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The UCI Road World Championships start this weekend in Australia with one major noticeable absentee missing from the men’s time trial in home-based favorite Rohan Dennis.
The two-time world time trial champion is set to miss his home worlds with a clash of dates between the championships and his brother’s wedding.
According to race director Scott Sunderland, the Jumbo-Visma time trial specialist also had issues with the length of the men’s time trial, with the course tallying in at 34.2km. This year the men’s and women’s individual times trials have been set at the same distance.
“Rohan put a line in the sand last year when the distance was reduced to 30km,” Sunderland told VeloNews.
“I think that he found that a bit of a sprint distance in time trial terms. He much prefers the longer time trial and he feels that the competition has more of an advantage with a shorter distance. I think that he’s taken a step back and had an analytical look at it. I think he’s felt like it’s going to be difficult for him to do something and he’s a winner. If he doesn’t feel like he can go there to win then he doesn’t want to do it, and I respect that.”
When asked if Dennis had raised the distance of the time trial personally, Sunderland said:
“It was one of the remarks I read on social media, and in other media. It’s also one of the questions that he asked me, ‘why is the course so short?’ I said that it wasn’t my decision and that it was the UCI’s and they felt that they wanted the men’s and women’s time trials to be the same distances. He was disappointed, 40km was already short, 50km was ideal for his terms.”
Dennis’ trade team Jumbo-Visma said that the Australian’s sole reason for skipping the worlds was his brother’s wedding.
“No, because his brother is going to marry the day before. In Germany… Rohan is ‘best man’ and puts his family understandably in first place,” a statement from the team said.
While Dennis is missing from the start list for personal reasons it’s a slightly different picture for Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan. The Lotto Soudal rider was left off the Australian team altogether by the Cycling Australia selector. Though Ewan has struggled for consistency this season the main question mark over his participation came down to whether he could handle the amount of climbing on the men’s course.
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For Sunderland, it was impossible for the local authorities to design a course around one single rider, especially with more than just the men’s road race to consider. The course provided for the world championships looks well balanced with classics riders, grand tour contenders, and sprinters at their absolute peak potentially able to succeed.
“We couldn’t do much more with the city circuit,” Sunderland said. “We could have taken out the climb but then it would have been a very plain circuit for the men and women. It would have been really boring television, and it would have been a missed opportunity for Wollongong to put all its eggs in one basket to have a world champion in Caleb Ewan.
“It would have meant making all those sacrifices for the rest of the races. You have to ask if that’s worth it. He’d still need to win it. We’ve still got Kaden Groves and Michael Matthews, and the unfortunate thing for Caleb is that he’s just not been able to reach that form we’ve seen in the previous years,” the former pro rider added.
“We’ve captured enough to have an opportunity for the sprinters like Sagan and Kristoff in their prime would still suit. Today those sprinters are Van der Poel and Van Aert but this year I see the stronger riders from the Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and those dynamic GC riders like Pogačar. These riders who do grand tours but also show themselves in races like Flanders. I think a lot of people thought that this was going to be a sprinters’ race, and a few people will be disappointed with that but the sprinters that do come will need to arrive with strong teams to support them and bring their A+ game,” Sunderland added.
Overall, the world championships in Australia should provide excellent racing and a chance for the best riders in the world to showcase their talents.
“It’s a beautiful backdrop and the setting is gorgeous with the beaches and the climbs,” Sunderland said.
“There’s beautiful wildlife and plantlife and it’s a really fast circuit. There are some tactical parts but the roads are wide, with riders not even needing to touch the breaks through the corners. It should be really exciting.”