Sunday in Holland, the Australian team enters the 261 kilometre elite men’s road race with a bona fide chance of repeating its feat of two years ago, when Cadel Evans emphatically won the worlds in Mendrisio, Switzerland. Anthony Tan believes there to be five firm favourites with a shot at the biggest one-day title in world cycling.
Alejandro Valverde winning the worlds would be akin to Alexandre Vinokourov winning the Olympic road race.
“I am confident we can get the job done but if there is a weakness in this line-up, it is experience in the closing stages of an event,” Matt White, the Aussie team manager of the men’s road team, told AAP, on the eve of the elite men’s world championship road race, to be contested Sunday in Holland.
If I were a cool black rapper, gold chains around my neck and all, I might’ve replied something like this:
“Yo Whitey, how kan you say dat, bro? The ‘closing stages of an event’, as you speek, yo, is when the you-know-wat’s gonna hit da fan, yo! Up a-gain-sst those bad-ass Bel-gees and snee-kee Span-yards, yo, dat’s where we gonna need all the ex-peer-re-enz we got, bruddha jive, yo!”
Unfortunately, I’m no Snoop Dogg. (I’m not even a Froome-dog, yo!)
Granted, when you look at our nine-man line-up for the 261-kilometre race of attrition, which comprises a tough 96km, seven-climb, opener before 10 circuits of a 16.5km, two-climb, loop that tackles the revered Cauberg (pronounced cow-berg in Dutch/Flemish), it has a rather youthful tinge to it. Simon Clarke, Michael Matthews, Richie Porte, Wesley Sulzberger and David Tanner are not only young but fairly green when it comes to contesting world road championships.
However, Simon Gerrans, Allan Davis, Adam Hansen, Heinrich Haussler are more than capable of marshalling our green and gold coterie in the heat of battle, which, sans race radios, they’ll be required to do. And because most feel the eventual winner lies in the Belgian or Spanish camps, the Aussies are unlikely to assert control of the race, meaning protection and positioning will take precedence of anything else.
So, without further ado, here are my five firm favourites to succeed winner of yesteryear Mark Cavendish and proudly sport the arc-en-ciel across their chest late Sunday afternoon in Valkenburg.
Philippe Gilbert (Belgium, paying $3.75)
Following an unremarkable eight months that saw him take home nothing except lingering questions over form, the Walloon Wunderkind is back to his best. His stage win in Barcelona at the Vuelta a España confirmed he was indeed back; 12 days later in La Lastrilla, on an uphill finish, his second stage victory acknowledged his favourite status for Valkenburg. However it won’t be an all-for-one, one-for all approach for this nation of cycling loonies: Tom Boonen and Greg Van Avermaet are also in tip-top shape and don’t intend to race the worlds as domestiques…
Peter Sagan (Slovakia, paying $6.50)
If it weren’t for his team, or rather lack of it, I would place Sagan on par with Gilbert. This year he’s achieved with aplomb and his ostentatious victory salutes have only rubbed it in to those left legless in his wake. Yet, even for the most precocious of riders, Sagan’s run of fine fettle appears to be nearing an end – but does he have one more trick in the bag?
Alejandro Valverde (Spain, paying $9.00)
Even though he ran second overall, in my mind, Valverde was the guy who finished the Vuelta strongest, and among a cast of all-stars that includes Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodríguez and Oscar Freire, is likely to lead this potent outfit where anything other than victory will be considered a failure. Coming off injury but showing good form at the recent Tour of Britain, the Spanish Armada also boasts a respectable Plan B (or, given no lack of leaders, should that be ‘C’ or ‘D’?) in 2008 Olympic champion, Samuel Sánchez.
However, Valverde winning the worlds would be akin to Alexandre Vinokourov winning the Olympic road race in London this past July. It would be as popular as Tyler Hamilton turning up at Cache Cache restaurant in Aspen on a Saturday evening and, after spotting his former teammate at the best table in the house, telling the maître d’, ‘I’ll have whatever Lance is having.’
Simon Gerrans (Australia, paying $16.00)
‘Gerro’ is fast becoming the best one-day rider this nation has ever produced. And on the good chance he wins Sunday he may well be considered just that. As he said so himself, The Dimpled One has enjoyed his best season to date; the only time he fell short was in the Ardennes Classics and at the Tour de France, which may have been a result of a heavy crash sustained on the third stage.
But that’s now behind him and with the Québec win in the bag, he’s in the form of his life.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway, paying $19.00)
Courtesy of his win in Plouay a month ago, we know Eddy Bos is hitting his straps once again. EBH has been one of the most unheralded riders this season and particularly at the Tour de France; he could’ve won so much more but instead, time and time again, buried himself at the service of Bradley Wiggins. His characteristics and abilities are not unlike Sagan’s but he’s a little better on the climbs, as demonstrated at the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour.
What makes this year’s worlds so tantalising is that if a scenario were to play out where Gilbert, Valverde, Sagan, Gerrans and Boasson Hagen all came to the finish together, I would give each a 1-in-5 chance, as in my estimation, it will come down to what’s left in the legs rather than pure speed. With the finish line 1.7km past that used in the Amstel Gold Race, I’m convinced the winner will come from a small group rather than be won solo, so whoever’s in the hunt will need to save a little extra.
Tom Boonen (Belgium, $19.00), Vincenzo Nibali (Italy, $19.00), Joaquim Rodríguez (Spain, $19.00), Oscar Freire (Spain, $21.00), Thomas Voeckler (France, $21.00), Samuel Sanchez (Spain, $34.00), Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium, $41.00), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Norway, $41.00), Rui Costa (Spain, $51.00), Alexandre Kolobnev (Russia, $51.00), Michael Albasini (Switzerland, $51.00)
For what it’s worth, on the fairly unlikely though not impossible chance Simon ‘Call Me Maybe’ Clarke wins, he’ll give you $151.00 for every dollar punted.
Call the TAB, Maybe?