When the UCI Road World Championships come to Innsbruck-Tirol, Austria, on September 23-30, UCI Technical Advisor Thomas Rohregger will have a special connection - many of the races will go past his home town of Kramsach.
"I stopped racing five years ago with RadioShack, then I went back to school to do my studies, law and economics, in Innsbruck I was born 40 kilometres away from Innsbruck in Kramsach, which is a small village that the road races will pass. So I can say that all the roads we will use at the Road Worlds are my training roads. I know every metre of these roads pretty well."
"Here at the Worlds I work as a Technical Advisor for both the LOC (Local Organising Committee) and the UCI, sort of as an intermediary. I selected the courses, the design of the courses was done by me; also in Tokyo, together with Steve Peterson, who is the Technical Advisor for Oceania and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Basically, it is about assisting the LOC to get the best output, to meet the UCI standards and have the very best races possible. I'm working here on the Innsbruck project with my colleague Robbie Hunter."
Rohregger admits that Austria is not particularly known as a cycling nation, but that is changing.
"We are well known for [alpine] skiing and ski jumping; basically winter sports. But we are developing more and more into a cycling country. Not only because tourism is putting a lot of effort by building up cycling routes, downhill tracks and more, but also from a sporting side, because now in the pro peloton we have a lot of Austrian riders in the UCI WorldTour and lower categories."
Thomas agrees that this year’s UCI World Championships will offer riders a different experience from others in recent years.
"The Tirol region is known for its mountains, so it was pretty obvious to do a tough course for the climbers and the one-day Classics guys, like the Ardennes Classics. But it was not that easy to do a course around Innsbruck because there are not that many roads to choose from. The feedback that I have received from the riders is that they are very happy to have a tough World Championships course, because in recent years they have been more for the sprinters.”
Racing begins on September 23rd with the team time trial, followed by the individual time trials and then the road races. Thomas discusses each event:
"The Elite Women's TTT is quite a long one - over 50 kilometres - but it is always slightly going downhill. Not technical at all but super fast. The Elite Men do have a four kilometre climb in the last quarter of the race, which gives some homework to do for the teams; they need to find the right mix of riders between rouleurs that can go a very, very high pace to the climb, but then they need some good climbing legs to bring the riders to the finish. It will be interesting to see how the teams select their riders.
"The individual time trials for the Junior, Under-23 and the Elite Women are a classic time trial course, but it is hard to find your rhythm, because it is rolling, left and right turns. For the Elite men, the first half to two-thirds of the course is super fast in the valley on the main road, and it has a tailwind most of the time. But then they will tackle an almost five kilometre long climb, which peaks around 13% - 14%. This will be the crucial point to still have some energy left. It is also a very long time trial at 54 kilometres. I think it is a very good time trial for [Australian] Rohan Dennis, [defending champion from the Netherlands] Tom Dumoulin and some of the other time trial specialists."
In the Elite Men's road race, he predicts: "This year is not only a big chance for the pure climbers like [Nairo] Quintana [Colombia] or [Simon] Yates [Great Britain], but also one-day riders like [Greg] van Avermaet [Belgium] or [Julian] Alaphilippe [France]. So it gives a chance to quite a big group of riders, which will give us some very interesting racing to watch."
"We could see a single rider attacking because there is a technical downhill [after the final climb], so a guy like [Vincenzo] Nibali [Italy] could attack because he is very good in the downhill. Or we could see a small group of climbers sprinting for the victory. But for sure there will not be a group with 25 or 30 riders."
For those who might write off three-time winner Peter Sagan of Slovakia because of the climbing, Thomas demurs: "Actually, I have him on my list, because Peter is a guy who likes challenges and, for me, he is absolutely in the game. He can do this - we saw this a few years ago at Tirreno-Adriatico on a mountain top finish, which was a wall with 20% that he won against guys like Quintana. I think there will be a lot of Slovakian fans, because it is only 4-5 hours by car from Slovakia."
Rohegger raced in the UCI Road World Championships as an Under-23 rider [Verona, 2004] and three times as a professional [2006, 2008, 2011], including in his home country in Salzburg 2006.
"I raced the Worlds several times, starting in Under-23 and then also in the pro peloton. I particularly have good memories of racing as an Under-23 in Verona, Italy, because the fans were so amazing, and I think we will have a lot of those Italian fans coming up to Innsbruck; I think there will be some massive crowds and a cycling family feeling at the Road Worlds this year."