Time will tell if the chosen nine selected by Australia's three-man panel is the right combination. We don't have to wait too much longer to find out; whatever the outcome, it's just over four weeks till we witness a historic first: a World Road Championship in our own backyard.
Via teleconference last Tuesday, when Cycling Australia's national high performance manager and chief selector, Shayne Bannan, addressed a group of journalists including yours truly, he made one point abundantly clear: with the team they're sending, a large bunch-sprint finish is not a scenario they have in mind.
"Some of comments [Paolo] Bettini has recently made, the Italians aren't certainly going to Geelong to let the sprinters be there at the finish," Bannan said of the two-time world champion, considered one of the finest Ã¢â¬â if not the finest Ã¢â¬â Classics riders of his generation, who retired at the end of the 2008 season.
Bettini's comments are not relevant simply because he is the new Italian national coach, taking over after the premature death of Franco Ballerini this year, or because of his wide-ranging palmarÃ¨s Ã¢â¬â or even that one of his riders, Filippo Pozzato, is one of four clear pre-race favourites that include Oscar Freire, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Cancellara.
No, in the context of the team Australia is sending to the elite men's race, it's because Bettini has twice won on a course that bears strong similarities to the 15.9km finishing circuit in Geelong: first in Salzburg, Austria in 2006, and backing up the following year in Stuttgart, Germany, becoming one of five riders to have completed the double since the Worlds were first held in NÃ¼rburgring in 1927.
However, as Bannan pointed out, the outstanding difference between Geelong and Salzburg/Stuttgart is that the elevation gain of 3,076 metres all comes in the final 180 kilometres of the 260 kilometre event Ã¢â¬â which makes those final four hours' racing as hard (possibly harder) than last year's Worlds in Mendrisio, so famously won by our own Cadel Evans.
And it's for this reason that the ignominious decision was made to leave Robbie McEwen out of the squad.
Said Bannan: "We felt, at this stage, on this course, [Matthew] Goss and [Allan] Davis provided better options than Robbie. It was certainly a difficult decision but [it] was based on the course Ã¢â¬â we felt it is too difficult for him, and we had better options in Goss and Davis."
Regarding Renshaw's omission, it was much the same story, who Bannan, to his credit, also notified in person: "Mark was also on the understanding that the course was a difficult one, and perhaps at this stage of Mark's career, a little bit too difficult Ã¢â¬â and we do have some good options. In saying that, Mark will be a main player in years to come," he said, alluding to potential leadership roles for Renshaw at the 2011 Worlds in Copenhagen and the Olympic road race in London a year later.
Much has also been made of the exclusion of Heinrich Haussler. In fact, it was the born-again Aussie's decision, much to his chagrin, to rule himself out: "If I were to go to the start line at the World Championships, I would want to be 100 percent in shape and able to ride for the victory. This will unfortunately not be possible for me," said Haussler. "It would have been a dream to start on home soil but I am not ready yet."
Added Bannan: "[The decision was] based on [the fact that] he's not recovering from injury as would be expected Ã¢â¬â he's had limited racing this year. It would have been a fairly significant gamble if we selected him. In saying that, we were quite comfortable in selecting him in the final fifteen a couple of weeks ago, because at that stage, his rehabilitation was going extremely well and at that stage, he may have been quite a good option."
One rider who didn't even make that long team but I thought well-suited to the Geelong circuit was Matthew Lloyd, this year's mountains classification winner at the Giro and clearly riding at an improved level to when he and Evans were team-mates at Lotto; a team Lloyd has chosen to reside with for at least two more seasons.
When I questioned Bannan about this, he said Lloyd, even if included, would only have qualified for domestique duties in the Australian Worlds squad. "A couple of years ago, Matt Lloyd had some very good results in the Ardennes Classics. And then, his training was heavily focused around GC and being a mountain rider in Grand Tours. So it was a case of this course being not as suited to Matt Lloyd, that it was more suited to other workers within the team."
I don't agree with this. Aside from his green jersey at the Giro, there was Lloyd's impressive Stage 6 victory at that race, which came from a day-long breakaway on a difficult parcours Ã¢â¬â 2,380 metres climbing over 172km.
Also, I don't think this rake-thin climber has ever focused on being a GC-rider in Grand Tours. Mountains, yes, but GC, no.
Confirmation came at this year's Tour de France, when I asked Omega Pharma-Lotto team manager Marc Sergeant if Lloyd was a budding Grand Tour contender-in-waiting. "You know, to win a Grand Tour, you have to be a complete rider. And we have to be honest: if we are on the flats riding 50, 55 k an hour, that's not his thing. Doing long time trials, that's not his thing," Sergeant said.
As leaders, Evans, Davis, Gerrans and Goss I have no problem with, as workers Hayman, O'Grady, Rogers and Sulzberger I can also understand Ã¢â¬â but the inclusion of Baden Cooke baffled me a bit, and judging by the forum comments, a few others also.
During the teleconference, Bannan told reporters not to compare the exclusion of McEwen against the inclusion of Cooke, as in the selection process, the former was a prospective leader and the latter a potential domestique. And from the list of potential worker bees the Australian selectors mulled over, Bannan said the emphasis was on experience Ã¢â¬â "particularly in the Ardennes Classiscs, and based on the workloads they've done for their particular teams this year so far".
However, it was in the cobbled Classics such as Paris-Roubaix, Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem where Cooke performed Ã¢â¬â not the Ardennes races of Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In fact, Cooke didn't even get a ride in the Ardennes Classics.
Granted, given Bannan is concerned about the role the first 83 kilometres from Melbourne's Federation Square may play in the race, if any, and the impending crosswinds that can whip up a veritable storm at this time of year, the inclusion of Cooke makes some sense.
"He's more than likely not going to finish the race Ã¢â¬â we're going to have to sacrifice him early, but his abilities to protect the leaders, to keep them out of the wind, to make sure they're in good position, to assist in some of the decision-making during the race, is going to be quite valuable to this team."
That said, Cooke's younger team-mate at Saxo Bank, Richie Porte (down for the time trial but a possible reserve for the road race), whilst a neo-pro, has already shown preternatural ability to position himself when the going gets rough, and may have provided a real joker in the pack for the Aussies, marking any dangerous moves.
Moves that in some world championships, being as unpredictable and unwieldy as they are, have stayed away right till the end.