(AFP) – Julian Alaphilippe has been heavily tipped by his rivals to win Sunday’s Road World Championships showdown in Innsbruck on what many have described as one of the toughest routes ever.
The race over a draining 258.5 kilometres features almost 5,000 metres of climbing, culminating in a brutal final ascent, a daredevil descent and a slight uphill incline on the last 2km dash for the line where huge crowds are expected in the centre of the Austrian town.
Vuelta winner Simon Yates and his twin Adam are also among the favourites and should one of them succeed, it would be the first British winner since Mark Cavendish in 2011.
But the twins both fear the French trident led by Alaphilippe with Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot both potential winners too.
“I think Alaphilippe is the main favourite, you have to look at him,” Simon Yates said. “He’s in very good form, he’s won many good races and he’s backed by a very good team, for sure the strongest team. They have many cards to play so it’s not just him.”
“We all know how good (Alaphilippe) is uphill and downhill,” he added.
“I’m feeling good, Simon’s feeling good and that’s all that matters,” Adam said. “During the race it’s real simple tactics. Anything can happen so we’ve just got to keep it simple.”
The Colombian national team boasts powerful climbers, led by a tight-knit quartet of Rigoberto Uran, Nairo Quintana, Sergio Henao and Miguel Angel Lopez.
“It’s a really hard course, super demanding and with that hill coming after six and a half hours riding, I think it’ll be very, very hard,” said Uran.
Quintana said his Movistar teammate, Alejandro Valverde, was also primed to give his best.
“I had him (Valverde) on the phone earlier, he’s ready,” Quintana told AFP. “But we have four top-level riders and we are representing our country here,” he said.
“We will try and keep track of the one-day specialists and stop them getting away. Maintaining a fast pace will be very important.”
“But the France team is strong with three riders who can all aspire to the world title.”
Uran also said 2014 champion Michal Kwiatkowski posed a threat, but Quintana tipped the Frenchman: “I think Alaphilippe should win it, but who knows, what I can tell you for sure is this is easily the hardest one-day race I’ve seen in Europe.”
Alaphilippe himself played down his chances.
“There are 50 possible scenarios. I’m trying to forget the favourite’s tag. This is a super difficult course and hearing people say I’m the favourite doesn’t help me, there are 10 other guys I could name right now with an equal chance,” he said.
“But I can promise you my target will be to head home to France on Monday with no regrets.”