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World Championships 2018: Who are the favourites and who should you be backing?

Joe Robinson
24 Sep 2018

A look at the favourites to take the rainbow jersey at the World Championships this Sunday

This Sunday, almost all of the world's best climbers will battle it out for the chance to become the Elite Men's Road Race World Champion in Innsbruck, Austria. 

To do so, they will have to conquer a mammoth 265km route from Kufstein to Innsbruck that will contain over 5,000m of vertical elevation across nine tough climbs including the peak locally described as 'hell' for its 28% maximum gradient

Before this final climb, the peloton will negotiate seven loops of the 24km 'Olympic Circuit' which includes the 7.9km, 5.7% mountain pass of Igls, enough to soften the legs of even the most accomplished mountain goat.

With such a demanding route, it looks unlikely that triple-defending champion Peter Sagan will be riding to a historic fourth consecutive rainbow jersey, although the Slovakian is likely to go down with a fight. 

With Sagan not among the favourites, expectations of a former winner taking another rainbow jersey will be left down to Michal Kwiatkowski, riding for Poland, and Portugal's now-invisible man, Rui Costa.

This means that we should see a new face be presented the rainbow stripes at the end of the ride with the chances of it being one of the peloton's best climbers highly likely. 

Below Cyclist looks at some of the bookmakers' favourites to bring home rainbow this weekend (Just the men's race, mind, as the bookies have unfortunately overlooked women's cycling yet again). 

Riding to rainbow

The 2018 World Championships road race could be the final opportunity for the eternal Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) to become champion of the world, assuming the 38-year-old does not continue riding late into his forties, which is also likely.  

The Spaniard has won so much in his long career that Wikipedia now has his palmares on a separate page, yet he has never been able to crack the race for rainbow, with two silver and four bronze medals since his debut way back in 2003.

It was often touted that the reason for Valverde's Worlds misfortune was because of constant infighting within the Spanish team between Joaquin Rodriquez, Valverde and sometimes Alberto Contador, with all riding for their own chances than one collective goal.

The latter two are now long into retirement opening a path to glory which the bookmakers have unanimously backed him to achieve.

Valverde comes in at favourite at all major betting agencies with mighty short odds of just 4/1 (William Hill) at best price.

The experts' favourite is Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors). With over 10 victories to his name so far this year, including the recent Tour of Britain and Tour of Slovakia, he'x probably the most in-form of all the favourites - with the exception of Simon Yates

Question marks remain around whether the punchy Frenchman will be able to survive the long and arduous loop of the Austrian Alps, although if he can, there are very few that compete with him on inclines as steep as the Hell Climb. 

With accomplished teammates such as Romain Bardet and goat lover Thibaut Pinot, Alaphilippe will have cards to play and at 11/2 (Ladbrokes) looks like a sensible bet for the title.

It comes as no surprise that Simon Yates comes in as third favourite, although at a much more attractive price of 15/1 (Unibet). 

Riding in dominant fashion to a first Grand Tour victory at the recent Vuelta a Espana, Yates was able to ride some of the world's most accomplished riders from his wheel almost at will which should stand him in good stead this Sunday.

The only concern could be the amount of effort he put into the recent Vuelta and whether that has left him empty for the Worlds - another pertinent concern for Valverde who rode the Vuelta and the Tour de France.

Primoz Roglic proved his salt with another mountain stage victory at the Tour so sits at a good price of 18/1 (BetVictor) while Wout Poels will lead the Dutch charge at 25/1 (Marathon Bet), again worth an each-way flutter.

Italy's Vincenzo Nibali has pledged his allegiance to Gianni Moscon for Sunday but on-form, he could be untouchable on these climbs.

If he has good legs, don't be surprised if he goes off-script and solos to victory. Either way, he is worth a punt at 22/1 (Bet365). 

Those tempted by a steal will have noticed good prices for Greg Van Avermaet, who can be taken at 66/1 (Coral). Some would say the course is too hilly but that did not stop him from winning the hilly 2016 Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro.

When he needs to, Van Avermaet can pull out a superb climbing performance.

Finally, it is always customary to give a tip on a rank outsider on the off chance they have the ride of their life, making their plucky backers filthy rich. For this year's Worlds, look no further than Dane Michael Valgren.

Proving his worth with victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and then Amstel Gold, Valgren has the ability to thrive over one-day and should form part of a quietly strong Danish team that could surprise the bigger nations.

He is also currently at 150/1 (Ladbrokes) which, in my book, is an attractively high price that could make you a moderately wealthy cycling fan. 

Cyclist takes no responsibility for bets placed or resulting losses. Always remember to gamble responsibly. When the fun stops, stop.