This year’s World Championship is expected to be one for the sprinters. A flat course in Copenhagen practically guarantees it. But after many of the sport’s top sprinters have suffered through injury-plagued seasons, is anyone left standing to take advantage of the course? And given that many of the more veteran sprinters seem to be performing below form, could a youngster win outright?
Here’s our take:
Team Italy has enjoyed a decent run of success at Worlds in the last decade. After years of fractional rivalry, late coach Franco Ballerini – himself twice winner of Paris-Roubaix – united the team to deliver Mario Cipollini, Paolo Bettini (twice), and Alessandro Ballan to victory. Not only that, Team Italy won the 2004 Olympic Road Race with Paolo Bettini. Last year was Bettini’s first outing as national director though; and he was heavily criticized for wrongly predicting the race. How will he fare this year?
Sprinters Alessandro Petacchi and Daniele Bennati had declared their intention to earn leadership status at the beginning of the season, and designed their season around the RR. Petacchi had a good start despite his age, winning a stage of the Giro before lagging behind in the Tour and in the Vuelta. As a result, he was left off the azzurri’s selection. On the other hand, Bennati seems to be warming up just in time for the Worlds, winning a stage at the Vuelta. This is also an exciting time for Italy’s younger sprinters. Andrea Guardini has matched Cavendish’s 11-wins in his debut season. And Sacha Modolo has had a very good season, too, as have Daniel Oss and Elia Viviani. The squad is drilled and disciplined. It will be up to Bennati and Modolo to lead the way Sunday, with Oss, Viviani, and Gavazzi all possible upset threats. And if the team comes home empty-handed, don’t be surprised if changes are made at the top. Italy’s Chances: 6/10.
Team Great Britain
No discussion on sprinters is complete without mentioning Team GB and Mark Cavendish. Very few will argue that Cav is the top sprinter in the business today. The question is how he will do without his well-drilled HTC-Columbia leadout train. His decision to abandon the sinking HTC-Columbia ship made headlines, as did his departure from the Vuelta. It was understood that he would never attempt the steepest slopes of the Vuelta, but it was very early and he claimed fatigue. Could he have been right? He has a powerful squad supporting him and will be eager to prove that he’s the man to beat in London in 2012. Can he do it? Great Britain’s Chances: 7/10.
One youngster that we think has a terrific chance to take the win is Peter Sagan. Despite his young age, he has surprising staying power even in long races, a trait that is key to winning Worlds. As his 3 wins at the Vuelta indicate, Sagan is in burning hot form. His win in Madrid left little doubt that he’s the fastest rider in the world. Even with only two men supporting him, we think he can win outright – signaling a changing of the guard. Slovakia’s Chances: 9/10.
This year is arguably Team USA’s best shot in a long time. Sprinter Tyler Farrar has had a good season so far, with his Tirreno-Adriatico and TdF stage wins capping what has been a breakthrough campaign both for him and his Garmin-Cervelo team. He was shaken up quite a bit due to the death of close friend Wouter Weylandt, causing him to leave the Giro, but his Tour win certainly erased doubts regarding his form. An injury in the Vuelta means that he didn’t have as good a build-up as he wished, but Team USA boasts a strong roster: many of whom are coming off high-altitude training in Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge and competitive racing in Canada’s GP Quebec and GP Montreal. USA’s Chances: 7/10.
The defending team of Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (EBH) should not be discounted. As their double-double stage wins at the Tour de France indicated, both men have shown they can win in any number of ways.
Hushovd is suffering from a bad cold and taking penicillin. While he claims that it did not hamper his preparation—he did win a stage in the Tour of Britain—a race of attrition like Worlds could challenge him. He may well choose to ride for EBH. Norway’s Chances: 7/10.
On paper, Australia has the best team in the race, with Chris Sutton, Heinrich Haussler, Matthew Goss and Baden Cooke all capable of handling themselves in a race that should end in a sprint. Sporting consideration was said to necessitate Renshaw being left off of the team, with the long distance leading questions as to his staying power. In the end, Team Oz’s chances hinge on Goss and Haussler, with Sutton a wild card if he can hndle the estra distance. Could Sunday bring Australia’s second win in three years? Australia’s Chances: 8/10.
Andre Greipel got his wish for a Tour de France stage, but other than that win we have most seen him play a supporting role for his teammates. It has been noted that Greipel has the fastest finishing speed in the business today—if he can get himself into a good position for the final dash to the line. In a chaotic finish, and absent his HTC train from last year, we’ve seen him flounder in the less-drilled OmegaPharma-Lotto team. His success will rely largely on luck: Germany by itself does not have the muscles to lead-out from far away and hope to keep it together to the finish. That said, the rise of Marcel Kittel has certainly made Team Germany’s odds better than it has been in years. The youngster beat the veterans early in the Vuelta. But he did leave early, and was not named leader anyway. Germany’s Chances: 4/10.
Traditionally, team Spain has relied on excellent teamwork, willingness to sacrifice, and Oscar Freire. Time and again Freire has surprised critics by winning in the most audacious ways. With 3 Worlds wins under his belt, a fourth win will break Merckx’ record. Freire is very motivated, but is his form up to par? He has had a meager season so far. However, one thing that “Il Gatto” or “The Cat” is famous for, is his sense of timing and ability to navigate a confusing finishing push. The problem is that Freire is famous for being “lazy” as far as training goes, and relies on a busy racing schedule to find his form. An early exit from the Vuelta is certainly not a good sign. 5/10.
Selector Carlo Bomans is probably pulling his hair out now. At the start of the season, star and former champ Tom Boonen would have been the clear leader. Even Phil Gilbert said so. But now Boonen is not even sure that he could continue his 2011 campaign after a bad concussion in TdF and a wrist injury in the Vuelta. Now Gilbert has been named team leader. Given how astonishingly good his results are this year, who are we to dare to question his chances? While the parcours may not be tailor-made for Gilbert, an uphill finish might play into Team Belgium’s hands.
If it all comes back together for the finale, look for Greg Van Avermaet to be the designated sprinter. He’s had a so-so season so far, but has been coming into his own as a leader. He finished well at Worlds last year too, and clearly knows how to peak for such a late date on the calendar.
But given Gilbert’s still-hot form, we think that he has an excellent chance for a win. 8/10.
What about you? Who’s your pick for Sunday’s World Championship?
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