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Aérogramme with La Course en Tête: Road World Championships 2021

Plus Paris-Roubaix, and a look at the future worlds hosts

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The 2021 UCI Road World Championships have wrapped and what an exciting week it was. The La Course en Tête crew check in from the aftermath of worlds where OJ Borg was on the ground for the week.

When OJ says aftermath, he means it. As expected, the Belgian fans showed out in force. “The Belgians were loud, they were excitable, welcoming, passionate and profoundly drunk,” he says. Exactly what we would expect from this cycling-crazed country.

Joining him are Peter Cossins and Jeremy Whittle, who describe the events as a football-style atmosphere that you don’t get at races in other countries. And the racers agreed, with some describing it as like racing around a stadium.

As for the racing itself, well it was phenomenal. In the men’s race, Alaphilippe rode with his usual panache, attacking repeatedly in the waning kilometers until getting away to win his second consecutive rainbow jersey, joining an exclusive club of riders who have accomplished this feat. (In the process he also delivered OJ his first ever correct race prediction).

Alaphilippe doubled up his world title. Image: Chris Auld

On the women’s side, the Dutch squad rode a strong race, setting up Marianne Vos in the sprint finish. But the Italians registered an excellent performance as well that allowed 23-year-old Elisa Balsamo to take the win, adding the elite world champion’s bands to her junior world title.

Elisa Balsamo beat Marianne Vos for the world title. Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The lack of radios in the worlds is on discussion in this episode. It’s hard to argue that it didn’t make for exciting racing. But how would things have turned out with them? Could radios have helped the Belgian squad capture a victory on home roads?

The discussion also turns to the dynamics of racing for a trade team versus for your country. On the former, riders are paid to perform a certain role. But at races like worlds, there may be multiple riders from each country with a legitimate chance of winning who have to decide how to work together and who to ride for. Is there ever bad blood between compatriots?

The system of allocating race slots based on UCI points accumulated per country presents another unique aspect of worlds because it gives nations where cycling is more popular plenty of teammates to work with—while stars from smaller countries can be left with no teammates at all. Should this be reformed?

Looking forward to future world championships, Rwanda has been announced as the first ever African host of the event. But there are reports emerging of human rights abuses from there. Jeremy Whittle asked UCI President David Lappartient about those issues. Do major sporting events ever spur problematic host countries to change their ways?

But before that, Australia takes on hosting duties for 2022. Sophie Smith, in lockdown in Melbourne, fills us in on the details of her home country’s world championships.

Then things turn to a topic much closer on the calendar: this weekend’s Paris–Roubaix, which for the first time includes a women’s edition. Conditions look set for the first rainy Roubaix in a generation. What will it take to conquer the wet cobbles, and who’s got what it takes?

Listen to the latest episode for the full discussion!