Hereâ€™s our run-down of the main favorites for Sundayâ€™s World Championship Road Race in Melbourne.Â Come back later today from predictions from our contributors.
Belgiumâ€™s Philippe Gilbert is the unquestioned top favorite heading into Sundayâ€™s Road Race in Melbourneâ€”but that might not be a good thing.Â After winning two stages at the Vueltaâ€”both in convincing fashionâ€”Gilbertâ€™s made no attempt at hiding his fitness.Â Heâ€™ll be heavily marked Sunday and his team will bear the responsibility of controlling the race.Â Even worse, there are some who wonder if heâ€™s peaked too soon.Â Remember last year when Damiano Cunego won two impressive stages at the Vuelta only to arrive at Worlds a fraction below where he was in Spain?
That said, Gilbert has two things working in his favor.Â First, heâ€™s the sole leader of a team composed almost entirely of riders from Gilbertâ€™s trade team, Omega Pharma-Lotto.Â Aerts, Hoste, Roelandts, Van Avermaet, and Bakelants are capable domestiques, familiar with Gilbert and his riding style.Â This chemistry could make the difference when it matters most.
Most importantly, Gilbert has never been afraid of attacking.Â Worlds is often won by a rider willing to take a chance when the favorites are too busy watching another to attack themselves.Â Gilbert wonâ€™t mark himself out of the raceâ€”should he find himself in a select group, heâ€™ll take matters into his own hands.Â If he is indeed the strongest rider on the day, there might be little the rest can do other than watch him ride away.
Italyâ€™s Filippo Pozzato rode a solid Vuelta, failing to take a stage but placing well on some of the more important days.Â After falling short at this yearâ€™s Spring Classics, Pozzatoâ€™s hoping he can end his season on a high note.Â With few exceptions, he leads an Italian squad capable of getting him where he needs to be to take the victory.Â Heâ€™ll need to find himself in a group select enough to have eliminated the better sprinters, while still having the legs to follow the attacks of men like Gilbert.Â Bettini claims heâ€™s not quite in the shape he needs to winâ€”is he bluffing?
Kolobnev has come close to important wins several times over the past two seasons.Â After an anonymous but productive Vuelta, the Russian leads a team hoping to win the nation its first elite title sinceâ€”well, ever!Â Kolobnev has finished second twiceâ€”in 2007 and 2009â€”and with a smart and gutsy ride, he could go one better in Australia.Â Should the sprinters ride to keep the race together and the attackers mark one another too heavily, Kolobnev could be just the man to jump away for the win.
Tyler Farrar, Matthew Goss, and Thor Hushovd
Farrar, Goss, and Hushovd have similar talents, stylesâ€”and prospect for Sunday.Â More powerful than pure field sprinters, but less able to follow the sharp accelerations of men like Gilbert and Kolobnev, theyâ€™ll be hoping for a selective, but not overly aggressive finale.Â Should a smallish peloton hit the final kilometer intact (as in Fridayâ€™s U23 road race), look for these men to quickly find their way at the front.Â Of the three, Hushovd has the most experience in such a pressure-cooker of a race, but Goss and Farrar have proven their mettle with several quality wins over the course of the season.Â An interesting dynamic to watch for: Farrar and Hushovd are future teammates on the new Garmin-Cerveloâ€”could that play a role Sunday?
Slovkiaâ€™s Peter Velits already has one world title to his nameâ€”he won the 2007 U23 road race in Stuttgart, Germany.Â After a stage win and third place overall finish at the Vuelta, he appears ready to challenge for a another.Â If he manages to maintain his Spanish fitness, heâ€™ll be a major contender Sundayâ€”and someone who could easily spoil the plans of the larger national teams.Â With Peter Sagan and brother Martin riding in support, Slovakia boasts one of the strongest small teams in the race.Â Is another rainbow in Velitsâ€™ future?
Fabian Cancellara came to Melbourne with one purposeâ€”well two, actually.Â After winning his fourth world time trial championship Thursday, Spartacus is halfway to achieving his goal.Â After his dominating performance, it appears as if Cancellara knew exactly what he was doing when he dropped-out of the Vuelta before the final weekend.Â Has he timed his peak just right, hitting his top fitness just as others are losing theirs?Â Weâ€™ll soon see, but if he manages to do the double, his season will go down as one of the finest in recent history.
Spainâ€™s strength could prove to be its biggest weakness, as the nationâ€™s over-abundance of cards to play could produce a perfect case of too many cooks spoiling the rainbow broth.Â With Carlos Barredo, Luis Leon Sanchez, Samuel Sanchez, and Oscar Freire all taking the line Sunday, itâ€™s easy to see why we could see a rekindling of the Spanish Civil War.Â Freireâ€™s an obvious candidate for the winâ€”especially in the event of a sprint.Â Heâ€™s been relatively silent since winning Milan-San Remo in March, a fact whichâ€”come to think itâ€”might just mean heâ€™s due.
With a third-place finish in the Giro to go with his recent overall victory in the Vuelta, Vincenzo Nibali might have been excused for calling it a season by nowâ€”but heâ€™s not finished yet.Â An aggressive and savvy rider with several one-day victories to his name, Nibaliâ€™s an outside threat to win Sundayâ€”if given a long enough leash.Â Should Pozzato show any signs of weakness, look for Italian DS Paolo Bettini to make a mid-race change, perhaps giving team leadership to the Sicilian.
Frank Schleck & Nicholas Roche
Until we hear otherwise, Schleck and Roche â€œofficiallyâ€ finished fifth and seventh in the Vuelta, results that bode well them here.Â Schleck leads a small squad of only three men in Melbourne, but before you scoff, remember that this is a man who won the Amstel Gold Raceâ€”he knows to handle himself in a one-day event.Â As for Roche, his steady progression over the past two years has him poised for a breakout win.Â A win Sunday would officially announce the Irishmanâ€™s arrival into the sportâ€™s upper echelon.Â He would also make history by providing the sport with its first set of father-son world champions.
Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish
Part of me hopes the race comes down to bunch sprint just for the chance to see Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish go head-to-head in one of their final races as â€œteammatesâ€.Â Greipelâ€™s team is by far one the strongest in the race; unfortunately, they might lack a rider able to follow the likes of Gilbert, Kolobnev, and Pozzato.Â Paul Martens and Tony Martin are the teamâ€™s best bets from a breakaway, but in all likelihood the Germans will be doing their best to keep Greipel in contention for a sprint victory.Â As for Cavendish, his team starts only three menâ€”a clear disadvantage for Cav. Jeremy Hunt will likely be charged with looking after Boy Racer, while David Millar should be free to try his own hand.Â Cavendish surprised us all last year by winning Milan-San Remoâ€”a race many thought was too tough for him.Â Can he perform a similar feat Sunday?
Allan Davis, Matti Breschel, Peter Sagan, Giovanni Visconti, Greg Henderson, and France
Who are your favorites for Sunday?Â Share your comments below.