10 things you should know about the Wollongong World Championships route

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After three years of rumour, hype and excited speculation, organisers for the Wollongong 2022 UCI Road World Championships have today revealed the courses for the event.

There’s one caveat: like handing us a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box, they haven’t revealed the structure and distance of each race. We know the sections they’ll be riding – but in what sequence, and how many times?

Well, with a little thought and analysis, here’s what we do know.

1. It’s 100% in Wollongong

Wollongong 2022 UCI Road World Championships elite road race map
The Elite road race courses.

When Wollongong was announced as the host back in 2018, our collective imaginations went into overdrive.

Would the races start from Sydney, with a long lead-in through the Royal National Park? Or from the south, perhaps, taking in the sea views from Kiama? Some guessed there might even be a neutral roll-out over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It turns out – surprise, surprise – the Wollongong 2022 UCI Road World Championships will take place exclusively in the Wollongong council area.

Starting from the small town of Helensburgh, the Elite Men and Women will head along the coastal road for 33 kilometres towards Wollongong’s beachside city centre.

From there, they’ll take on two circuits for an unspecified number of times: the ‘Wollongong City Circuit’ (17.5km), a twisting urban route with the short ascent of Mount Pleasant; and the ‘Mount Keira Loop’ (34km), which climbs up the Illawarra Escarpment before returning via industrial Port Kembla.

Update: we now know the Elite races will tackle the Mount Keira Loop once, followed by six laps (for the women) or 12 laps (for the men) of the Wollongong City Circuit. The Elite Women will race a total of 164.3km, while the Elite Men will cover 266.9km.

It’s a compact course that will offer repeat viewing opportunities from the roadside, while showing off this underrated region to international audiences.

2. It’s very urban

Drone photo of Wollongong from the seaThe circuits make heavy use of downtown Wollongong and neighbouring suburbs. Note Mount Keira in the background, centre of frame. (Photo: Dee Kramer/Destination Wollongong)

Road racing is typically held on quieter rural roads, but these UCI World Championships will take place in a built urban environment. We’ll see the peloton zipping through the town centre, sweeping past the steelworks, and climbing leafy streets lined with family homes.

That’s especially true of the Wollongong City Circuit (the clue’s in the name). This circuit will be used in all the road races and comprises the whole of the Under-23 and Junior routes.

Riders will pass a beachfront apartment strip, ride along major thoroughfares, over a motorway and into residential neighbourhoods before returning past a university campus. They’ll even race straight through a TAFE carpark.

We’re sure race organisers will be busy removing a lot of road furniture before September!

3. Mount Keira makes an appearance – of course

Official UCI profile of the Mount Keira climb

Few locals will be surprised that Wollongong’s iconic landmark, Mount Keira, features in the Elite road race courses.

Keira is the go-to climb in the area. At 463 metres high, it looms over the seaside city prominently. Its lookout is an essential tourist stop, offering sweeping views over Wollongong and the Pacific Ocean.

The official course map lists Mount Keira as 8.7km at 5% gradient, but according to Strava, the main portion is 5.8km at 6.4%, an effort of 15–17 minutes. Either way, while no alpine pass, it’s a solid hill.

It’ll be part of the Mount Keira Loop that heads west out of the city centre, and depending on where it features in the race, it could be decisive.

Update: we now know the Elite Men and Elite Women will tackle Mount Keira first, before commencing their repeated laps of the Wollongong City Circuit. So, it'll be an early climbing test to build fatigue, but not a late climb that necessarily decides the race.

4. The helicopter shots will be spectacular

Sea Cliff Bridge near Wollongong at sunriseWe’ll be seeing plenty of the New South Wales coastline. (Photo: Destination Wollongong)

Wollongong is a photogenic region, and this course will show off its best side from the beginning.

Unlike the dour multi-lane motorways of some remote starts, there’ll be plenty of natural eye candy while the early breakaway forms.

The opening kilometres – presumably in the neutral zone – include the breathless descent past Bald Hill lookout, with its unbroken views across the blue sea.

The peloton will wind its way along the scenic coastal road, traversing the jaw-dropping Sea Cliff Bridge.

Once the race reaches town, viewers will be treated to vistas alternating between Wollongong’s beautiful beaches and magnificent cliffs as the peloton loops up the escarpment and back down to the ocean’s edge time and time again. If we’re lucky, we might even spot a passing humpback.

Throw in a tracking shot on the lead riders as they sweep along the harbourfront towards the finish, and we’re guaranteed some of the most memorable images we’ve ever seen from a World Championships.

5. It’s ideal for spectators

Crowd cheering cyclists at a UCI Road World ChampionshipsFans will have plenty of chances to watch the race go by. (Photo: John Veage)

Since the circuits are centred around the city, the Wollongong World Championships will be convenient to watch from the roadside.

Park yourself on the beach, in a café or at a park, and watch the riders fly by multiple times throughout the day. You won’t need to bring a thing, with plenty of shops, restaurants and other services within easy reach.

If you’re coming from further afield, an easy train ride from Sydney or Nowra will set you up for a worry-free day trip.

If you want to catch the remote start in Helensburgh, it’s only a short train trip or drive down the highway before you’ll be amid the action on the city circuits.

6. The time trials will be twisty and technical

Wollongong 2022 UCI Road World Championships elite time trial map

The Elite time trial routes are almost a replica of the Wollongong City Circuit (minus the Mount Pleasant climb, plus a northern extension), while the Juniors and Under-23s will face the same course, but without the extension.

Organisers have revealed that the Elite Men and Elite Women will race the same time trial distance. Logically, on a 17.5-kilometre circuit, we think they’ll do two laps each. Update: this has now been confirmed – two laps each.

While they’re mostly flat, the twisting urban streets will make for technical racing. By our count, there are 28 corners on the Elite circuit, meaning there’s a turn every 635 metres. That’s not a lot of time to settle into the aero bars and put the power down.

So, it won’t necessarily be a course for the purists. Technical skills and brave line choice will count just as much as strength against the clock.

7. There’s a launchpad for a late attack

Profile graphic of the Mount Pleasant climb at the Wollongong 2022 UCI Road World Championships

For the road races, we don’t know how many times the Elites will tackle each circuit, and in what order. But we do know two things:

  • the Elite races finish on the Wollongong City Circuit; and
  • the U23 and Junior races will use the Wollongong City Circuit exclusively.

That means all road races will share the same finale, which serves up a clear opportunity for a late move.

The short, steep climb of Mount Pleasant peaks about 8km from the finish. It’s listed as 1.1km at 7.7%, with sections of up to 14%.

This is the last clear opportunity for a puncheur to break free and avoid a bunch sprint.

It’s followed by a fast, flowing descent where the escapees won’t lose much ground. Not until the last 4km on the coastal road can we expect an organised bunch to start making headway.

It sets up the prospect of a dramatic final act; a nail-biting tussle between sprinters and attackers alongside the golden beaches of Wollongong.

8. It’s not exactly a sprinter’s dream

Two cyclists on the Wollongong City Circuit of the Wollongong 2022 UCI Road World ChampionshipsThere are 8 kilometres from the top of Mount Pleasant to the finish. (Photo: Ryan Miu)

For all the conjecture about designing a route for Aussie sprinters Caleb Ewan and Chloe Hosking, the Wollongong UCI World Championships course is decidedly not flat.

Even if you take the flattest possible configuration for the Elite Men’s road race within UCI distance limits – the Helensburgh start, one lap of the Mount Keira Loop and 11 laps of the Wollongong City Circuit – there’s nearly 3,000 metres of elevation.

That’s 500 metres more climbing than this year’s World Championships in Flanders, where Ewan and Hosking were both dropped.

Sure, with a rider in top form, and the race playing out just right, it’s possible we’ll end up with a pure sprinter in the rainbow jersey. But, with this parcours, a big bunch finish is far from nailed on.

9. If there is a sprint, it’ll be a fast finish

Two cyclists on the Wollongong City Circuit course of the Wollongong 2022 UCI Road World ChampionshipsThe flat finish straight along Marine Drive. (Photo: Ryan Miu)

In the closing moments of the race, riders will approach from the north via the flat, straight Squires Way and the flowing, rolling Cliff Drive, which will see some rapid speeds.

If there’s still a sizable peloton, here they’ll be travelling at over 60km/h in some sections, battling for position before a couple of crucial pinch points.

There’s a tight right-hander with 1,500 metres to go, and then there’s a sweeping bend (currently occupied by a roundabout, which we assume will be removed or heavily modified) just a few hundred metres before the finish.

A new world champion crowned just metres from the surf and Wollongong’s twin lighthouses, with a roaring crowd lined up along the beaches – it’ll be a sight to behold.

10. It gives us Geelong 2010 vibes

Michael Matthews winning the U23 Men UCI Road World Championships in 2010 in GeelongWe’ve got good feelings from the last World Championships at home. (Photo: John Veage)

By the time September rolls around, it will have been 12 years since Australia last hosted the Road World Championships. That was in 2010, where Geelong hosted a finish that’s since been adopted by the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

In many ways, the Wollongong course reminds us of Geelong 2010: the remote start; the quiet residential roads; the short climb in the last 10 kilometres (Challambra versus Mount Pleasant); and the fast finale along the water’s edge.

In 2010, Cadel Evans was defending champion, Allan Davis and Luke Durbridge won medals and Michael Matthews took the under-23 rainbow jersey on home soil.

Next September, on these roads announced today, what will Australia’s second-ever UCI Road World Championships serve up?

To watch a full lap of the Wollongong City Circuit, head to our YouTube channel. For full course details, visit the Wollongong 2022 website.

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