A time for Cunis – a men’s world road race preview

That title’s a reference to 1960s New Zealand cricketer, Bob Cunis, about whom Test Match Special commentator Alan Gibson once said:

“Cunis: a funny sort of name – neither one thing nor the other.”

For that is what this year’s world road race circuit demands – a rider who is neither one thing nor the other. The course is too hilly for the out-and-out sprinters, but the climbs probably aren’t hard enough to reduce the field to only the climbers.

It depends how they race it, of course, because the total volume of climbing is actually quite considerable – 4,284 metres over 14 laps of the 18.2km circuit. However, neither of the two climbs is really that challenging in itself. The Alto de Montearenas is the long one, but it’s shallow – 5.1 kilometres at an average gradient of 3.5 per cent. The Alto de Compostilla is steeper, but still nothing remarkable – 1.1km at 6.6 per cent.

We’re probably looking for someone with a fast finish who can also climb, but part of the beauty of the course is that very few riders are actually ruled out.

Portugal’s Rui Costa is the current world champion and so has to be one possibility.

Cheesy Swissman, Fabian Cancellara, skipped the time trial to focus on this. It’s a long day, which suits him, and he should cope with those climbs.

Tom Boonen‘s another classics specialist having a go. Boonen, who became world champion in 2005, is a big guy though, so I’m not sure he’ll threaten. If that’s the case, the Belgian challenge will come from Philippe Gilbert who won in 2012. Don’t discount their team-mate Greg Van Avermaet either.

Italy of course bring the Tour de France champion, Vincenzo Nibali. He’d probably prefer a harder course though and the same’s true of the Spaniards, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez. Those two might be confident of outsprinting Grand Tour contenders, but faster riders than that are likely to remain at the finish.

Such as who?

Well, John Degenkolb for one. I’ve heard that he’s got some infected wounds from a crash, but he’s German so he’ll heal super fast. Michael Matthews is another, while fellow Aussie Simon Gerrans is cut from similar cloth and is in top form having won a couple of one-day races recently to add to his Liege-Bastogne-Liege victory earlier in the year. Those three riders range from sprinter-who-can-climb to climber-who-can-sprint, but one proper sprinter to watch might be France’s Nacer Bouhanni. He managed to stay in touch on some pretty tough climbs in the Vuelta, so he’s an outsider.

The British challenge comes from Chris Froome, who will be in with a chance if the Italians and Spaniards manage to obliterate the field before the finish. Peter Kennaugh might stick around in that situation too, even if his one-day racing style is slightly demented. Otherwise, Ben Swift might be worth watching. He fits in towards the sprintier end of that Degenkolb-Matthews-Gerrans spectrum.

Michal Kwiatkowksi is one who fits in on all spectrums, so surely he must be a contender. He can do long climbs, short climbs and he can sprint, which brings us to one final name that definitely warrants a mention.

Peter Sagan’s season has been defined by second places, so wouldn’t it be ironic if this was the year that he became world champion? The problem is, Peter Sagan doesn’t really do irony and nor does he seem to be in especially good form. However, his adaptability and consistency mean he’s one of the favourites in pretty much every race in which he takes part. Sagan could easily be our Cunis.