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How does the UCI choose who hosts the World Championships?

Felix Lowe
11 Oct 2016

This year it’s the Doha desert, next year Norway – but how does the UCI choose who hosts the World Championships?

Come mid-October the cycling season is usually over, but this year the fallen leaves of Lombardia have been swept away by the windy desert of Doha as the backdrop to the last major race of the year: the World Championships Road Race.

Extreme heat in the Middle East means dates for the Worlds have been shifted two weeks on from the usual slot in late September. Even so, hosting a bike race in Qatar when the temperature can still hit the high 30s seems about as sensible as, well, organising a global football tournament in the same place, any time of the year.

In an echo of the late Mrs Merton’s infamous quip to Debbie McGee: just what made the oil-rich Persian Gulf state such an appealing option for the UCI when a date had already been set with Bergen (where the only extreme heat that time of year is to be found in the municipal sauna)?

Yet can you really begrudge the sport’s governing body’s desire for a little house-keeping? After all, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the UCI’s single largest money-spinner, usually accounting for a third of its annual income. But if it were all about money then the Worlds would simply alternate between the Emirates, Kazakhstan and Oleg Tinkov’s back garden. In truth, most people’s real beef with Qatar hosting the Worlds seems to be the profile – flatter than Frank Sinatra.

In itself, though, that’s an exaggeration. According to sources there is a hill on the course, which rises from 2m to 16m at a 2% gradient around 113km from the finish, although this may merely be a bridge leading over a highway. Indeed, no Worlds has been more suited to a pure sprinter since 2011 (when Mark Cavendish won in Copenhagen) or 2002 (Mario Cipollini in Zolder). But is this a bad thing, or inherently wrong? 

The UCI’s handbook for prospective hosts boasts the following brief: ‘Flat circuits, difficult climbs, hilly circuits… anything is possible.’ So maybe 2016 is simply the turn of the flat-track bullies – just like 2015 (Richmond, Virginia) was seemingly reserved for Peter Sagan, and 2013 (Florence) for a punchy home climber like Vincenzo Nibali (although it went to an opportunist in Rui Costa after a Spanish meltdown).

It’s the host’s prerogative to devise a course that favours their own. If a victory for his Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani may be pushing it then the Qataris always have their adopted sons: Tom Boonen (the most successful pro on Qatari soil), Alexander Kristoff (winner of six out of 11 stages in the previous two Tours of Qatar) or Cavendish (the reigning Tour of Qatar champion).

Lucky Kristoff: one year later the Worlds finally reach his native Bergen, where a hillier course should make a selection before the kind of sprint where he excels. The question is: when will we see a Worlds that might attract the very best Grand Tour riders?

Gone are the days when the likes of Binda, Coppi, Bobet, Merckx and Hinault were just as synonymous with the rainbow jersey as they were with the maillot jaune or maglia rosa. In the last quarter of a century only two Grand Tour winners have also been World Champions – and one of those is now unmentionable. Talk about losing its lustre.

So it’s with welcome arms that we await 2018 and Innsbruck, where one of the most challenging courses in Worlds history is being devised – one boasting around 5,000 metres of altitude difference. Perhaps we’ll see a Grand Tour winner don the rainbow stripes again after all.

And if Froome can’t win it that year, British Cycling has submitted a bid to stage the 2019 Worlds on UK soil, giving the route organisers the opportunity to fix the course for a magnificent British victory. Either that or everyone will get their predictions totally wrong and Greg van Avermaet will win.