Ranking the favorites for the world championship road race, from Wout van Aert through Peter Sagan

Sure, van Aert is top favorite, we all know that. But who are the riders likely to shade him into silver at this weekend's men's road race? We've ranked them all.

Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

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Take the names of all the riders in the pro peloton, put them in a hat, and pull out a random selection.

That’s how it can be when looking at the list of favorites for a world championship men’s road race, and this year is no different.

This year’s men’s worlds road race packs a Flandrien parcours that suits a wide range of riders, from northern classics heavyweights through climber-type Ardennes-aficionados and tough guy sprinters.

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Sure, so we all know that home star Wout van Aert is the man to beat, but who are the riders that could rain on Belgium’s parade Sunday?

Everyone loves a list, and a list is even better when it’s in some sort of order, so here’s my ranking of the top contenders for the world championships. Go on, tweet me, tell me that I’m wrong.

  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Wout van Aert
  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐: Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel, Sonny Colbrelli
  • ⭐⭐⭐: Magnus Cort, Matteo Trentin, Primož Roglič
  • ⭐⭐: Kasper Asgreen, Remco Evenepoel, Tom Pidcock, Matej Mohorič, Peter Sagan
  • ⭐: Everyone else. It’s the world championships. Anything can happen.

Want to know why Roglič is higher than Remco, why MvdP isn’t top-tier, and why the heck Sagan is on the list? Read on:

Five stars

That feeling when you’ve finished second again. Wout van Aert after being beaten by Filippo Ganna at the 2021 worlds TT. (Photo: Kristof Ramon – Pool/Getty Images)

Wout van Aert (Belgium)

Why? Because he’s Wout van Aert, that’s why. He can climb, he can sprint, he’s canny when he needs to be, and he’s got a stellar team dedicated to his service – right, Remco?

Van Aert has been on fire all season long after winning major classics, Tour de France stages of all descriptions, and again coming close to a world time trial title Sunday. After being beaten by Filippo Ganna in last weekend’s race against the clock, van Aert has taken home silver medals from more major races than he can remember. It seems about time for him to level up to gold. If there’s ever a time to do it, it’s in front of the raucous home crowds Sunday.

You’ll be able to hear the Belgian party from Texas to Tokyo if it happens.

Four stars

Could Sonny Colbrelli trade a Euro jersey for rainbows this weekend? (Photo: Ilario Biondi – Pool/Getty Images)

Sonny Colbrelli (Italy)

Why? Alongside Wout van Aert, Sonny Colbrelli is the rider of the moment, that’s why. The stocky sprinter was climbing like a mountain goat at the Tour de France, bossed the Benelux Tour, and hung tough against a Remco Evenepoel onslaught to win the European championships earlier this month.

Colbrelli is something of a van Aert-alike, and the 31-year-old is likely to be right in the Belgian’s wheel tracks this weekend.

Julian Alaphilippe (France)

Why? Sure, Julian Alaphilippe hasn’t lit up the season in the same way that van Aert has, but the defending world champion Frenchman knows how to win when it counts. Alaphilippe came close throughout the Ardennes, scored at La Fleche Wallonne, and more than rose to the occasion to win the opening stage and the first yellow jersey at this year’s Tour de France.

“Alapanache” is a rider that needs a reason to win, and becoming the first rider to defend the bands since Peter Sagan in 2017 is definitely one of them.

Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands)

Why? Yes, he’s been injured, yes, he’s only raced on the road three times since abandoning the Tour de France and then crashing out of the Olympics MTB race, but have you seen what this guy can do? After unleashing watt-bombs at Strade Bianche and launching long-range solos at Tirreno-Adriatico, even a slightly off-form van der Poel will be tough to tame.

“MvdP” locked horns with Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe through the spring, and he’ll do it again this weekend.

Three stars

Magnus Cort, destroyer of breakaways and world champ in waiting? (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Magnus Cort (Denmark)

Why? You were watching the Vuelta a España, right? Magnus Cort single-handedly dismantled the hopes of sprinters, climbers, and everyone in between during his storming ride through Spain and the Dane will head into the worlds powered by both very strong legs and self-belief.

Cort doesn’t have the classics pedigree of his closest rivals, but he does have the wind at his sails right now. And in the mayhem of a seven-hour world championship race, the power of the mojo can go a long way.

Matteo Trentin (Italy)

Why? Because this could just be his year. Trentin has amassed more trips to the podium than flowers in a bouquet in the past few years but was never the rider taking the top step. The Italian finally broke a two-year drought after a string of close calls at the Trofeo Matteotti last Sunday and will be right up there with Sonny Colbrelli in The Azzuri’s hunt for the rainbow jersey this weekend.

Trentin has finished fourth and then second in his past two world championships – there’s only one logical next step in that progression.

Primož Roglič (Slovenia)

Why? Primož Roglič is a bit like Wout van Aert – the rider you can never leave out of a listicle. The Slovenian has the Ardennes racing nous, the confidence of recently taking a third Vuelta a España victory, and the luxury of having nothing to lose.

After winning the Olympic time trial before completing his red jersey hat trick, Roglič will be free of expectation and is well within reach of a rainbow.

Two stars

He’s done it three times, and even though he’s off form, it’s hard to ignore Peter Sagan (Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Kasper Asgreen (Denmark)

Asgreen missed the podium by two seconds in the worlds TT on Sunday and won’t be letting anything slip through his grasp Sunday. The great Dane was the revelation of the classics season, overpowering Mathieu van der Poel at the E3 Classic and outmuscling the Dutchman and Wout van Aert in Flanders.

I was initially uncertain about including Asgreen, but my esteemed colleagues Hoody and Sadhbh are backing him, so that’s good enough for me.

Remco Evenepoel (Belgium)

Remco is red-hot right now, and Evenepoel is sure to play a part Sunday. The 21-year-old has pledged himself to ride for Wout van Aert this weekend, but hey, who knows what could happen.

Evenepoel has made a habit of simply riding the world off his wheel, but he’s unlikely to be given the room to play that trick Sunday. However, the Belgian baller has also made a habit of unleashing something spectacular at nearly every race he starts – could Evenepoel pull a world-conquering coup this weekend?

Tom Pidcock (Great Britain)

Tom Pidcock has been quiet since winning gold at the Olympic MTB race this summer, but he’s got everything needed to win on a hard, hilly course like that on tap in Leuven. The 22-year-old hasn’t raced longer than 200 kilometers very often, but the brash Brit has a strong team and the ability to defy expectations. Just ask Wout about that sprint in Brabantse Pijl.

Matej Mohorič (Slovenia)

Yes, Matej Mohorič and not Tadej Pogačar. Mohorič is the super-Slovenian that everyone forgets, but this year could be his chance to take the limelight. The 26-year-old is enjoying the best season of his career and is made for the hardest days on the bike. Two-time Tour de France champ Pogačar looks rusty after his late-summer lay off, leaving the door wide open for Mohorič to make hay.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia)

Don’t ever forget three-time world champion, Peter Sagan. That’s all that needs to be said.

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