- Denis Balibouse/Reuters
The week of September 20-27 will see over 1,000 of the world’s fittest athletes race for gold at the UCI Road World Championships, with historic Richmond, Virginia, playing host. This edition of road worlds, an event that leaves Europe only occasionally, offers a huge opportunity for US riders and fans.
It’s only the second time they have been held on US soil – you have to go back 29 years to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the first visit – and the US has an excellent shot at winning several medals, most notably in the elite women’s road race with Wall Street analyst turned bike racer Evelyn Stevens and in the elite women’s time trial with Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong.
While the Tour de France is the world’s most famous bicycle race, for many the road world championships are a more intriguing affair. Unlike the Tour, where just a handful of riders have a real chance at winning the overall and a few big-budget teams control the three-week race, road worlds are one-day events held at the end of a long, grueling season, and they are much more open and therefore more unpredictable.
It is not uncommon for Tour champions and stars of the sport to be beaten by so-called lesser riders. Winning the famous stripes, one of sports’ greatest prizes, can land a rider a lucrative contract and make a career. To become champion you need world-class talent, endurance, racecraft, and motivation, but past winners and near winners alike will tell you that you need luck, too.
This year’s eight-day, 12-race UCI Road World Championships will showcase over 1,000 cyclists from 75 countries. Each race crowns a new world champion, and each champion wears the rainbow jersey for a year until the next championships. Organizers in RVA expect 450,000 on-site spectators, with another 300 million people tuning in to see the races broadcast worldwide. Lending importance to this year’s World Championships is next year’s Olympics, because in Richmond we should get a preview of Rio 2016.
Scroll on for detailed course information, race schedules, the favorites, how to watch on TV and online, some insights into worlds’ colorful history, and “the curse of the rainbow jersey.”
Below is the complete schedule for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships
- Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Sat., Sept. 19
Team Time Trial Training: 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Time Trial Training: 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Sun., Sept. 20
Women’s Team Time Trial: 11:30 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. Men’s Team Time Trial: 1:30 p.m. to 3:35 p.m.
Mon., Sept. 21
Women’s Junior Time Trial: 10:00 a.m. to 11:10 a.m. Men’s Under-23 Time Trial: 11:30 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
Tues., Sept. 22
Men’s Junior Time Trial: 9:30 a.m. to 1:05 p.m. Women’s Elite Time Trial: 1:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Wed., Sept. 23
Men’s Elite Individual Time Trial: 1:00 p.m. to 3:35 p.m.
Thurs., Sept. 24
Road Circuit Training: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 25
Women’s Junior Road Circuit: 10:00 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.
Men’s Under-23 Road Circuit: 12:45 p.m. to 4:50 p.m.
Dominion Conquer the Cobbles Ride: 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 26
Men’s Junior Road Circuit: 9:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Women’s Elite Road Circuit: 1:00 p.m. to 4:25 p.m.
Sun., Sept. 27
Men’s Elite Road Circuit: 9:00 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.
This map shows the 10-mile course for the circuit races — the elite men will race 161 miles and the elite women 80.5
The course is fast and technical with lots of turns and three punchy climbs in the last few miles. (See the profile below.)
“All road races will take place on a challenging, technical inner-city road circuit,” organizers say. “The peloton heads west from Downtown Richmond, working their way onto Monument Avenue, a paver-lined, historic boulevard that’s been named one of the ’10 Great Streets in America,'” according to the official race website, Richmond2015.com. “Racers will take a 180-degree turn at the Jefferson Davis monument and then maneuver through the Uptown district and Virginia Commonwealth University.
“Halfway through the circuit, the race heads down into Shockoe Bottom before following the canal and passing Great Shiplock Park, the start of the Virginia Capital Trail. A sharp, off-camber turn at Rocketts Landing brings the riders to the narrow, twisty, cobbled 200-meter climb up to Libby Hill Park in the historic Church Hill neighborhood. A quick descent, followed by three hard turns leads to a 100-meter-long climb up 23rd Street. Once atop this steep cobbled hill, riders descend into Shockoe Bottom. This leads them to the final 300-meter-long climb up Governor Street. At the top, riders face a 680-meter false flat to the finish.” See a bigger map here. Here’s the schedule for the circuit races:
Thurs., 9.24.2015 | Road Circuit Training | 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Fri., 9.25.2015 | Women’s Junior Road Circuit | 10:00 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.
Fri., 9.25.2015 | Conquer the Cobbles Ride | 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Fri., 9.25.2015 | Men’s Under 23 Road Circuit | 12:45 p.m. to 4:50 p.m.
Sat., 9.26.2015 | Men’s Junior Road Circuit | 9:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Sat., 9.26.2015 | Women’s Elite Road Circuit | 1:00 p.m. to 4:25 p.m.
Sun., 9.27.2015 | Men’s Elite Road Circuit | 9:00 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.
These three spots will probably be the best places to watch the circuit races in person
- Business Insider/Richmond2015
Expect massive crowds on the trio of short, steep climbs that come near the end of each lap. Since the riders will be going (a bit) slower on the climbs, you’ll get to see a little more of the action. But you’ll want to arrive early.
The reigning world champion of men’s cycling is Michał Kwiatkowski of Poland, who soloed to gold in Ponferrada, Spain, in 2014
- Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
The Richmond course suits Kwiatkowski, but others will be keen to steal his crown.
The reigning world champion of women’s cycling is Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France
These are the gradients for each of the three climbs, according to the organizers
- Business Insider/Richmond2015
The view from the top of Libby Hill, the first of three short, provocative, and potentially decisive climbs that come near the end of each lap
Now imagine thousands of cheering spectators in this place, because that’s what Libby Hill Park will look like come worlds. (This photo shows Team USA riders checking out the course in fall 2014.)
Narrow, twisty, and cobbled — what’s not to love about the most scenic part of the course
If it’s raining, the cobblestones on Libby Hill will become super-slick and cause riders problems that could affect the outcome of the race. Those who want a shot at a medal will need to fight for position at the head of the peloton and avoid sliding out or having to put a foot down in a bottleneck – all while not getting caught up in a crash. The race may not be won on Libby Hill, but it could be lost there.
Colorado’s Taylor Phinney and Team USA are excited to have worlds on home soil — they’ll be riding their hearts out
In 2014, one of the biggest American talents, Taylor Phinney, joined Team USA in a trip to Richmond to preview the worlds course, but only after overcoming a serious leg injury that had him out of the sport for a year. The charismatic rider – whose parents Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney were both cycling champions – said he and his teammates are very motivated for worlds. USA Cycling recently announced who will be riding, and he made the team. Phinney could make podium in the team time trial, the elite men’s individual time trial, and the elite men’s road race.
SEE ALSO: Taylor Phinney: In the Moment
Expect lots of attacks on the penultimate climb up 23rd Street
- Josh Lopez/Richmond2015
The second-to-last major hurdle on each lap of the road circuits takes riders up the short but steep 23rd Street climb. If there’s going to be a truly decisive climb in the road races, this should be it – especially after the elite men race up it 16 times and the elite women eight times. (Read about this climb’s cobblestone-restoration project leading up to worlds here.)
The first few days of road worlds are dedicated to time-trialing
- Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
After being gone for nearly two decades, the team time trial was reintroduced to the UCI Road World Championships in 2012. It is different from the other events in that the riders compete with their trade teams and not with their national teams. In the TTT, six riders per squad race as fast as possible. It’s an exercise in power, efficiency, and pain. US-based BMC Racing are the reigning champs.
The TTs are run over separate courses that do not follow the same route as the circuit races. Here’s the schedule for the TTTs:
Sat., 9.19.2015 | Team Time Trial Training | 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Sun., 9.20.2015 | Women’s Team Time Trial | 11:30 a.m. to 12:55 p.m.
Sun., 9.20.2015 | Men’s Team Time Trial | 1:30 p.m. to 3:35 p.m.
Find information about the TT courses here.
Then there’s the individual time trial, a lonely, grueling race against the clock
- Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
When it comes to the individual time trial, only a select number of riders can hope to podium at worlds. It’s the loneliest, most demanding physical and mental test in sport. Reigning world TT champion Bradley Wiggins of the UK has retired from road racing, so the favorite will be Germany’s Tony Martin, runner-up to Wiggins in 2014. Here’s the schedule for the ITTs:
Sat., 9.19.2015 | Time Trial Training | 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Mon., 9.21.2015 | Women’s Junior Time Trial | 10:00 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Mon., 9.21.2015 | Men’s Under-23 Time Trial | 11:30 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
Tues., 9.22.2015 | Men’s Junior Time Trial | 9:30 a.m. to 1:05 p.m.
Tues., 9.22.2015 | Women’s Elite Time Trial | 1:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Wed., 9.23.2015 | Men’s Elite Individual Time Trial | 1:00 p.m. to 3:35 p.m.
Find more information about the TT courses here.
The favorites for the elite women’s individual time trial
- Christian Hartmann/Reuters
A five-star favorite to win gold in RVA is Memphis native Kristin Armstrong, who won Olympic gold in the individual time trial in Beijing in 2008 and again in London in 2012. She has won two world titles and several US titles. In 2012 Armstrong announced she was retiring to start a family, but the now 42-year-old returned to professional racing in 2015, and this year she won the US national TT title.
American women could dominate the podium with former US champs Evelyn Stevens and Carmen Small both ranking among the best time trialists, but Ellen van Dijk of the Netherlands and Lisa Brennauer of Germany could give them trouble.
Business Insider Sports’ pick for the win: Kristin Armstrong
The favorites for the elite men’s individual time trial
- Michael Steele/Velo/Getty Images
Tony Martin is a true force in world cycling. The powerful German has already won the world time-trial title three times. Before crashing out of this year’s Tour de France, he won a dramatic stage and donned the race leader’s yellow jersey. At last year’s worlds he finished runner-up to another great of modern time trialing, Bradley Wiggins. With Wiggins having hung up the road bike and turned his attention to the track and Rio 2016, gold awaits Martin in RVA, and it will be up to Rohan Dennis of Australia, Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands, and Taylor Phinney of the US to stop the man they call Panzerwagen.
Business Insider Sports’ pick for the win: Tony Martin
Flashback 1986 and Colorado Springs — the first road world championships in the US
- Getty Images
That’s Guido Bontempi, left, Bernard Hinault, second left, and Gianbattista Baronchelli during the UCI Road World Championships on September 6, 1986, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Italy’s Moreno Argentin won the elite men’s race.
You can watch the finale of the 1986 elite men’s race in Colorado below
LeMond doubles up
Greg LeMond, the most successful American cyclist of all time, won the elite men’s road title not once but twice – in 1983 in Altenrhein, Switzerland, and in 1989 in Chambéry, France. LeMond also won the Tour de France in 1986, 1989, and 1990.
There’s a superstition that the rainbow jersey is cursed
There’s a superstition that cycling’s rainbow jersey is cursed and that the wearer of the coveted stripes will experience bad luck during the year he or she must wear it. Some of the more infamous examples of the curse of the rainbow jersey include those of “victims” having winless seasons in the jersey; riders breaking bones and suffering serious injuries after crashing in the jersey; former jersey wearers getting involved in major doping scandals; and past champions being involved in serious accidents and even meeting early deaths.
In his book “The Curse of the Rainbow Jersey: Cycling’s Most Famous Superstition,” Irish author Graham Healey explores the history of the superstition. Writes Healy:
While most people-including myself-would have absolutely no belief in a particular piece of sports clothing being cursed, I did want to look at whether there is a correlation between winning the rainbow jersey and a downturn in riders’ performance-and, if so, the reason why this is happening …. Some of these superstitions may appear absolutely irrational to most people, but it’s clear that they can create a negative thought process within the minds of athletes.
Still, as Healy points out, there are lots of examples of wearers of the jersey going on to have very successful seasons. Another thing to consider too – at least when it comes to either winning a lot in the stripes or going on to have a lackluster season – is that the wearer of the jersey naturally becomes a marked rider and as such can face greater challenges when it comes to continue winning races.
Here’s a good overview of the history and importance of the rainbow jersey
Flashback 1993 — new kid on the block
Before he became famous for winning seven Tours de France, and later infamous for hardcore PED abuse, a former triathlete from Plano, Texas, named Lance Armstrong stunned a world-class field to win the elite men’s road race on a rainy day in Oslo.
The most controversial moment in road world championships history
The clip above shows the most controversial moment in the history of the road world championships, in Ronse, Belgium, in 1998. Belgian Claude Criquielion and Canadian Steve Bauer tangle as they sprint for the line, and “Crique” crashes. Bauer finishes second to Italian Maurizio Fondriest but the Canadian is later disqualified. Criquielion goes on to sue Bauer in a case that drags on for years; Bauer ends up winning.
And here are the favorites for the elite women’s race
- Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Evelyn Stevens represents one of the US’s best chances to medal in Richmond, but the former Wall Street analyst will have to do the race of her life. The course suits her well, and she’s beaten the world’s best on similar courses before, but with the likes of current world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France, Lizzie Armitstead of the UK, Elisa Longo Borghini and Giorgia Bronzini of Italy all toeing the start line, the competition will be incredibly tough. The elite women’s event could be the hardest-fought race of the week.
Business Insider Sports’ pick for the win: Evie Stevens
Here are the favorites for the elite men’s road race
Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium are the two five-star favorites in the elite men’s road race. The course suits their all-around abilities to a T – they can hammer on the flats, they have incomparable bike-handling skills, they can rocket up punchy climbs, and, very importantly, they can sprint at the end of a 160-mile race. Both are proven one-day classics specialists who look to be the best bets to win the rainbow jersey. Van Avermaet will have the edge as Belgium will bring a deeply talented team to support him; Slovakia won’t have as deep a squad, but if anyone pull off a big win when outnumbered it’s the crafty Slovak.
But bike racing offers lots of surprises, and there are other super-strong riders who are well suited to Richmond’s technical course and its trio of short, steep climbs at the end of each lap. Most people are talking about guys like John Degenkolb of Germany, Alexander Kristoff of Norway, Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, Alejandro Valverde of Spain, Simon Gerrans of Australia, and Michał Kwiatkowski of Poland as the next-biggest threats. Yet these will all be marked riders, so it’s always possible that a lesser-known rider could get away.
Business Insider Sports’ pick for the win: Simon Gerrans, runner-up in 2014
The best thing about bike racing is that pretty much anything can happen
Spain’s Abraham Olano won the 1995 world championship road race on a flat tire. He punctured with a kilometer to go and had no time for a wheel change because there were rivals hot on his heels. So he just kept hammering, rolling across the line on the rim.
How to watch the UCI Road World Championships live on TV and online
If you can’t make it to Richmond to watch worlds in person, you can watch most of the races live on TV and streaming online. Universal Sports will have lots of live coverage of the races as well as analysis and recaps throughout the week. In addition, most of the races will be broadcast live at Richmond2015.com and on the race’s free mobile app. The TV schedule is here.