kopecky the rider to beat in women's road race in Wollongong
From an open women's road race field, star of the spring classics Lotte Kopecky stands out as the five-star favourite to win in Wollongong. A course that plays against their strengths means that, for once, the Dutch look less than likely to take home a set of rainbows from the World Championships - but you can never rule them out. Nick Christian places a few bets.
Kopecky takes elimination gold as Team GB's Georgi wins silver
Who will be the final woman to win a set of rainbows at the 2022 World Championships?
As Annemiek van Vleuten and her Dutch colleagues showed on Wednesday, it's been something of a challenge just to get to the startline. The 164.3km course is sure to whittle the contenders down to a very select few until just one is left with her arms aloft.
As with the time trial, it's an open field, with no team even able to claim primacy. Although there are no rock-solid favourites, we think there's one rider that stands a better chance than any other.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - LOTTE KOPECKY
After a summer spent selflessly slogging away in service to others, it’s Kopecky’s time to shine. We’re back on terrain far more suited to a rider who won Strade Bianche and De Ronde, came second in Paris-Roubaix and wasn’t out of the top 10 of any race through March, April and most of May. It might be Autumn up north, but don’t forget that it’s spring Down Under.
When was the last time we appraised a World Championship course and decided the Dutch didn’t have a rider who could win on it? They’ve only once been completely absent from the podium in the last decade.
Vollering’s presence among the four star contenders is reflective more of collective strength than her own individual powers. If her team-mates work together to wear out the rest, she can make it to the finish the freshest. If they all imagine they have an equal chance, like at the Olympics, none of them will.
The difficulty there is that the Italian team is, arguably, equal if not stronger than that of the Dutch, so it may not be a rider in orange who emerges from a survival of the fittest. Italy also has contenders of comparable abilities, but complementary ones rather than competitive. Though Longo-Borghini, as the senior, and one who can win in any circumstances, is likely the rider that they will ride for, Silvia Persico has been a revelation this summer. We know the 25 year-old likes it punchy, as per her performances in the Madrid Challenge. The same can be said of Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who will herself have solid support and has herself achieved a long-awaited breakthrough.
Kasia Niewiadoma doesn’t win that often and is at her best when the going is tough. Although she finished on the podium last year, her WC record isn’t what it should be. This could be her time to step up.
As strong as Balsamo is, the reigning world champion is unlikely to win on a course with as much cumulative climbing as this one. It is hard to imagine the race concluding in even a selective bunch finish, let alone a big one. All the same, she is the world champion for a reason, and she did, after all, win Gent-Wevelgem, which is not a million miles away in shape from this circuit, even if it is somewhat shorter.
Grace Brown’s second place in last Sunday’s time trial provided further proof that her legs are perfectly pinging at the moment. There’s a good reason she’s the home favourite and strong support could deliver Brown to the finish in the shape needed to pull off something similar to that which she managed on Stage 3 of the Madrid Challenge.
Liane Lippert is another rider who’s rising steadily towards the top of the sport. Made from a similar mould to Kopecky, she too likes it lumpy. The German will need a fair slug of luck to make a success of things.
As for the Dutch, even before their disaster in the mixed relay, this was not likely to be the year for them. For Vos the aggregated climbing will be too hard, while for Van Vleuten, even if she starts, each individual ascent wouldn’t be hard enough. The winner of all three 'Grand Tours' has tuned her engine for endurance tests of which the Wollongong circuit offers few. That both Vos and Van Vleuten merit three stars is testament to their greatest-of-all-time status.
Brown times sprint to perfection to win Stage 3
⭐⭐ - EMMA NORSGAARD, PFEIFFER GEORGI, ELISE CHABBEY
Into dark horse territory and it’s Norsgaard of Denmark who might offer the best value to the gambler. Though the 23 year-old has a couple of wins to her name this season, none has come on the WorldTour stage.
We might be going in with too high a bid for Pfeiffer Georgi, but the young British rider possesses spaniel-springy raw talent that makes her better suited to this circuit than probably any other athlete on the startline.
Elise Chabbey already has one title from these championships, and some might say that we’ve low-balled the Swiss rider. Chabbey’s season has been one best characterised by its utmost consistency. Though she has not won much, she is almost always finishing in the company of the best. If that doesn’t make her one of them, what does?
Highlights: Van Vleuten horror crash as Switzerland take mixed team time trial gold
⭐ - URZKA ZIGART, ALEX MANLY
Last but by no means least come the riders who we neither think stand a chance nor dare overlook entirely, just in case they happen to come good. Tobias Foss was, for us, a one-star pick for the time trial, after all.
Alex Manly is several time zones away from where she grew up in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, that this should barely count as a home championships, but wearing the green and gold she’s bound to have the locals roaring her on. Don’t rule out a top 10, five or even better.
Nor should the chances of Urska Zigart be dismissed out of hand. Slovenia’s women, though not quite as strong as their men, are an up-and-coming force, and more than capable of coming good for one of their riders. Zigart is the one likely to lead them on Sunday, but to what position will she deliver them?