As promised, here are some of the Pavé staff’s picks for Sunday.
Nothing would make me happier than a win Sunday for Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert. Gilbert reminds me my all-time favorite—Michele Bartoli. Like Bartoli, Gilbert rides by feel—often attacking at moments when others might hesitate or second-guess their gut reaction. Bartoli was savvy, powerful, and possessed skills that led him to wins in Flanders, the Ardennes, and Lombardy. He was a true classics rider in every sense of the word.
Yet he never won a world title, and neither will Gilbert—at least not this year.
First of all, he’s favored too heavily. Even for such an aggressive rider, the weight of being the numero uno favorite is a death sentence in a race like Worlds. Worse though, this year’s race seems to favor sprinters—at least those able to handle themselves on selective courses. Look at the U23 road race: a group of about 40 hit the line with sprinters such as Matthews, Phinney, Boivin, and Degenkolb fighting for the title.
The strongest teams in this year’s race all feature sprinters able to handle themselves on the course in Melbourne. The USA (Farrar), Germany (Greipel), Australia (Goss), and Spain (Freire) would all be more than content to see the race come down to a group of 20-30 riders—as long as Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish fails to make the cut. Better still, each of these teams has a rider or two strong enough to win from a breakaway, thus forcing Gilbert’s Belgian squad to chase should they get away. (Boy, would things be different were Tom Boonen racing!) Expect several men to give it their best shot in a breakaway—including Kolobnev and Gilbert (two men from 9-men teams without traditional sprinters)—but ultimately fall short when Germany, the USA, and Spain reel them back in.
In the end, I see this year’s championship closely resembling 2000, when Romans Vainsteins won the sprint from a group of about 25. Thus, we need look no further than this year’s Grand Prix Ouest France in Plouay, for a preview of Sunday’s podium. The top two from August will remain the same, with Filippo Pozzato taking third for the azzurri.
My podium picks:
Gold: M. Goss
Silver: T. Farrar
Bronze: F. Pozzato
As for a dark horse candidate, look no further than Slovenia’s Grega Bole. The Lampre rider took the win in Stage 1 at this year’s Dauphiné, wining the sprint from a small group after a climb before the finish eliminated the other field sprinters. After a Tour spent at the service of Alessandro Petacchi, Bole contended for the win in Poland before taking scoring top-10’s (while working for Petacchi) at last month’s Vuelta. In 1999, a small Spanish sprinter named Oscar Freire latched himself onto the back of a breakaway to win his first world title in Verona—could Melbourne be Bole’s breakthrough?
There’s been much well-deserved talk about Gilbert’s and Pozzato’s respective chances at Worlds this year. With the Belgians and Italians each trying to convince the media that the other team will bear the responsibility of controlling the race, I think that the race will be won by a strong, savvy attacker that takes advantage of the duel between those two favorites and solos to victory. Fabian Cancellara wants stripes and will get them this year. He’s managed to avoid being labeled a favorite – the media are too busy speculating about whom he’ll ride for next year. With the Belgian and Italian teams promising to make the race difficult to drop the sprinters, and with all eyes on Gilbert and Pozzato in a reduced group in the final twenty kilometers or so, Spartacus will slip away for the victory and wear the stripes he’s wanted for so long. It’s been a good Grand Tour season, but we can’t have already forgotten his performance this spring, right?
Tyler Farrar will win the sprint from a small group to take second. He had a strong Vuelta, and more impressive than his two stage wins was finishing 2nd to Phillipe Gilbert on Stage 19′s technical, uphill sprint into Toledo. Don’t forget his 5th place at the Ronde this year, and with a full American team, he could arrive at the finish dressed to impress. Filippo Pozzato will roll across in 3rd place.
Phillipe Gilbert, the by-the-numbers favorite, will play some strong cards late, but get caught. His form will be off, spent too soon on a full-gas Vuelta.
My podium picks:
Gold: Fabian Cancellara
Silver: Tyler Farrar
Third: Filippo Pozzato
Edvald Boasson Hagen. He didn’t ride the Vuelta, so hasn’t had the preparation that top favorites have had, but this youngster impresses on the regular. If and countryman Thor Hushovd stay protected and move with the major teams, it’s possible that Boasson Hagen could be the ‘sprinter’ to win from a small group.
In spite of what we saw with the U-23 race, I still think this is a Worlds for the all-rounder/classics type. Expect them to use the short, steep hills midway through the circuit to wear out the sprinters. 6-7 laps in, look for a small selection of 20 or so riders to make a break stick, and for one of these guys to win from it:
Thor Hushovd: Thor’s tough as nails, and he knows how to read a race. He doesn’t have a strong team, but I don’t think thats going to matter as much as it would if the peloton stuck together. Uphill finish? Thor’s got that on lock, take a look at stage 6 of 2009′s Tour de France. The key to success for him is a selection late in the race, dropping the pure sprinters while leaving him in the mix. Too early, and I’d give the advantage to…
Philippe Gilbert: The Vuelta saw him in top form. Question is, did he peak too early? Given how dominant he was in the races following 2009′s Worlds (Paris-Tours being the most prestigious), I have a hunch he knows where his form will be come Sunday. Problem is, so do all of his rivals. Look for him to try to push for an early break, in the hopes he can shake guys like Hushovd loose.
Fabian Cancellara: He tried to downplay his form last week, and went on to best everyone in the TT by over a minute. He’s not fooling anyone, but that’s often the case – once the guy puts his head down and gets in to a rhythm, its hard to stop him. If he ends up at the front of the race with a couple of laps to go, it’ll be a question of when, not if, he’ll try to go off the front. If he gets a gap, it could be all over.
My podium picks:
End of the day, I think it’ll come down to a reduced field sprint, with things finishing up as:
Gold: Thor Hushovd
Silver: Philippe Gilbert
Bronze: Tyler Farrar
Sylvain Chavanel. Yeah, this is just me picking a sentimental favorite. He skipped the Vuelta, and he’s been pretty middling in his preparatory races (Plouay, QP Québec, GP Montréal, etc.) so his form is a bit of an unknown – Jalabert is downplaying his chances, but that could just be tactics. He’s known for his suicide attacks that inevitably end in failure – except for this year, where he made a few stick. I’ve also long harbored the view that a French victory would be good for cycling, and we need a little good right about now.
Think you have a better idea of who’s going to win? Let us know your podium and dark horse pick in the comments!