What do Tom Pidcock, Alejandro Valverde and Mads Pedersen all have in common at the UCI Road World Championships?
They all could have been crowned 2022 road world champion in Wollongong this weekend, but never got out of Europe.
The list of high-profile non-starters for the 2022 elite men’s world road championship race Sunday is as long as the far-stretching selection of favorites.
For every Wout van Aert, there’s a Caleb Ewan. For every Tadej Pogačar, there’s a Jonas Vingegaard.
The confluence of a continent-crossing road worlds and unprecedented WorldTour relegation battle brought several national selectors out in cold sweats as their selection pool shrank small this summer.
Here’s why the road worlds startlist took such a shakeup, and how it might ripple through to Sunday’s race:
‘It’s all the way in Australia’
“The shape is good, but I also have a life, I also have a family at home,” Danish star Pedersen said of his decision not to race.
“I didn’t see them a lot, so at one point you have to call it a day. If I have to do worlds, I’d have to go straight to Australia after the Vuelta, that would be another few weeks away.”
Also read: Pedersen pulls out of road worlds
Pedersen’s decision to bypass the Wollongong worlds came as a shock.
The Trek-Segafredo star was riding the wave of his best season to date. Three Vuelta a España victories and one at the Tour de France saw the fast-finishing champion of 2019 a top contender for a new set of stripes.
But this year’s road worlds requires the peloton to take its longest trip to the starting line since the 2010 worlds in Geelong. In the past 12 years, Richmond, USA, and Doha, Qatar, were the only other times when the world’s best left European houses in the hunt for a world title.
Many riders felt a trip to New South Wales would stretch the elastic a little too far.
Pedersen has amassed 82 days of racing in a calendar that started in January. Even in the absence of winter racing in Australia and Argentina, WorldTour teams are sending riders far and wide from early in the season.
Many have been in trains, planes and automobiles for some eight months.
Pidcock, Pedersen and Rohan Dennis were among the many who could not commit to racing worlds due to family priorities or a diminished mojo at the thought of the 20+ hour flight Down Under.
Also read: Pidcock calls time on the road season after a long stretch in the saddle
“Mentally, I couldn’t hack another buildup to worlds. It’s all the way in Australia. If I want to target road worlds I need to be 100 percent. I was just dreaming of winning mountain bike Worlds, so when that didn’t happen, I was a bit lost,” Pidcock said.
And while the road world is sometimes seen to draw the curtain on the top-class calendar, the Italian classics continue to draw a crowd. Riders like George Bennett highlighted racing in Italy as a planned end-of-season peak they didn’t want to be punished by a trans-global flight.
And for Ireland, Latvia, and New Zealand, budget considerations came into play as thousands of dollars of travel tickets dug into already empty coffers. Ireland isn’t participating at all, while New Zealand is asking riders to fund their own flights.
Relegation battles and rainbow jerseys
The battle for WorldTour points ran a ruthless undercurrent through the past few months.
Teams struggling for survival in the crucial 2022 relegation battle poured priority into amassing points over attending the most high profile races.
Lotto-Soudal pulled most of its Belgian contingent out of worlds contention earlier this summer. The Belgium-registered team yanked Victor Campenaerts, Philippe Gilbert and many more out of the mix and is sending squads to 1.1 and 1.Pro races instead as it looks to reel back a deep points deficit to reach the WorldTour “safe zone.”
Ewan was allowed the opportunity to race in Aussie gold and green by his struggling Lotto team, making his selection snub all the sourer.
Lotto-Soudal isn’t the only team focusing its paid employees on team objectives.
EF Education-EasyPost, Movistar and Cofidis have all done similarly as they look to ensure WorldTour status for the coming three years.
Spanish stalwarts Movistar isn’t making former champion Valverde available to race the worlds in what is his retirement season. After nearly two decades of racing with Movistar, “Bala” was pulled elsewhere.
Also read: Spanish national team cannot attract top riders for road worlds
Valverde’s teammate, compatriot, and Vuelta runner-up Enric Mas is another notable DNS as the Spanish team gets stripped threadbare by points-hunting objectives or early-fall fatigue.
“Of the eight riders that I have in mind, only two riders are ready to go,” Spanish selector Pascual Momparler told MARCA.
‘If I am honest, I am just tired’
Spain’s team was further denied by the absence of Vuelta breakout stars Juan Ayuso and Carlos Rodriguez.
Grand tour debuts this summer left the two Spanish rookies battered and burned out, while a crash at the same race saw Primož Roglič out of a chance at a medal for Slovenia.
Like Ayuso, US stars Brandon McNulty and Quinn Simmons both decided to stay on the sofa after what had been a long year of racing.
“If I’m honest, I’m just tired,” Simmons said VeloNews. “I want to be there, and I want to go for a good result in the national jersey. That is one of my biggest goals of my career. I called up Jim Miller and I was just honest with him. I didn’t feel like mentally or physically that I am on a level to get a result.”
The loss of Simmons and McNulty was not the only problem for the US team. Lawson Craddock couldn’t fly to Australia due to administrative delays.
Rare opportunities for wildcard and off-road stars
So many non-starters isn’t entirely a bad thing.
Blockbuster nations like Belgium won’t be diminished by the loss of a couple of riders. Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel lead a typically top-class eight into Wollongong on Sunday.
Elsewhere, every big-name no-show comes with an equally big opportunity for off-radar stars.
Outside contenders Fred Wright, Marc Soler, and Mattias Skjelmose Jensen are among those who will see more room to move than if compatriots Pidcock, Valverde and Pedersen were set to start early Sunday morning.
And as if the idea of seeing Soler or Wright in rainbows isn’t enough of a stretch, even a gravel rider might win the road worlds this year.
Off-road dominator Keegan Swenson traded disciplines as a late replacement for the US team after its first round of riders dropped like flies.
“We know he has a world tour engine, we know he’s not intimidated by anything or anyone. And we know that the most incredible phenomenon going on in the road right now is crossover riders diving in from other disciplines, USA Cycling’s CEO Brendan Quirk told VeloNews. “This is an amazing opportunity for Keegan to show how talented he really is.”
A series of season-long stories gathered to make this Sunday’s elite men’s peloton look a little lean.
But racing is all about beating who’s on the starting line. By the time the 2022 world champion is crowned this weekend, we’ll have forgotten who wasn’t in Wollongong.
Here are just some of the notable nonstarters for the 2022 elite men’s world road race:
- Australia – Rohan Dennis, Caleb Ewan
- Denmark – Jonas Vingegaard, Mads Pedersen
- Belgium – Victor Campenaerts, Philippe Gilbert, Dylan Teuns
- Spain – Juan Ayuso, Carlos Rodríguez, Enric Mas, Alejandro Valverde
- USA – Quinn Simmons, Brandon McNulty, Lawson Craddock
- Great Britain – Tom Pidcock, Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates
- Slovenia – Primož Roglič, Matej Mohorič
- New Zealand – George Bennett