At home, the Belgian Wout Van Aert is the big favorite in the road race of the world championships. But in his wheel, they are several to be able to give him priority.

Nine years that Belgium, land of cycling par excellence, awaits an inheritance from Philippe Gilbert, the last world champion from the flat country. And while the world championships are held in Flanders for the first time since 2002, the whole kingdom has its eyes on Wout Van Aert. At 27, the versatile Jumbo-Visma rider is the natural favorite in the race that starts in Antwerp on Sunday morning.

First of all because the course takes its dear Flandrian mountains, but also and above all because “WVA” comes out of a stratospheric season (13 victories, including three in the Tour de France, world number one in the UCI ranking), where it knew how to win on all terrains. But at the world championships, things don’t always go according to plan. And many are those who can deprive the Belgian of the rainbow jersey.

As the title holder, the French puncher is logically one of the main contenders for his own succession, a matter of status. And the composition of the France team, designed for and around him (but which also has other cards), confirms that Julian Alaphilippe will once again be the Blues’ trump card for these Worlds.

After a roller-coaster season, where he lived up to his jersey while remaining stuck with three wins, “Alaf” arrives in Flanders with ambitions, without being the favorite. “Physically, I worked a lot to be well, to climb crescendo and I think I will be ready on Sunday,” he warned, “It will be hard in my head to stay focused throughout the 260 kilometers. The legs will decide ”. The Frenchman therefore knows he is expected: that is good, he is used to not disappointing in such cases.

A second Tour de France conquered as a boss, but also prestigious victories and a first monument to his record (Liège-Bastogne-Liège): in 2021, Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) continued to crush the competition on most races from which he took the start. His bronze medal at the Tokyo Games is also a testament to the appetite of the new cannibal, as comfortable in stage races as in day races. After skipping the Vuelta to prepare for the Worlds, the Slovenian suffered his first major failure on the Bretagne Classic at the end of August, after he was barely recovering. Apart from its state of form, we especially expect to see it at work on the cobblestones of the Flandrian mountains. The Slovenian prodigy will also have to live with his compatriot Primoz Roglic, also a more than credible candidate for the title.

Tadej Pogacar ahead of Remco Evenepoel during the 2021 European Championships (LUCA TEDESCHI / LIVEMEDIA)

As in Euro football, the surprise could come from Denmark. Or, to return to cycling, as in the 2021 Tour of Flanders, won by Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step). That day (already), the Dane was presented as an outsider, before tackling Mathieu van der Poel at the post, in the sprint. Well surrounded by the “Wolfpack” of the Deceuninck, Asgreen also hooked the Grand Prix E3 to its prize list in 2021, another Flandrian classic sharing a few traits with the course of the 2021 Worlds. It arrives above all with a solid team to surround it. (Honoré, Valgren, Cort Nielsen, Pedersen) and good legs: as evidenced by his fourth place in the time trial last Sunday, two seconds from the podium.

Since his crash in the first minutes of the Olympic mountain bike race at the Tokyo Games (his top goal for the year), Mathieu van der Poel has kept quiet. And for good reason: the Dutchman was treating his back injury, which kept him away from the bike for several weeks. But the winner of the Tour of Flanders 2020 seems to be handed over. He has just won the Antwerp Port Epic. “I feel that I am ready, I would not participate otherwise…”, warned MVDP, who never takes the start without an idea behind the head: “I always run to win, but I can also be satisfied with a medal or a place in the top 10 ”. After six days in yellow on the Tour, Raymond Poulidor’s grandson could realize another unfinished dream of his grandfather: to don the rainbow jersey.

Apart from these main outsiders – and without citing all the scenarios of a race which, in any case, is often very open and difficult to predict – other names will be to watch out for at the start of Antwerp. More and more complete, the Italian Sonny Colbrelli, just European champion, has a great card to play thanks to his punch and his burst of speed, just like his compatriot Matteo Trentin.

Already three-time world champion, Peter Sagan is still capable of a hit on these roads he loves. Olympic mountain biking champion, Englishman Tom Pidcock can also surprise. Finally, one last name: that of Remco Evenepoel. Because if the whole of Belgium awaits the coronation of King Wout Van Aert, his 21-year-old younger could burn politeness to him.

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