The first four days of the championships were all about the time trials and the newly-resealed roads around Florence ensured that some blisteringly fast times were recorded.
Specialized-Lululemon dominated the women’s team time trial, beating nearest rivals — the Rabo Women’s Cycling Team — by more than a minute. And if the performance of her Specialized-Lululemon team was impressive then Ellen van Dijk effort in the ITT two days later day was nothing short of exceptional. She won the 21.8km race by 24 seconds, flying along the course with an average speed of more than 47km/h.
The favourite also won in the elite men’s TTT but in the end the Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad was only able to defend its worlds title by less than a second over a race that lasted more than an hour. The Orica-GreenEDGE squad were left disappointed in second place, unable to repeat their brilliant and memorable performance from the Tour de France TTT.
The elite men’s individual time trial was billed as a three-way battle between dual-world champion Tony Martin, 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and four-time world ITT champion Fabian Cancellara. Those three made up the podium, in that order, but the day was Martin’s, backing up his TTT win with gold in the ITT by an impressive 46 seconds over a fast-finishing Wiggins.
The Florence worlds road race course was billed as one of the hardest in recent memory and so it proved to be. The punishing circuit north of Florence blew the field apart in all of the road races ensuring only the strongest riders were able to contest the finale.
In the U23 men’s road race Mattej Mohoric rewarded the trust Cannondale had shown by signing him, breaking away to take an impressive solo victory.
In the elite women’s road race the field was cut in half on the first of five laps of the tough circuit thanks to some brutal tempo riding by Team USA.
The lead group was whittled down with every lap and as the finish approach it was the Dutch team, riding for Marianne Vos, that took control. And then, on the final time up the circuit’s 600m-long, 16% rise, Vos did what everyone expected her to do — she put in one devastating attack and then rode away to victory. The favourite had won, but it was still amazing to watch.
As ever, the championships culminated with the men’s road race. After a week of pristine Tuscan weather, the tables turned on Sunday ensuring that the majority of the 272km race was contested in heavy rain.
The early running was dominated by Team Great Britain and the somewhat-odd sight of Mark Cavendish at the front of the peloton, driving the pace for this team leader Chris Froome. But when the riders hit the first of ten laps of the tough circuit Team GB started to disappear one-by-one.
Brad Wiggins was supposed to be riding for Chris Froome, in spite of long-standing tensions between the two, but it didn’t take long for Wiggins to go missing and for Froome to get isolated before dropping out himself. This exchange between two Twitter accounts parodying the two riders summed it up nicely:
I’d like to thank Brad for his valiant effort today. Outstanding.
— NOT Chris Froome (@FuckingFroome) September 29, 2013
Sorry Chris, I got fucking bored.
— NOT Bradley Wiggins (@NOTSirWiggo) September 29, 2013
In the end all eight of the British riders in the race pulled out, but they weren’t the only ones. Of the 208 starters only 61 finished.
The rainbow jersey was won by Portugal’s dual-Tour de France stage winner Rui Costa, who timed his run beautifully in the final kilometres of the race. The lead group had been expanding and contracting as they made their way around the hilly circuit and with only a few laps to go it was poised perfectly for someone to make the race their own.
It was Joaquin “Purito” Rodriguez that shook things up, dragging with him Alejandro Valverde, Rui Costa and a resurgent Vincenzo Nibali who had crashed just a little while earlier on a wet descent. After being caught by the elite group once, Purito got away again, and with only a couple kilometres remaining in the race, he looked to have it won. Nibali was left to do all the chasing, Valverde unwilling to chase down his fellow Spaniard and Rui Costa refusing to work.
With 3km to go Costa made his move, leaving Nibali and Valverde behind. As the line approached, Costa slowly but surely dragged Purito in, and it was left to the two of them to contest the sprint. Costa jumped from behind, and just held off Rodriguez for the win, leaving Valverde to complete the podium and Nibali to miss out on what would have been one of the great comeback victories.
Costa took to the podium in tears, clearly overcome by the honour of wearing the rainbow bands. Rodriguez, immediately to Costa’s right, was in tears as well, but for an entirely different reason.
Only one of the nine Australians in the race finished — Simon Clarke. Clarke looked impressive all day and ended up finishing 7th — a great reward for a race well ridden.
Clarke’s result in the elite men’s road race capped off a largely successful world championships for Australia. Perhaps the biggest highlight was Damian Howson’s win in the men’s U23 ITT which saw the Orica-GreenEDGE recruit finish nearly a minute faster than his nearest rival. His compatriot Campbell Flakemore was 4th, just 12 seconds off the medals.
In the junior women’s ITT Australia picked up the silver and bronze medals courtesy of brilliant rides from Alexandria Nicolls and Alexandra Manly respectively. Seventeen-year-old Manly would later go on to finish eighth in the junior women’s road race as well.
In the men’s U23 road race Aussie young gun Caleb Ewan sprinted his way to fourth in the chase group behind lone leader Matej Mohoric and second-placed Louis Meintjes. And on the penultimate day of competition Tiffany Cromwell put in a typically plucky performance to finish ninth in the elite women’s road race.
And so the UCI Road World Championships are done for another year. Next year the worlds head to Ponferrada in Spain — the seventh time Spain has hosted the championships. In 2015 it will Richmond, Virginia, USA that plays host to the 82nd road worlds and then, in 2016, the first ever world championships in the Middle East will be held in Doha, Qatar.
Until next year, enjoy some of the many great moments from this year’s world championships.