Confused by the title? Well, this is essentially a reimagining of the current oh-so-entertaining FIFA Football (or soccer to our cousins overseas) World Cup, which, when players aren’t diving, wasting time or indeed biting one another, sport occasionally breaks out. So basically, for a bit of fun, I took the existing groups and assigned them all a rider to represent the nation. From then on, it becomes a battle royale for the teams as they progress as per the normal World Cup rules. Will there be upsets? Who will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Will England triumph thanks to the lack of penalty shoot outs?!
Brazil – Rafael Andriato (Neri Sottoli)
Mexico – Hector Rangel (Elite 2)
Cameroon – Raoul Mba (Elite 2)
Croatia – Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing)
The hosts hopes rest of Pro Continental rider Rafael Andriato, winner of stages in the his home Tour de Rio. Unfortunately, he can’t really compete with the climbing skills of Croatioan Kiserlovski, twice 10th in the Giro and with a splattering of solid placings from his strong domestique roles at Trek, Astana and Liquigas. These two dominate the group, with the Trek man getting the better of Andriato in their match up. I won’t pretend to know anything about the Mexican and Cameroon entrants out of respect, but the other are in a different league to them.
Progress: Croatia, Brazil
Spain – Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Netherlands – Bauke Mollema (Belkin)
Chile – Carlos Oyarzun (Efapel-Glassdrive)
Australia – Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge)
A contender for the mystical ‘Group of Death’, which is apparently obligated in a World Cup for some reason. Valverde, Mollema and Gerrans are all seasoned Ardennes campaigners, with Valverde and Gerrans sharing three Liege titles between them. Interestingly, Mollema and Valverde have almost identical top positions at the Tour – Mollema with 6th in 2013 and Valverde with 5th in 2005, although the latter has won the Vuelta. Valverde’s all around skill set (just like his previously title holding footballing compatriots…) looks like giving him the group victory, but nobody told the plucky Aussie Gerrans, who has a habit of sneaking up to steal big wins. Indeed, Gerrans’s aggressive sprint and ability to hang tough helps him knock out the Netherlands, and,a la Liege 2014, pip Valverde to the line for the group win. Oyarzun, a silver medalist in the Pan-Am TT, is just happy to be in such illustrious company.
Progress: Australia, Spain
Colombia – Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Greece – Ioannis Tamouridis (SP Tableware)
Ivory Coast – Issiaka Cisse (Elite 2)
Japan – Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar)
Colombia’s big problem is who to send – with a wealth if talent including Betancur, Uran and Quintana, they are spoilt for choice. Uran would probably have been the better all around choice – his Olympic, Giro and Lombardia podiums suggest he can sprint as well as climb both hills and mountains – but with Betancur ill, and Quintana a national hero after his Giro triumph, it could only be the man with two Grand Tour podiums in two attempts. Quintana should walk this group, with Arashiro’s Japan-honed sprint helping him see of the other opposition. Tamouridis is famed for riding for the usually all Basque Euskatel outfit in their final season, but he won’t add much to his legend here.
Progress: Colombia, Japan
Uruguay – Fabricio Ferrari (Caja Rujal)
Costa Rica – Andrey Amador (Movistar)
England – Chris Froome (Sky)
Italy – Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
I can already here the whining. ‘But Froome isn’t English, waaaah.’ Boo hoo. Half the guys I’m the actual World Cup don’t play for the country of their birth. Nobody whines about Wiggins being born in Belgium, or Heinrich Haussler’s change from German to Australian. So you’ll have to live with it, especially given Froome has actually ridden for England in the Olympic warm up event. That aside, this is actually a tricky group. The tactical savy of Nibali combined with his range of skills makes him a tricky proposition for the Tour champion, but Froome’s power ultimately wins out. Amador is still a tricky prospect though – a Giro stage winner in 2012 and a strong climbing domestique, he would offer some resistance to the Italian/English dominance. Fabricio Ferrari lacks the bite of his footballing compatriots (Ho Ho! Hilarious…) but is at a solid level. Still, there is no 2013 Tirreno-sequel assault from Nibali, who goes through behind Froome.
Progress: England, Italy
Switzerland – Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing)
Ecuador – Byron Guama de la Cruz (Team Ecuador)
France – Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling)
Honduras – No Ranked Riders
An apology. I can’t find any ranked Honduran riders. So, only three teams in this group. Ecuadorean Guama de la Cruz once rode for the continental Movistar team, but against two ‘Flandrians’ in the shape of uber-decorated Fabian Cancellara, with all his monuments, world titles and Olympic Gold, and Chavanel, who isn’t quite as strong on the palmares but still has an enviable record, with time in the yellow jersey, 3 Tour stage wins and a triple set of French TT championships to his name. Cancellara thumps his way to the group win, with Chavanel, as usual, just licking at his heels.
Progress: Switzerland, France
Argentina – Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida)
Bosnia and Herzegovina – Nikica Atlagic (Elite 2)
Iran – Mirsamad Pourseyedi (Tabriz Petrochemical)
Nigeria – Qodiri Ajibade (Elite 2)
This is probably the weakest group in the Tournament. Richeze has a Pan-Am title to his credit, and 3 2nd places at the Giro, whilst Pourseyedi has won the GC at the Tours of Langwaki, Japan and Qinghai Lake- excellent results. I’m going to give it to the ProTour rider though, purely on the basis that he is at a higher overall level and has a strong sprint, plus I know nothing about the Bosnian or the Nigerian, so Richeze and Pourseyedi go through.
Progress: Argentina, Iran
Germany – John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano)
Portugal – Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida)
Ghana – No Ranked Riders
USA – Andrew Talanksy (Garmin-Sharp)
Given Ghana have no ranked riders, this is probably the feared/feted ‘Group of Death’, with the World Champion, a Paris Roubaix podiumer and sprint ace and a young Grand tour contender. The big question is whether Degenkolb can live with the others in the hills, but the ginormous German has so much power and ability to suffer that I can see him clinging on to marmalise his gears and indeed the opposition in the sprint. Degenkolb is a bit of a monster, and indeed Talanksy can hang tough, hence his nickname ‘Pitbull.’ But Talansky does a habit of getting dropped then grinding back, whilst Costa seems to always pick his moment, so he triumphs over the young American to ensure there isnt an American fairytale in this World Cup. Costa may however be shocked by the strength of Degenkolb, who tops the group with the World Champions settling for second place.
Progress: Germany, Portugal
Belgium – Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)
Algeria – Azzedine Lagab (Groupement Sportif Petrolier Algerie)
Russia – Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha)
South Korea – Ji Min Jung (KSPO)
Another group with two obvious stand out candidates in classics powerhouse/maligned Belgian Philippe Gilbert and multi worlds medalist Kolobnev. Again, I’m not going to insult the other two by pretending to know anything about them, and so its Gilbert and Kolobnev who progress, with Gilbert ticking over into some good enough form to take the triumph in their match up and the group win.
Progress: Belgium, Russia
Round of 16
So we have our last 16, with Group winners lining up against the runners up from their adjacent group, and already there’s some intriguing match ups…
Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) v Alejandro Valverde (SPA)
Winning the group turned out to be a bit of a curse for Kiserlovski, although given the strength of Group B, he was always going to have a bad time. It’s Valverde who he is up against, and in reality, although it looks like a heavy weight clash, Valverde’s superior class would eventually win out. Valverde can climb mountains, punch up hills, and sprint. Suddenly, he’s looking good to stop his run of coming 2nd and 3rd through too much following and take another major title…
To the Quarter Finals: Spain
Nairo Quintana (COL) v Vincenzo Nibali (ITA)
A hell of a match up for the round of sixteen as the last two winners of the Giro d’Italia, both by impressive margins over Rigoberto Uran (4’43 for Nibali, 2’58 for Quintana), who are forced to square off for the reward of a problem match with Valverde in the quarters. Nobody said it would be easy! Quintana’s youthful verve and raw speed on the climbs puts Nibali in difficulty, but Nibali has the power to return on the descents and measure his efforts to catch the flying Colombian. Nibali to pip it and end a crazy cycling nations dreams.
To the Quarter Finals: Italy
Fabian Cancellara (SUI) v Mirsamad Pourseyedi (IRA)
A bit of a walk over for Cancellara really. Although the Iraninan has stage race winning talent, he’s no match in a one on one against the Swiss, who showed at the 2009 Mendriso Worlds, and even the 2013 Tuscany ones that he can climb when he wants to. Spartacus dispatches the Iranian to progress.
To the Quarter Finals: Switzerland
John Degenkolb (GER) v Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS)
Arguably similar riders, Degenkob v Kolobnev is a full on murder-fest from the start, with both men trying to crush their rival into the dust. With no love lost between the Germans and the Russians, its full of shoulder barging and pedal stomping as the two thrash each other into submission. Occasionally, Kolobnev cuts his way off the front, but his powers are fading these days and he has to put up with the sight of the gargantuan thighs of Degenkolb pounding his way back to him. In a sprint, there’s no contest – Kolobnev has settled for a lot of silver medals in his time (twice at the worlds, plus at Liege and San Sebastian) and has to settle for second again as the clinical Germans go marching on.
To the Quarter Finals: Germany
Simon Gerrans (AUS) v Rafael Andriatio (BRA)
Gerrans’s reward for coming through his tough group is a match up against the hosts, and with a career littered with 24 top quality wins against Andriatio’s 2, it looks like the hosts have run their course. Gerrans saunters home (assuming he doesnt fall off, which is an occasional problem) to put the Aussies through and return Brazil to football mania.
To the Quarter Finals: Australia
Chris Froome (ENG) v Yukiya Arashiro (JAP)
The Tour de France Champion against the Asian road race champion was always going to be an unfair match-up, and so it proves. Froome has a lethal acceleration which even Arashiro cannot handle, and is simple too strong to have much trouble against the Japanese. England actually get through to the Quarter finals for once.
To the Quarter Finals: England
Maximiliano Richeze (ARG) v Sylvain Chavanel (FRA)
Richeze was perhaps lucky to win his group, but it didnt do him much good, as he find himself up against Chavanel. Even if Chavanel isn’t quite in the pomp he was, he still has his strong attack and time trialling skills to his credit, which means he can get rid of the Argentinian before a dreaded sprint finish, and carry the French towards the quarters. Perhaps the French can repeat their 1998 triumph and end a (comparatively shorter compared to their Tour drought) wait for the world title?
To the Quarter Finals: France
Phillipe Gilbert (BEL) v Rui Costa (POR)
The final round of 16 match throws up a real cracker. The last two world road champions facing up against one another, both with similar skill sets. If this was 2011 vintage Gilbert, it would be easy to call it for the Belgian, but 2014 model Gilbert is just missing the edge he used to possess, and whilst it’s a close run thing, Costa’s tactical nous wins out in the end. He might even win the final sprint – as he showed in Tuscany, he has the power – although he’d probably be happier to drop Gilbert somewhere else. The Portuguese go marching on.
To the Quarter Finals: Portugal
It’s getting serious now. It’s the last eight. A place in the semi finals awaits. Only the elite are left now – no, with the greatest respect to those knocked out, filler remains. Those left in the competition have 4 Grand Tours, 22 Tour stage wins, 11 classics, 7 world titles and three Olympic medals between them after all. It’s all eyes down to the finish now!
Alejandro Valverde (SPA) v Vincenzo Nibali (ITA)
Another cracking match as Valverde’s tough run continues. These two havent actually raced each other very often – neither rode the Vuelta the other won, and Valverde was returning from his ban in 2012 when Nibali podiumed at the Tour. It’s a close run thing, but the Worlds gives us a clue as to how this plays out – despite repeated assaults from Nibali, Valverde always pulls himself back, sits in the slipstream, then pushes his way past in the sprint. It’s controversial, it’s not pretty, but its effective, and despite protestations from the Italians, who go down with heart and valour, it’s the Spaniard who pushes on.
To the Semi’s: Spain
Fabian Cancellara (SUI) v John Degenkolb (GER)
The classics man of the past against the classics man of the future? Certainly, this is a match all about one thing – power. Cancellara is a warrior and knows he has to get the young German off his wheel, but Deglenkob isnt as afraid of the Swiss time machine as others and takes the race to Spartacus. Of course, he wouldn’t drop him, but he takes him to the line where it is a close match sprint between the two for the first few hundred metres (Cancellara is a decent sprinter – he almost pipped Greipel to third at the 2011 Worlds behind Cavendish and Goss), but ultimately, its the Germans clinical finishing which earns them the right to push into the semi finals. Yet again.
To the Semi’s: Germany
Simon Gerrans (AUS) v Chris Froome (ENG)
Australia versus England. It’s the Ashes all over again. Ex-Sky team mates, before Sky started selling all their best win takers that is, these two should know each other very well, making for a cagey opening that convinces many that the Aussie could spring an upset. In the end though, its a match that looks less close in hindsight, as Froome’s furious high churning acceleration gets the better of the Gerrans to let him solo in for victory. Not a thrashing – just a good solid win.
To the Semi’s: England
Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) v Rui Costa (POR)
With Australia out, it’s guaranteed to be an all European semi final, and of course in Germany, Spain and England, there are three previous winners already in the semis. Can France make it all four? Probably not. Chavanel is a classy rider, but hes in the downward trajectory part of his career compared to the rising Costa, who, spurred on by his world champions bands, sours away to conquer the French and set up an intriguin clash against the Tour champion Froome.
To the Semi’s: Portugal
It’s the worst time to go out. Win and it’s the final and a shot at glory. Lose and nobody remembers you. Can you remember the finalists from the last football World Cup? Netherlands and Spain yes? How about the semi-finalists? Erm…I’ll hazard a guess at Brazil and Germany…(googles)… meh, Germany and Uruguay, close enough. Still, this is the time to shine.
Alejandro Valverde (SPA) v John Deglenkolb (GER)
Spain are the favourites for this match of the Tournament, but Deglenkolb has other ideas. Just like in the 2013 Giro, he turns himself inside out to keep up with the Green bullet, who just cannot shake the big German. Sure, on the climbs he gets a bit of a gap, but Degenkolb is always there not far behind, nodding his head furiously as he hounds Valverde all the way to the line. An exhausted Degenkolb makes it to the line with Valverde and the two of them sprint it out…it needs a photo…but…it’s Deglenkolb! Never bet against the Germans…
To the Final: Germany
Chris Froome (ENG) v Rui Costa (POR)
The World is not enough for Costa, as he tries to add to his world title. Froome of course has the hopes of a nation deluded with the notion they might actually win something football related on his shoulders, especially as the country hasnt gotten to the semi finals of a tournament since 1996. Costa gives Froome and the nation a big scare with his aggression on the hills, padding out hopes that he can indeed be a Grand Tour contender by setting the pace on the early slopes. He even drags himself back to some of the trademark Froome accelerations, as the elbows go out and Froome begins to contort his neck to look at his beloved stem. Is Froome cooked? As always, it’s hard to tell, but suddenly he erupts once more and this time, Costa can only gaze as his opponents gangly frame disapears into the distance. England are in a final!
To the Final: England
John Deglenkolb (GER) v Chris Froome (ENG)
England versus Germany in the final. It’s almost like this was planned from, er, the start. The last time these two met in a final, we all know what happenned. Is history an omen for the English to end 48 years of hurt? Or will the Germans break their own duck, with 24 years since there last World Cup (of three mind)? Roared on by their two nations, the pair set about sussing each other out. Degenkolb tries to break Froome with some sprints early on, but Froome settles into a rhythm to pull back the German by letting him get the gaps so not to crush himself. At the end of a three week tournament, Degenkolb’s recovery is perhaps not quite as good as Froome’s spinning engine, and unfortunately once they hit the rises, any notion of an exciting tense final is banished by the attack of Froome, who despite strong resistance from his German adversary, suceeds in dropping him to leave him to time trial his way to the line. He hits the line and a nation goes crazy. ENGLAND HAVE WON THE WORLD CUP! A bus tour follows, many appaling newspaper headlines, Arise Sir Froome and more terrible examples of how bad winners we are continue. But who cares? We won the world cup!