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Innsbruck-Tirol Road World Championships 2018

08 June 2018

This September, the UCI Road World Championships will take place in the picturesque mountains of Austria. Mondial magazine travelled to host city Innsbruck and the Tirol region last year, meeting local politician, cycling advocate and pro team owner Thomas Pupp to ride the route. Watch the film above, and read our guide to Tirol and the Worlds below.

UCI Road World Championships: touchdown in Tirol

The final approach to Innsbruck Airport makes for a dramatic entrance to the region: as the plane descends into the Inn Valley, the mountains rise high above the wings on either side. Innsbruck spreads itself before you, the jutting, twisting form of Zaha Hadid’s celebrated Bergisel ski jump suddenly soars into sight, and the impossible thought presents itself that someone might be flying on skis above you.

CAPITAL OUTLOOK

The majestic glass and metal Bergisel dominates certain views of Innsbruck, a reminder of the cosmopolitan city’s passion for, and connection to, the outdoors. Step off the plane on a sunny summer weekend and it’s likely that streets will be quiet – everybody has escaped town to hike, swim or cycle. Not for nothing is Innsbruck, with its beguiling architecture and cultural institutions called the ‘Capital of the Alps’: the mountains here in the Tirol are a very real presence. To the north of Innsbruck is the Nordkette; to the south, the Patscherkofel; and then, rippling away, parted by rivers, sewn with lakes and lined with forests, mountains as far as the eye can see.

COMPETITIVE SPIRIT

The Tirol is best known globally for winter sports – Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976 – but, in fact, the first sport to have an official federation in the region was cycling. In September, the UCI Road World Championships is coming to the Tirol for the first time, but it has long been a destination for pro racing.

The Tour of Austria is celebrating its 70th edition this year, and in recent times the week-long event has become known for some of the hardest and fastest racing on the professional calendar. The Giro d’Italia has stopped off in Innsbruck twice: first in 1988, in a stage won by the Italian Franco Vona; and in 2009, it departed from Innsbruck the day after Michele Scarponi won on a summit finish in nearby Mayrhofen. Scarponi won again in the Tirol, eight years later, taking Stage 1 of the 2017 Tour of the Alps when he soloed away from the remains of a mountain break.

The Tour of the Alps was formerly known as the Giro del Trentino, but was renamed in 2017 to reflect the many nations here in the mountains at the heart of Europe. It will visit Tirol again in April, in a stage that will showcase much of the World Championships 2018 course. And, last year, there was the debut Pro Ötztal 5,500, a UCI 1.1 race with 5,500m of climbing, which is looking to establish itself as a new late-season mountainous one-day Classic. Amateurs can ride the same course during the Ötztaler Marathon Gran Fondo every August – if they dare! – and for those who like their climbs short and sharp, there is an annual hill climb contest up the Innsbruck Olympic bobsleigh track.

CYCLING PARADISE

The Tirol is a paradise for recreational cyclists as well as racers, with mountains, breathtaking scenery, great food and culture. As far back as 1896, the region has been attracting two-wheeled visitors: there exists a book from that year for cycle tourists, recommending good routes and giving safety tips on things like navigating the unpaved roads and how to avoid dogs. These days, the road surfaces are perfect, whether you’re riding flat roads next to the river, the rolling hills around Krumsach or the high roads to the year-round glaciers, and there are a growing number of cycle paths in urban areas and the countryside (there may still be a few dogs, however). Between September 23 and 30, cycling will take over the Tirol, with the thrilling spectacle of pro cycling’s best riders battling it out to see who is the best in the world on the road and against the clock.

Whether you are thinking about visiting for the Worlds, or in the spring or summer, there is so much here for cyclists. Read on for more information about the 2018 Road World Championships, the different venues and races – and for getting the most from the Tirol if you’re coming here to explore the mountains and valleys by road bike.

High road climbs in the Tirol

Kitzbüheler Horn

Height

1,970m

Length

9.7km

Elevation gain

1,250m

Average gradient

12.9%

Timmelsjoch

Height

2,474m

Length

22.2km

Elevation gain

1,278m

Average gradient

5.7%

Kühtai Sattel

Height

2,017m

Length

17.8km

Elevation gain

1,240m

Average gradient

7%

Kaunertal Glacier Road

Height

>2,750m

Length

38.5km

Elevation gain

1,900m

Average gradient

4.9%

Ötztal Glacier Road

Height

2,830m

Length

14.4km

Elevation gain

1,497m

Average gradient

10.4%

Zillertal High Road

Height

2,018m

Length

34km

Elevation gain

1,500m

Average gradient

4.4%

Stallersattel

Height

2,052m

Length

14.6km

Elevation gain

682m

Average gradient

4.6%

THRILLS, SPILLS AND PLENTY OF HILLS

What can fans expect from the week-long celebration of cycling in September 2018?

After the flat, sand-swept desert roads of the Doha Worlds in 2015 and the punchy Nordic terrain of Bergen last year, the mountains of the Tirol are calling. And the courses for all the Worlds races – road and time trial, for men and women, Under 23 and Juniors – have been designed to take advantage of them. Each of the disciplines has a designated start town. The Men Elite Road Race will start in Kufstein, while the Women Elite Road Race will start in Hall-Wattens. Hall-Wattens will also host the Women Elite TT, and all the other time triallists except the elite men, who will roll down the ramp in Rattenberg. Both the men’s and women’s Team Time Trials will start at the AREA 47 outdoor park in Ötztal. All the races will converge on the finish line in the majestic surroundings of the theatre square in central Innsbruck. To get there, the road races will follow the Inn Valley before doing several laps of a loop that climbs more than 400 vertical metres out of Innsbruck, above the villages of Lans and Igls on the Patscherkofel mountain, before descending into town again.

Hard racing

“There is some very hard racing coming up, it will be very interesting!” says Thomas Rohregger, a Tirol native and former professional cyclist who raced for Team Milram and Leopard Trek. He should know: having already designed routes for the Tour of the Alps and the Tour of Austria, Rohregger also took charge of the Worlds’ parcours.

“You come to Tirol and you see mountains, so we need to go up them!’ he says. “Our approach to the road races was to have a really selective route, and the TTT and the ITT are also tough.”

The goal for the road races, Rohregger explains, was to create a course for Grand Tour GC contenders. To attract the biggest names in cycling, so that, in the most prestigious races the following year, “the World Champion's jersey is there on the climbs in the last group, or even the attacks,” Rohregger says.

In the women’s road race, contenders might be proven talents like Anna van der Breggen or Annameik Van Vleuten, or longer shots like Kasia Niewiadoma or a resurgent Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. In the men’s, “It’s about [Chris] Froomey, [Nairo] Quintana, [Esteban] Chaves, all these guys that go for GC in the big races,” Rohregger says.

There is also a technical descent in the Olympic Circuit, which might favour a rider like Vincenzo Nibali or Romain Bardet. And, in the men’s race, after 4,500 metres of climbing, there is a very nasty sting in the tail.

Hell

The Elite Men road race features, on its final loop, a climb known as the ‘Hölle’ –which sounds to English ears like the ‘Hell’, and feels like hell to legs of any nationality. Buried in the heart of Innsbruck, the Hölle starts at around 12% gradient, maintains 15% or more for a good portion and then, for the last few hundred metres heads from 20% north towards 25% and above. It’s a world-class-crazy kilometre or two of tarmac, on a par with the Bola del Mundo in the Vuelta, La Redoute in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Mur de Huy in Flèche-Wallonne or the Muro di Sormano in the Lombardia.

Given the length of the Worlds – 259km of racing – this could give a hilly Classics specialist the advantage. Says Rohregger: “There’s also Greg Van Avermaet: if he has a super good day, like in the Rio Olympics Road Race where he was battling with the climbers, he could also be there. But if the Spaniards and the Columbians go full gas all day and make it a really hard race, it could go a completely different way. And there’s even Peter Sagan: if he rides like he did in Tirreno-Adriatico 2017, where he dropped Quintana and the other climbers, maybe also he is there. You never know!”

For the women, then, we shouldn’t discount Chantal Blaak, the current World Champion, or former World Champion Lizzie Armitstead. And is Sagan really in with a chance of making it four in a row? That’s the beauty of racing – you just never know.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WORLDS

The first men’s World Championships took place in 1921, but the first pro edition, in 1927, was at the Nürburgring in Germany and was won by Alfredo Binda. Since then, the victor’s rainbow jersey has been worn by greats including Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Mario Cipollini and Mark Cavendish. Peter Sagan is the only man ever to have won three years in a row.

The Women’s World Championships made its debut in 1958, in Reims, France. Women who have won more than once include the Belgian Yvonne Reynders, Italian Giorgia Bronzini and British legend Beryl Burton. Marianne Vos has three gold medals to her name, but the history of the event is dominated by Jeannie Longo, who won times between 1985 and 1995.

Since the venue changes every year, the course can vary wildly, sometimes suiting sprinters, sometimes rouleurs, but less often out-and-out mountain men and women.

Juniors of both sexes and male U23s race on similar courses to the main men’s and women’s events (female U23s race with the Elites). There is also an Individual Time trial and a Team Time Trial. Unlike the other events, the TTT, which was revived in 2012 after almost 20 years’ absence, is disputed by trade, not national, teams.

ROAMING THE REGIONS

While Innsbruck is the heart of the World Championships, the Tirol has a lot more to offer road cyclists…

From Innsbruck, the intrepid cyclist can reach some of the biggest climbs in Austria, but the length of the Inn Valley has special and varied riding, either on the winding roads between the villages and farms of the fertile flatlands, into the hills, or up dramatic side valleys and into the mountains.

Unlike some other parts of the Alps, where the high passes often have military origins, many of the roads here trace their existence back to forestry or farming, originally used by farmers to get their livestock to the Alpine meadows for summer grazing. Often the passes are called ‘sattels’, which translates to ‘saddle’; however, some of the highest roads leading to ski resorts or even glaciers are dead ends. Some ‘high roads’, for example, the scenic Zillertaller Höhenstrasse, are toll roads for cars, but free for bikes.

Compared to other mountain regions – even in Italy – the roads here can be very steep, so come prepared! In the mountains and side valleys, the roads are very quiet, and in the main valleys where can be more traffic, the bike path infrastructure is improving.

What follows is a guide to riding in three featured regions of the Tirol, to help road cyclists make the best of their holidays around the Worlds.

Alpbachtal Seenland

Alpbachtal Seenland is around 45 minutes’ drive from Innsbruck, and is classic Tirolean terrain. If you ride north from the Inn River you enter deep pine forests next to the Brandenberger Ache, a white-water stream that was formerly used to float timber down the mountain to the sawmills, and pass through idyllic meadoew. Loop back and stop, perhaps, at Cafe Hacker in Rattenberg, a small, cobbled city known for glassblowing, for Hacker’s renowned apple strudel or prügeltorte, a local speciality, before climbing towards Alpbach village, through apple orchards and the smell of fruit, past 400-year-old timber houses adorned with bright flowers and up to the 1,300m Reither Kogel pass.

Rattenberg is where the Elite Men Individual Time Trial and the Women Juniors Road Race begin. The road races stick to the valley here, but the mountain roads have been used in the Tour of the Alps, and you might well see famous cyclists in the region stopping for coffee at Hacker. In April 2018, the gun fires on the last stage of the Tour of the Alps in Rattenberg, and previews the World Championships course.

If you’re staying in the Alpbachtal Seenland, think about a trip to the Zillertal High Road, a scenic loop that takes riders up over 2,000m. And cool off after your ride in the region’s famous lakes, the warmest swimming lakes in the Tirol.

Kufstein

Further down the valley is the city of Kufstein, which hosts the start of the Elite Men’s and Women’s Road Race. Kufstein is dominated by its old town and its famous castle, and the Kaiser mountains, but the landscape is more open here, with speedy rolling roads that are perfect for fast rides, or a gentle recovery spin, past cows and corn, castles and streams, and into the cool air coming from the woods.

There are more than 220km of signposted cycle paths accessible from Kufstein, and 19 road-bike routes to help you take in the sights. Adventurous riders might make it all the way to the Kitzbüheler Horn – the reference climb in the Tirol – with a finishing section on a private road that hits 22% before the 1,970m summit (see the quick reference section at the back for links).

Kufstein is near the German border, offering riders the chance to explore Bavaria, but you may choose to stick closer to base, exploring the hidden roads and steep, twisty climbs and descents through forests and Alpine meadows above the Thiersee or Walchsee lakes – deserted roads and beautiful scenery stretching seemingly endlessly away. “There are so many different ways to ride, it’s awesome,” says Maximilien Kuen, a Kufstein resident and pro cyclist for the Tirol Cycling Team. “I’m still discovering new roads even after 10 years riding in the region.”

Osttirol

Where do you go to train for the World Championships, if it’s taking place in the Tirol, this unique and challenging part of the world? If you’re Peter Sagan, the reigning world champion, more than likely, the answer will be Osttirol, where his team, Bora, hold regular training camps.

Osttirol is a couple of hours away from the World Championships venues, but it is a great tip for a perfect cycling getaway in the Tirol. Osttirol is on the Austrian border with Italy, and so has a Mediterranean influence. It also has very little traffic and easy access to some of the Tirol’s most challenging climbs – perfect training country, in other words. The Grossglockner is a 3,798m peak that has an infamous and spectacular road beneath it that reaches an altitude of 2,369m; the 2,052m Stallersattel, meanwhile, will take you to the border, and the edge of the Italian Dolomites, and there are 20km climbs, shallow and steep, in every direction. No wonder it’s a pro destination for altitude training – Zettersfeld, near the regional centre of Lienz, is, at 2,278m, Austria’s highest ski resort.

For those riders not concerned with altitude training, however, Östtirol is a great place to train, relax and enjoy the surroundings – to eat local cheeses and meats, and listen to the sound of cow bells ringing lazily over the green Alpine pastures.

World Championships Schedule

All races end in Innsbruck city centre.

Sunday 23rd September

 

UCI Men's Team Time Trial

Start location

AREA 47/Ötztal

Distance

62.1km

Elevation gain

427m

UCI Women’s Team Time Trial

Start location

AREA 47/Ötztal

Distance

53.8km

Elevation gain

152m

MONDAY 24 SEPTEMBER

 

Men Under 23 Individual Time Trial

Start location

Hall-Wattens

Distance

28.5km

Elevation gain

262m

Women Juniors Individual Time Trial

Start location

Hall-Wattens

Distance

20.2km

Elevation gain

192m

TUESDAY 25 SEPTEMBER

 

Women Elite Individual Time Trial

Start location

Hall-Wattens

Distance

28.5km

Elevation gain

262m

Men Juniors Individual Time Trial

Start location

Hall-Wattens

Distance

28.5km

Elevation gain

262m

WEDNESDAY 26 SEPTEMBER

 

Men Elite Individual Time Trial

Start location

Rattenberg–Alpbachtal Seenland

Distance

54.2km

Elevation gain

654m

THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER

 

Men Juniors Road Race

Start location

Kufstein

Distance

138.4km

Elevation gain

1,916m

Women Juniors Road Race

Start location

Rattenberg–Alpbachtal Seenland

Distance

72.4km

Elevation gain

975m

FRIDAY 28 SEPTEMBER

 

Men Under 23 Road Race

Start location

Kufstein

Distance

186.2km

Elevation gain

2,910m

SATURDAY 29 SEPTEMBER

 

Women Elite Road Race

Start location

Kufstein

Distance

156.7km

Elevation gain

2,413m

SUNDAY 30 SEPTEMBER

 

Men Elite Road Race

Start location

Kufstein

Distance

265km

Elevation gain

4,670m

Tourist Information

Alpbachtal

Parkplatz P1

6240 Rattenberg

Innsbruck

Burggraben 3

6020 Innsbruck

Kufstein

Unterer Stadtplatz 11

6330 Kufstein

Östtirol

Mühlgasse 11

9900 Lienz

USEFUL WEBSITES

Innsbruck–Tirol 2018

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