Chloe Dygert celebrates after winning and setting the world record the Women's Individual Pursuit at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships Berlin on Feb. 29, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
With road cycling’s most prestigious stage races having finished just days ago, the top athletes are back at it again this week at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships that run Thursday through Sunday in Imola, Italy.
Originally scheduled for a week earlier in Aigle and Martigny, Switzerland, the event was moved earlier this month to the northern Italian city due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings. As part of the switch, the event also dropped the U23 and junior divisions that are typically held in conjunction with the elite races, as well as the mixed team time trial.
The elite women’s and men’s time trials and road races will go on as planned, though, with several Americans among the contenders. Racing begins Thursday with the women’s time trial and continues with the men’s time trial on Friday, followed by the women’s road race on Saturday and the men’s road race on Sunday.
Here’s a closer look at the U.S. team going into Imola.
Can Chloe Do It Again?
Chloé Dygert broke out in a big way in 2019, and all eyes will be on the Brownsburg, Indiana, native this year to see if she can do it again.
Already known for her prowess on the track, where she had won an Olympic silver medal and five world titles, Dygert burst out of the gates and dominated the women’s time trial, slicing through a steady rain in Yorkshire, England, and crossing the finish line a record 92.35 seconds faster than the next best rider.
Four days later, she was back for the road race, where she set out on a gutsy chase to catch the runaway leader, Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands, but ultimately ran out of gas and finished just off the podium in fourth.
At 22, Dygert became the youngest women’s time trial world champ, and her win also secured her berth into the now-postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Now 23, Dygert comes to Italy as a favorite in the time trial and a top contender in the road race, though this week will mark just her first time competing on the road since Yorkshire and her first time competing at all since collecting two more world titles at the track world championships in February.
While some of the European riders were able to return to competition in recent weeks, Dygert has been training with three-time Olympic time trial champ Kristin Armstrong in Boise, Idaho.
Time Trials Will Bring The Speed
A flat 31.7-kilometer circuit should bring plenty of speed to the time trials, where the women and men will compete on the same course.
Though van Vleuten is out injured, a contingent of fellow Dutch riders are expected to give Dygert her biggest challenges. Anna van der Breggen, an Olympic gold and bronze medalist in 2016, was relegated to the second position last year for the fourth time in the world championships time trial, and she comes into worlds in good form after winning the Giro Rosa — women’s cycling’s premier road event — over the weekend in southern Italy.
Fellow Americans Amber Neben and Lauren Stephens could be right there with them, though. Two-time Olympian Neben was there last year, after all, finishing fourth. At 45, Neben is the oldest woman in the field and competing in her 16th world championships. She won the time trial in 2008 and 2016.
Stephens, who was named to the team when Leah Thomas withdrew, is coming off an overall win at the Tour de l’Ardeche, a seven-stage race earlier this month in France.
On the men’s side, 22-year-old Brandon McNulty, who is coming off a third-place finish in the U23 division last year, joins veteran rider Lawson Craddock on the time trial start list. Craddock, 28, is competing at road worlds for the sixth time, and he led the U.S. men in finishing sixth in 2019.
Punchy Hills Will Test Tired Riders In The Road Races
In normal times, the 2020 Tour de France would have wrapped up in mid-July. Instead, the peloton rode into Paris on Sunday, and several turned around and headed straight to Imola. Among those making the quick transition are winner Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and his compatriot and Tour runner-up Primoz Roglic. Joining them is Belgian Wout van Aert, who won two stages in France and is considered a favorite in both the men’s road race and time trial.
Among the American road race contingent, Sepp Kuss and Neilson Powless are coming straight from France, where both showed promise in their Tour debuts. Powless, 24, recorded two top-five stage finishes in his first Tour, while fellow Tour rookie Kuss, 26, was among the top six in two stages and finished 15th overall on the strength of his elite climbing. They’ll join Craddock and McNulty in the men’s road race in Italy.
The men will be competing on an arduous 258.2 kilometer course with 5,000 meters of climbing. Riders will have to traverse two steep, punchy hills on each of the nine laps, which offer a different challenge than the long mountain climbs that would have been part of the Swiss route.
The women will race the same course but over five laps, giving them a race of 143 kilometers with 2,800 meters of climbing. The road race course starts and finishes on the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari auto racing track.
Seven U.S. women will take on the challenge, including the three time trialists.
Joining Dygert in the top-10 last year was Coryn Rivera, and she’s coming off a strong performance at the Giro Rosa, where she recorded two top-four finishes in the nine-stage race. A pro since age 16, Rivera, now 28, has won 72 U.S. titles across four disciplines and is known for her sprinting ability.
Fellow Americans Ruth Winder and Tayler Wiles are also coming off a good showing at the Giro Rosa, where they helped Trek-Segafredo win the team time trial opening stage. Winder is the 2019 U.S. road race champion. Krista Doebel-Hickok rounds out the U.S. contingent in Imola.