Sunday's Worlds road race packed with contenders
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Sunday's Worlds road race packed with contenders

by Agence France-Presse at 9:04 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, World Championships

Alejandro Valverde will find out on Sunday whether his recent Tour of Spain triumph costs him the chance to finally be crowned world champion.

The Spaniard begins the blue riband event of the world road race championships, a 262.2km race around Mendrisio near the Italian border, among the big favourites for cycling's prestigious rainbow jersey.

But despite having two runner-up and one third place finishes in the past five years, he still has a fight on his hands if he is to succeed Italian Alessandro Ballan.

Controversially prevented from racing the 2009 Tour de France by the Italian authorities, who handed him a two-year ban for suspected doping - the Tour rolled through Italy in July - Valverde turned his attentions to the Tour of Spain, known as the Vuelta.

He did not win a stage, but did enough to top the overall standings last Sunday to claim his first ever victory in a major three-week Tour.

Some of his world championship rivals, such as Italian Damiano Cunego, simply used the Vuelta as a training exercise for Sunday's race.

Others, like two-time Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans, who finished third overall in Spain, hinted that Valverde's efforts to hold on to the Vuelta's gold jersey may cost him in the end.

Citing Cunego, Luxembourg's Andy Schleck and Belgian Philippe Gilbert as his biggest rivals, Evans added: "Valverde too, if he bounces back all right."

One rider all of the above cannot fail to ignore is Spaniard Samuel Sanchez.

He took advantage of the tight marking of Valverde in Beijing last year to win the Olympic title and has form after finishing runner-up to his Spain teammate last Sunday.

"Sanchez will be a big threat, just as much as Valverde," warned Italy's team coach Franco Ballerini.

This year's course is more difficult from the one which allowed Ballan to race solo to victory last year in nearby Varese, Italy.

A 13.8km circuit will be raced 19 times and climb an impressive total of 4655 metres. On paper it suits the 'punchers' who excel in Europe's tough, hilly one-day classics - Valverde and Cunego being excellent examples.

But that is no obstacle to Swiss time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara, or a few outsiders who could seize their chance by joining an opportunistic breakaway.

Olympic time trial champion Cancellara, who also claimed bronze in the road race in Beijing behind Italy's Davide Rebellin, secured a record-equalling third time trial gold on Thursday.

He now believes he can become the first winner of the elite men's time trial and road race golds at the same championships.

"I dream of doing the double," he said Thursday. "I said during the Vuelta that I think I can do it. I have the motivation, the determination, and the confidence."

No eyebrows would be raised either if Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, Australian Simon Gerrans or Belgian ace Gilbert pulled off an upset.

Boasson Hagen has been one of the revelations of the season, and despite a poor showing in the time trial arrives in good form having won the Tour of Britain last week.

Gilbert admitted Friday he would not be launching any of his trademark solo breakaways, which so often end with him finishing without the win.

Supported by, among others 2005 champion Tom Boonen, the French-speaking Belgian said: "I won't be launching any crazy attacks from far out. I want to play more of a waiting game."

Although the finish line is on a flat stretch of road, two climbs - Acquafresca at the 3.6km mark and Torrazza di Novazzano 2.6km from the finish line - and some tricky descents and tight corners make breakaways a delicate affair.

And France's coach Laurent Jalabert, whose six-strong team contains two outsiders in Sylvain Chavanel and Pierrick Fedrigo, warned: "A (successful) breakaway could form before the final lap."


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