Retired Spanish stars Miguel Indurain, Pedro Delgado, Oscar Freire, Abraham Olano and Igor Astarloa - who have seven World Championships titles and six Tours de France between them - tested out the 2014 World Championships circuit in Ponferrada, Spain on Wednesday. And they almost unanimously described it as “tough, but not excessively so.”
“It won’t be the toughest World’s in history, but it will wear the riders down” Indurain commented after the five braved light rain as they tackled the 18.2 kilometre circuit. Ponferrada’s 254 kilometre course has 4,284 metres of total climbing in its 14 laps. Its three fairly gentle ascents total 6.2 kilometres of climbing per lap, with a maximum steepness of 11 percent.
“This won’t end in a bunch sprint, rather the race may well be decided by a small group of riders.”
“It’s the kind of circuit I’d have liked in my last years as a pro,” added Freire, Spain’s three-time World Champion. “It’s a pity I’m no longer racing.” Freire politely rejected an invitation to stage a comeback in 2014 made to him yesterday by Spanish national trainer Javier Minguez, saying that he had now moved on from being a pro. “I might have the legs if I trained for three months,” Freire said, according to sports daily MARCA, “but I don’t have the head for it any more.”
“It’s a circuit which gives a lot of opportunities to everybody,” Freire commented, “both the guys who’ll want to break the race apart and those who are trying to bring it all down to a sprint.”
“It will be difficult to control and very fast. Sometimes a World’s without very difficult climbs can be really tough.”
Said to be similar in format to Hamilton in 2003, a medium-difficulty circuit where Astarloa won, one important difference to the Canada Worlds is a 400 metre ‘ramp’ early on, which leads past the Knights Templar castle and averages around six percent.
Freire predicted Alejandro Valverde, five times a World’s medallist, including a bronze in Italy this year behind team-mate Joaquim Rodríguez, but never an outright winner, as one key favourite, whilst Olano tipped Luis León Sánchez.
“If it doesn’t rain” - which is likely, but not definite, in that area of Spain at that time of year - “then we should see around 30 riders battling for a sprint,” 1988 Tour winner and cycling commentator Pedro Delgado added.
“But if it does, then that last descent” – which immediately precedes the finish and is said to be very technical, only flattening out in the final two kilometres - “could cause as much damage as the previous climb.”
Olano, meanwhile, tipped Peter Sagan as one of the riders to beat. “It’s going to be a very fast circuit, and that means that the group of riders who fight it out at the finish will be a small one.”
The World Championships will take place in Ponferrada between September 21st and September 28th next year, the first to be held in Spain since Madrid in 2005 and the sixth in its history. Although questions have been raised about its financial viability, local organisers remain adamant it will go ahead as planned and that those economic difficulties are behind them.