Tour of Spain winner Simon Yates and his twin brother Adam face an ultra-tough 258-kilometre route on Sunday through brutally challenging but magnificent Tyrol landscapes where one of them may be crowned the 2018 world road race champion.
Route designer Thomas Rohregger says his ambition was to immortalise the 2018 event with the final twist of the knife being the “Hell Climb” of 3.2km within the historic centre of Innsbruck itself which features a brutal 300-metre section at 28 percent gradient.
“If you stay in the saddle your front wheel comes up off the road,” an amateur cyclist told AFP on Friday after successfully climbing it.
Britain’s James Knox, 22, who has spent the year at Quick Step helping pre-race favourite Julian Alaphilippe of France, says the course suits the Yates brothers, who he will help up the Hell Climb on Sunday.
“We know more or less what the plan is because we’ve got Adam and Simon Yates,” he says of the duo who go into the race among a clutch of around 10 fancied riders which also includes Ireland’s Dan Martin.
“They are both pure climbers so we don’t want to be in a group at the finish with Alaphilippe and (Spanish veteran Alejandro) Valverde,” he said.
“We want an ultra-hard race and it’s an ultra-hard course so theoretically it’s perfect for them,” he told the Daily Telegraph podcast.
Giro d’Italia and Tour de France winners Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome both shied away from competing for the world title.
“We did laps on part of the circuit and it’s definitely a brutal race, there is no two ways about it,” four-time Tour de France winner Froome said when announcing he would not compete in Innsbruck.
“There is over 5,000 metres of climbing, so unless you are in absolutely top condition I don’t think it’s a race where you can just hide in the wheels.”
Rohregger, an Austrian from the Tyrol region and a former pro-cyclist who now works as a television pundit and race organiser, says the region was perfect for an atypical race.
“This region can become immortalised on the international cycling map,” he said of the route.
“We are hoping for a large number of fans because we want to create the kind of atmosphere you get in the mountains at a Giro d’Italia or a Tour de France,” he explains.
Any pretender to the throne of three-time defending world champion Peter Sagan, who some believe may launch a long-range bid, have on their hands a course that looks like a very hard mountain stage of a Grand Tour.
The race starts from the town of Kufstein, dubbed the “Pearl of the Tyrol”, before hurtling through the Inn Valley famous for the mountainside Tratzberg castle and the historic centre of the pretty town of Schwaz.
The strength-sapping rolling terrain is smattered with climbs including an up to 14 percent gradient climb at Gnadenwald at the 65km mark.
After the 85km from Kufstein to Innsbruck, riders then complete six 23.8km laps of the “Olympic circuit” which has a 10.5 percent average gradient climb spread over 2.6km.
Rohregger decided however that one last challenge should be thrown down to the man who wants the world champion’s rainbow jersey.
The Hell climb might only be 3.2km in length with an average gradient of 11.2 percent, but it features a savagely steep 28 percent section that will be torture for tired legs.
That is followed by a daredevil descent into Innsbruck with a slight ascent over the final few kilometres favouring the most powerful of the surviving selection.
The final couple of kilometres to the finish line in front of the Hofberg Imperial Palace in Innsbruck are slightly uphill meaning the slightly built ‘pure climber’ Yates twins will have less chance than the more powerful duo of Valverde or Alaphilippe if they come over the final summit together.