MADRID – With the grand tours over and done with, it’s time to get ready for the road cycling world championships.
Many of the biggest names in the sport – including Fabian Cancellara, Cadel Evans, Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde and Bradley Wiggins – will be in Spain next week to compete in a variety of races around Spain’s hilly landscape of El Bierzo, northwest of Madrid.
Here are some things to know about the events that will begin Sunday with a 35.5-mile men’s and women’s team time trial:
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The men’s races will be held on rolling terrain with short but steep climbs that will test both climb specialists and sprinters.
On paper, Australian riders seem to be the best suited to cope with the challenges posed by El Bierzo’s topography.
After becoming the first rider to win back-to-back Canadian races in Quebec and Montreal, Simon Gerrans is a strong contender, but Michael Matthews’ ability to climb could see the Canberra rider challenge for overall victory.
Gerrans has recovered from injuries suffered in a crash at this year’s Tour de France that also affected British rider Mark Cavendish.
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The time trial will pit Cancellara against German rider Tony Martin, who showed his class by beating his nearest rival in the 20th stage of the Tour by 1 minute, 39 seconds.
Martin is aiming to win his fourth title in a row. However, competition will be tough because American rider Taylor Phinney and Wiggins also are in contention.
With four titles to his credit, Cancellara is the specialist to beat.
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The Colombian women’s team garnered some recent attention because of its uniforms.
The body-hugging riding suits have a flesh-colored section from the ribcage down to the thighs. Many among the crowd attending the Tour of Tuscany in Italy stared as the IDRD-Bogota Humana-San Mateo-Solgar team rode by.
International Cycling Union President Brian Cookson wrote on his Twitter account that the uniform was “unacceptable.”
It was unclear if the six-member team will wear the same design in Spain.
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Wiggins will attempt to improve on the time trial silver medals he won in 2011 and 2013. But Britain’s overall challenge will be spearheaded by 2013 Tour de France champion Froome, who finished second behind Alberto Contador at the Spanish Vuelta.
Britain’s nine-rider road race men’s team also includes Steve Cummings, Pete Kennaugh, Luke Rowe, Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates and Simon Yates.
Wiggins will not contest the road race to focus exclusively on the time trial and will be joined by Alex Dowsett, who triumphed in that category at the Commonwealth Games.
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About 2,000 years ago, El Bierzo was one of the Roman Empire’s greatest sources of gold, and its ancient mines form the landscape through which the riders will race.
Ponferrada could do with some gold to help finance this year’s race. Money matters have been at the core of the championships for two years, and the UCI almost pulled out at one stage, given the deep financial crisis Spain was going through.
Host cities will pay the UCI 5 million euros ($6.4 million) to hold such events, and the cost of organizing the worlds could reach 14 million euros by the time the men’s elite road race will end Sept. 28.