Milan-San Remo winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was in Innsbruck earlier this week to ride reconnaissance over the 2018 UCI World Championships road race circuit. Accompanied by fellow Italian teammates Franco Pellizotti (Bahrain-Merida) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing), the trio rode over the Olympia road circuit twice, despite cold conditions and snow.
The Worlds take place in September and Nibali has already stated that the road race will be one of his major targets for the season. The Italian will also aim at winning his second Tour de France in July.
After his reconnaissance Nibali stated that the course was harder than he expected. "The final climb looked like a mountain bike endurance race, so hard," he said.
"It will be a difficult race to manage, from power distribution to food, from the technical choices to the choice of athletes for a complete national team. After seeing it on paper, I was expecting a hard route but riding it is quite another thing. Many other riders will be as surprised as I was today."
A number of riders will head to the circuit in the coming months as they try to ascertain whether the course suits their characteristics. Peter Sagan – the winner of the last three road world championships will seek to defend his crown but question marks remain as to whether he can make it over the climbs.
Italian team manager, Davide Cassani, added that he was pleased with the route, clearly believing that Nibali has a chance of winning. Italy have not won a men's elite world road title since Alessandro Ballan in 2008. That was also the last time Italy picked up a medal in the men's road race with Damiano Cunego following Ballan home to take silver ahead of Matti Breschel (Denmark).
"I had already seen the course but today both myself and the boys were impressed. There's an 8km climb to be repeated seven times, plus a final wall with inclinations that peak at 28 per cent: this says everything about the hardness of the route."
De Marchi, who is a likely candidate to support Nibali's attempt later in the year, agreed with Cassini's assessment.
"On paper, I think this is one of the most difficult World Championship courses; it was a good idea to come here now - a few months before the race - to see and understand what we're going to find in September."
Nibali is likely to compete at the Vuelta a España and use the Spanish Grand Tour as part of his Worlds preparation. The Italian finished second in the Vuelta in 2017. Pellizotti believes that the Vuelta is the ideal warm-up race for Innsbruck.
"These World Championships are very difficult," he said.
"The course is long and tough. To do well here it will be very important to come out of the Vuelta in good condition, both mentally and physically."