Rigoberto Urán won't be among the top favourites for the elite men's road race the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen, but the Salmon Hill climb that awaits on the main circuit will certainly offer an opportunity to an enterprising climber, and the Colombian squad has those in spades. What's more, Colombia may have the best card to play of all should things come down to a big bunch finish in Fernando Gaviria, and Urán is committed to riding for his compatriot in that scenario.
In short, Colombia has several options for a variety of potential outcomes on Sunday.
"I think we have a good team for the Worlds this year. It's a bit complicated, the route is maybe a bit more for the sprinters but we've got Fernando Gaviria so I'll be in good shape to help him through good or bad," he told Cyclingnews during his visit to Canadian WorldTour races.
"The Worlds is a pretty unique race. It's just one day and anything can happen. You never know what's going to happen at Worlds. We have a good team, with [Sergio] Henao who is well-suited to the parcours, [Esteban] Chaves, [Miguel Ángel] López, a parcours that's good for them. We expect with the cold, 270 kilometres with rain, it's going to be an elimination race."
Urán himself has shown some punch at the end of major one-days during his career. He says his finishing kick is not something he's quite held onto as he's developed into a GC threat these past few years, but he has made it a goal to recapture some of that speed, at least for the longer, lumpier races he tends to target.
"I've lost a bit of it, but recently we've been working on it and have recovered it," he said. "Races like the Classics, after six hours, you don't have to be so fast, you just have to be strong. It's more about strength so it's different."
Racing through Il Lombardia
After scoring the biggest results of his career this summer, Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) could be forgiven if he decided to spend the year from August on with his feet up at home, but the Colombian all-rounder has stayed busy since his runner-up ride at the Tour de France.
He made starts at the Clasica San Sebastian and the Colorado Classic before taking a short break in Colombia, but then got right back to it in the GPs Québec and Montréal. Now, he's eyeing the Worlds road race in Bergen, Norway, and Sunday's showdown won't be the end of the road for him this season either.
"For me the year ends in Lombardy. It's a race I really like. I'm always going to be there at the end. I think I'm in good shape right now," Urán said. "When I'm not in good shape, I'd rather just be at home in Colombia."
He was ultimately reeled in before the finish line, but Urán proved his late-season form with a stinging attack in the finale of the GP Québec for the third straight year. Though known more as a stage racer, he is no slouch in one-day races, with an Olympic silver medal and multiple Lombardia podiums to go with his 2015 victory at the GP Québec.
Urán is highly motivated to reach the top step of the podium for the first time in Il Lombardia in two weeks time. He came into the finish in a group of three in 2016 but was outgunned in the sprint, with Chaves taking the win and Astana's Diego Rosa nabbing runner-up honours.
"I've been on the podium three times. It was my first big result, being on the podium in 2008, so it's a race I've liked all these years," he said.
Tour contender? 'Maybe I'll become an astronaut and go to the moon'
However his final few appearances of the season turn out, Urán has already had a career year, and one that not many people saw coming. When he turned up for the Tour in July, the two-time Giro d'Italia runner-up hadn't reached the podium in a stage race since early 2015. He went on to take a thrilling stage victory and climb all the way to second overall in France, all the more impressive after shipping nearly a minute to Sky's Chris Froome in the prologue.
Urán says he wasn't surprised not to be considered among the big pre-race favourites, but that he was quietly confident heading into the race this year thanks to his build-up, as well as the parcours.
"It was clear that I wasn't really a favourite because there were two years where I didn't have results in the Giro, or anything. But this year, we prepared solely for the Tour. We didn't go to the Giro," he said. "We spent the whole year working to arrive strong to the Tour de France. We knew it was going to be hard but we went hoping to win a stage and finish among the top five overall. I found myself in really good form, everything went well, I didn't have any health issues or setbacks. That's why I think this has been a good year for me.
"It seemed like I got accustomed to doing well going up, but I'd lose too much in the time trial. This year, many races, Tirreno, País Vasco, I was really good going up, but in the time trial I lost a lot. In the Tour, I knew I could do better. It was different, because it was a time trial after 20 days of racing, which is more difficult. For me it was much better."
Considering how consistently strong he was throughout the three weeks in France this July, Urán will surely be a more prominent name in the pre-race conversations next year. Set to stay with Cannondale-Drapac now that the team's future has been secured, Urán is likely to target the Tour again, and he has now proven that he has the preparation part down pat.
Whether he'll be able to improve on this season's result in Tours to come, however, is another matter.
Asked what he'll have to do to beat Froome in the future, he joked "not lose so much time in the prologue," before tipping his cap to the five-time Grand Tour winner.
"He's very strong. It's very clear that Chris Froome is one of the strongest riders of the last decade, winning four Tours de France and now the Vuelta. He's a strong rider with a strong team too but it's something where you don't just talk about beating him. You do it on the bike."
Indeed, the three-time Grand Tour runner-up was only so interested in making pronouncements for 2018, waxing philosophical when he was questioned about matching up against Nairo Quintana (Movistar) next year without a Giro to dampen his compatriot's legs.
"For Rigoberto Urán, there is neither past nor future. There is only present," Urán said. "Tomorrow, we'll see how I am. In another year, maybe I'll win the lottery. Or maybe I'll become an astronaut and go to the moon."
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Dane has been a sports writer and editor for many years, and makes a return to Cyclingnews as a contributor in 2022. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Virginia.