Ahead of the Tour des Fjords starting in Bergen, several riders took the opportunity to reconnoitre the course of the 2017 world championships that have been awarded to the Hanseatic city of the west coast of Norway. Following Richmond, USA, in September this year and Doha, Qatar, at the very end of the next season (October 16 for the professional road race), the sprinters with the calibre of classics riders will have a third straight opportunity to hunt for the rainbow jersey in Norway.
"We have wanted a course that gives Norwegian cyclists a chance to win", said Harald Tiedemann Hansen, the president of the Norwegian cycling federation whose technical vehicles on the roads of the Tour of Norway and Tour des Fjords carry the image of Thor Hushovd winning the world championship in Geelong, Australia, in 2010. The only Norwegian to have claimed the rainbow jersey for road racing up to date retired at the end of last season.
His successors, firstly Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen, have similar characteristics in terms of endurance, speed at the finish and capacities of overcoming some climbs. Interestingly, Orica-GreenEdge's sport director Matt Wilson who rode the course in Bergen on his bike on Tuesday compared the amount of difficulty with the route that John Trevorrow and his fellow compatriots from Victoria came up with five years ago.
The 18.6km course includes a 3.5km long climb on Mount Ulriken from kilometre 5 to kilometre 8.5 with an average gradient between 6 and 7%. "It's hard but not very hard," commented former pro and TV2 Norway cycling expert Dag-Otto Lauritzen. "I remember Thor Hushovd didn't want to take part in the World's in Lisbon [Portugal, 2001] because it was a very hard course, but it was a sprint of sixty riders at the end. The race is always as hard as the riders make it hard, but on paper, this course in Bergen suits riders like Kristoff, [John] Degenkolb, [Philippe] Gilbert, maybe even Marcel Kittel and why not Caleb Ewan because that'll be in two and half years time and he might have physically improved a lot by then. Florence [in 2013] and Ponferrada [in 2014] weren't too hard for him in the U23 category, so Bergen should be good for him as a pro."
Silver medalist in Florence while Ewan came fourth, Sondre Holst Enger (IAM Cycling) is expected to come of age within two and half years. Questioned on the start line of stage 1 of the Tour des Fjords, Boasson Hagen said: "I didn't ride the course because 2017 seems too far away. I'll have other occasions to do it when we'll come closer to the event but I've heard it's a good course." Bergen being surrounded by seven hills, the race could have been for climbers.
"It can be something for me," Kristoff told Cyclingnews right near the fortress where concerts will be organised from 16 to 23 September 2017 to entertain the crowds not only with bike races. The headquarters and UCI official hotels will be located less than 200 metres away from the finishing line in the city centre.
"The course includes a hard and long climb," described Kristoff after riding it on Tuesday. "But it's not too steep and there's a possibility to be drafted back in the wheels after the climb, which is a benefit for us [the sprinters]. It's not designed just for me. Other [Norwegian] riders can do well there too. But if I'm in my best shape, I can survive the difficulty of the route.
"From the top of the climb to the finish, there are nine kilometres and it's quite technical in the city centre," added Bergen's head of project Erik K. Halvorsen. "We expect a popular week of activities in the city because there are more people taking part in bike races than ski races in Norway now and after two world championships outside Europe, it'll be very easy for cycling fans to access Bergen, which is only two hours flight from the main airports in Europe."