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Pogacar and Van Vleuten headline European Championships - Preview

Filippo Ganna, Tadej Pogacar and Annemiek van Vleuten are among the top favourites for the 2021 UEC Road Championships
Filippo Ganna, Tadej Pogacar and Annemiek van Vleuten are among the top favourites for the 2021 UEC Road Championships (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

With the Vuelta a España done and the summer sun fading fast, the UEC Road European Championships in Trento, Italy, mark the start of the final two months of the 2021 season and come just a week before the UCI Road World Championships in Flanders. 

This is just the sixth edition of the European Championships for elite riders but the white and blue title holder jerseys have become a prestigious prize to wear in the peloton. This year over a thousand junior, under-23, elite women and men from 39 different nations will compete between Wednesday and Sunday for 13 titles across the categories in the individual time trial, road race and team relay.

The start list includes Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar of Slovenia, world time trial champion Filippo Ganna of Italy, Peter Sagan of Slovakia, Annemiek van Vleuten and Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, while Remco Evenepoel and Lotte Kopecky lead the Belgian elite squads.

Pogačar will ride the time trial and road races as he steps up his return to racing after his Tour de France success and third place in the Olympic Games road race. His form is unknown but Pogačar's 2020 Tour win confirmed he should never be ignored.

The racing begins on Wednesday with the time trial for junior men and women and the team relay. The under-23 and elite time trials will be held on Thursday, with the road races starting on Friday with the juniors and under-23 women. The elite women’s road race will be on Saturday, with the elite men’s road race ending the championships on Sunday. 

Unfortunately the road races clash with the final stage of the Tour of Britain, so Julian Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert are amongst those absent, as is the Great Britain team.

The race routes 

All the 13 races will be centred around Trento, with the finish of the road races in the central Piazza Duomo of the historical regional capital. The Trentino region has invested massively in cycling as part of its outdoor lifestyle offering and recently hosted the Mountain Bike World championships in the nearby Val di Sole. The championships are organised by the Union Européenne de Cyclisme (UEC) with experienced technical support from the organisers of the Tour of the Alps.     

The time trials start at the MUSE Sciences Museum and follow the valley roads on an out and back 22.4km course through the vineyards and apple trees. 

Wednesday’s team relay, contested by six athletes per team (three men and three women), will cover two laps of the time trial course for a total of 44.8Km.

The 13.2km road race circuit around Trento includes the 3.6km long Povio climb and a 250 metre elevation gain per lap.  The final four kilometres are on flat city centre roads but with a number of turns before the finishing straight. 

The elite women cover eight laps for a total of 107.2km. The 172.9km elite men’s road race also covers eight laps but after an opening loop through the Valle dei Laghi and the climb of the iconic Monte Bondone that overlooks Trento. Monte Bondone could inspire long-range attacks to distance the sprinters but the Trento circuits are expected to inspire the decisive racing.

Riders to watch

After the cancellation of a number of races and championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, junior and under-23 athletes will return and compete in Trento. 

Norway’s Tobias and Anders Halland Johannessen will be in action in the under-23 men's races after their exploits at the recent Tour de L’Avenir, as will Juan Ayuso.

Thibau Nys of Belgium and Laura Stigger of Austria continue the multi-disciplined ability of the next generation of the sport in Trento. Stigger was junior World Champion on the road in 2017 and in mountain biking in 2017 and 2018, while Mona Mitterwallner won the under-23 cross country race at the recent UCI MTB World Championships in Val di Sole.

Pogačar stands out the elite men’s start list but his Slovenian teammate Matej Mohoric showed his form at the recent Benelux Tour and could emerge as team leader.  

Italy are chasing a fourth consecutive victory in the elite men’s road race after Matteo Trentin, Elia Viviani and Giacomo Nizzolo and hope that Trentin and Sonny Colbrelli can deliver. Both are on form and will have support from Ganna, local resident Gianni Moscon and Diego Ulissi. 

Sagan could be a threat and his three world titles and 2016 European title confirm he knows how to win circuit races. Evenepoel has been selected for the Belgian team for the World Championships and will be looking to prove a point in both the time trial and road race. 

Other names to watch are Norway’s Alexander Kristoff, recent Bretagne Classics winner Benoît Cosnefroy of France and the returning to form Thibaut Pinot. Bauke Mollema leads the Dutch team, while Ivan Cortina leads Spain and Vuelta revelation Gino Mäder has been selected for the Swiss team. Kasper Asgreen is an outsider for Denmark in the time trail but surprisingly Denmark won't ride the road race. 

Ganna is the favourite for the elite men’s time trial, with 2020 winner Stefan Küng, his Swiss teammate Stefan Bissigger, Pogacar, Remì Cavagna of France and Evenepoel his biggest rivals.   

Despite the absence of Anna van der Breggen, the Netherlands remain the team to beat in the women’s races, with previous European road race winners Marianne Vos (2017), Amy Pieters (2019) and the defending winner Annemiek van Vleuten all chasing another title.   

Denmark’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser, Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky, Poland’s Kasia Niewiadoma and the Italians Elisa Longo Borghini, Marta Cavalli and Elisa Balsamo will be hoping to end the Dutch domination.

Four time winner Ellen van Dijk will be the rider to beat in the women’s time trial but German’s Lisa Brennauer, France’s Juliette Labous, Dane Emma Norsgaard and Italian Vittoria Bussi also have a chance. Tokyo Olympic road race gold medalist Anna Kiesenhofer from Austria will ride the time trial and the road race. 

Sadly only eight nations will contest the team relay event on Wednesday but there are some big names on the start list. The trio of men will start first and cover a lap of the 22.4km course, before the women start their lap when the men finish. The best combined time wins the title.  

 The Italian team includes Ganna, Longo Borghini and Cavalli, while Victor Campenaerts, Yves Lampaert and Ben Hermans, Lotto Kopecky, Jolien D'hoore and Shari Bossuyt look strong for Belgium. 

Cyclingnews will have full coverage of the European championships, with live coverage of the road race, news and interviews.   

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