Cunego, Valverde favorites in Mendrisio
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Cunego, Valverde favorites in Mendrisio

by Agence France-Presse at 9:19 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, World Championships
 

Alejandro Valverde underlined his rainbow jersey credentials by being crowned Tour of Spain champion a week ahead of the men's road race at the world cycling championships next Sunday in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

But the Spaniard's maiden major Tour win could count for little if he comes up short against a quality packed Italian team which includes Damiano Cunego and reigning champion Alesssandro Ballan.

Australians Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans, as well as Swiss Fabian Cancellara, Luxembourg pair Andy Schleck and Kim Kirchen and Belgian Philippe Gilbert, are also expected to be major contenders.

But it is Cunego, second last year at the championships in Varese and the winner of two high mountain stages at the three-week Tour of Spain, who is being touted as Valverde's biggest challenger on the testing 262.2km road race course.

A former Tour of Italy champion who, like Valverde, has also excelled on the hillier one-day classics, Cunego has something else in common with the Spaniard.

Crucial for both contenders will be a strong, nine-man team that can counter, launch some of their own attacks and generally cause mayhem before taking their leader as close as they can to the finish line.

If either Valverde or Cunego want a small insight into how tactics can play a role, they might fancy a look at either the under-23 men's race, or the women's elite race where Welshwoman Nicole Cooke, the Olympic champion, will bid to defend her rainbow jersey.

But most of those saddling up for next Sunday's blue ribboned event know the script well. A painful race of attrition usually leaves a small group of favourites at the end, and Cunego believes it will go right to the finish.

"It's a deceiving finale, and lends itself to a few different scenarios," Cunego told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "There won't be many of us left to fight."

Cunego will be supported among others by Filippo Pozzato, a former Milan-SanRemo winner, and former Tour of Flanders champion Ballan during the 19 laps of the hilly 13.8km circuit, which climbs a total of 4655 metres.

Valverde, a runner-up in 2003 and 2005 and third in 2006, will be able to count on Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez and former three-time world champion Oscar Freire.

Evans, who lives near the race course, is arguably Australia's biggest hope for a first medal at the world's since sprinter Robbie McEwen's silver medal in 2002.

After finishing third in the Tour of Spain, the former two-time Tour de France runner-up believes the fact this year's circuit climbs more than last year's will make for a more selective finale.

"I expect that Sunday will come down to a small group (of contenders), less than in other years," said Evans.

"At the moment, I am thinking that Cunego will be a rival, maybe Andy Schleck, (Philippe) Gilbert could be good. Valverde too, if he bounces back all right.

"It's going to be a great race, that's for sure."

The championships begin with two days of time trialling with Cancellara, the Olympic champion, looking to regain his world crown from Bert Grabsch, the German who won in the Swiss's absence last year.

But despite winning both races against the clock at the Tour of Spain, Cancellara, a proficient but not natural climber, seems to have a fixation on winning Switzerland's first road race crown since Oscar Camenzind in 1998.

"My main goal was the road race, but I did well in the time trials," said Cancellara after winning his second time trial in Spain.

The women's elite road race is on Friday over a distance of 124.2km.

Race schedule for the world road race cycling championships to be held in Mendrisio, Switzerland on September 23-27:
Sept 23
Mens U23 time trial (33.2 km)
Womens Elite time trial (26.8 km)

Sept 24
Mens time trial (49.8 km)

Sept 26
Womens elite road race (124.2 km)
Mens U23 road race (179.4 km)

Sept 27
Mens elite road race (262.2 km)

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