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World Championships Doha off to a shaky start

Josh Cunningham
10 Oct 2016

The heat takes its toll and vehicular confusion on the road affects the U23 men's TT at the World Champs in Doha.

The World Championships; the final climactic event of the pro calendar, is due to commence this weekend in the Middle Eastern city of Doha, in Qatar. 

The desert location certainly makes for a break from the usual Western locales, and the stories relating to that fact have been well documented. Will it be a boring 260km procession? Will it be shortened to a 100km smash-fest because of the 40 degree heat? Will the wind blow the race to pieces in the first 10km? Will it be decided by anything other than a bunch sprint? The questions relating to the course are plentiful, but what of the national teams riding it? 

The dynamics of a national team are strange and varied, with trade-team opponents coming together to ride in their national colours, sporting different bikes and kit to their one-off team members, and with established alliances having the possibility of being both contravened and upheld. In some cases, that also means that riders who are used to being team leaders are forced to cohabit in a team where they might not be numero uno. 

In the men's road race, this looks set to be the case with at least four teams - France, Italy, Germany and Belgium - and it could be this nuance that has as much impact on how the race unfolds as the wind, heat, or distance. 

The rivalry between Arnaud Demare and Nacer Bouhanni in the French camp has long been an issue. As well as falling-outs and non-selections on the national team front, the two were team mates at FDJ too, and their inability to share a race programme led to Bouhanni leaving for Cofidis in 2015. Regarding the upcoming championships, Bouhanni told the French newspaper L'Equipe: 'He [the manager] has built a group that he has confidence in, and I hope we’ll be able to prove him right on the road. I’m not worried about it because I’m certain that the team will work together perfectly.'

On the Belgian squad Tom Boonen and Greg Van Avermaet will be vying for the win as joint-leaders. As neither are likely to triumph in a bunch sprint their tactic could be to force a smaller move to get clear of the bunch. Van Avermaet has suffered something of a minor leadership crisis with compatriot Philippe Gilbert at BMC in the past, but the likelihood of a falling out in Qatar is minimal. 

Germany will likely be on the start line with no less than three sprinters - Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. Greipel has been named as the leader, with Kittel supposedly having a 'free role', but whether or not this will transpire into Kittel helping with a possible leadout, or sprinting against Greipel himself, remains to be seen. 

In the Italian ranks we find a hotbed of sprinting talent in the form of Sonny Colbrelli, Jacopo Guarnieri, Giacomo Nizzolo and Elia Viviani, but it is said to be the latter two who will co-lead the team. Both riders have racked up a good share of wins this year, but it is perhaps Viviani whose palmares probably has a slight edge over Nizzolo in terms of bunch sprint wins. 

Regardless: 'I don't want to say that I'm the stronger one but I've worked hard to be at 100 per cent for the world championships,' said Nizzolo after winning the Giro del Piemonte recently. 'I have a good relationship with Viviani and I'm sure we can find a good compromise, but I'm not a 'plan B'.'

Great Britain, Australia, Norway and the Netherlands also have teams primed with multiple sprinting options, if more of a set plan about what to do with them. Whether any of them capitalise on their assets remains to be seen, but it appears the dynamics of the World Road Race Championships, due to be held on 16th October, will certainly be as interesting as ever. 

Page 2 of 2World Championships Doha: the rivalries

Page 2 of 2World Championships Doha: the rivalries