Men’s Road World Championships 2011

Well, its Worlds time again and all of the season’s familiar questions are popping up again, such as ‘Will Gilbert win?’ and ‘Who can beat Gilbert?’. Will it be one of the riders in this rather shoddily made collage? Or will it be someone whose outline I couldn’t be bothered to trace around in such as Matt Goss or Fabian Cancellara?

Hushovd is looking to be the first man to defend his title since Paolo Bettini did it all those years ago in 2007. Despite missing out on the Vuelta to prepare for possible murky UCI points-related reasons, he had a good Tour of Britain and his partner in crime in Norway’s Tour domination Eddy Boss should be a reliable superdomestique. Boasson Hagen could even be an outside bet himself.

Phil Gil is the other big name everyone is looking towards. Can he get his 19th victory in what will be his 72nd day of racing this year? Looking at the 4% gradient of the final 500 metres it doesn’t seem a dead cert that he will prevail against riders with a better sprint. The penultimate ‘major’ hill is more than 8km out and from past results Gilbert isn’t the most successful at holding off a peloton on the flat. It’s pretty hard to write him off though, so I won’t.

Mark Cavendish has proved he can last the distance (Sanremo 09) and with his win in Cap Fréhel in this year’s Tour, he proved that he can mix it up in the  uphill sprints. The finish in Copenhagen looks to be a bit steeper than that though, and with the other countries working against Britain, its going to be a big challenge for Cav, although he will have a good team surrounding him with his (probable) future teammates from Sky.

His former teammate/rival/specialist in “shit small races” André Greipel looks a better bet for an uphill sprint like this, and has already proved he can beat him in this year’s Tour stage to Carmaux. If he has good form, he is a definite possibility.

The often overlooked Óscar Freire has already said that this race will be make or break for him. I doubt there would be many cycling fans who would be unhappy at the prospect of a Freire victory. He hasn’t had a great year with his nasal/respiratory problems proving disruptive, but with his ability to turn on him form at a few weeks notice he will certainly be up there at the finish.

Young Slovak prodigy Peter Sagan has had a fantastic year, winning three stages at the Vuelta and dominating the Tour de Pologne. Not proven at this distance (though he finished a credible 17th in Sanremo this year) and with a small team, he is definitely an outsider at his first World Championships.  If this parcours was to be used in 2013, it would be pretty hard to bet against him, but his inexperience at this distance means his victory this year wouldn’t be so certain. He would be the second-youngest World Champion after Karel Kaers if he did manage to pull it off.

Matt Goss has broken through this year with his win in Sanremo in March. He hasn’t had a fantastic year since, but as Australia’s leader, he will have a strong team. If he can reproduce the form he had six months ago, he will certainly be fighting for the victory at the finish.

It seems strange to call 2011 a disappointment for Fabian Cancellara’s, as he finished on the podium at Sanremo, De Ronde, and Roubaix. In addition to that, his crown as the ‘World’s Best Time-Trialist’ seems to have been usurped by Tony Martin this year (more on that later). If he hits the form he had in Mendrisio two years ago he can be a contender but we will probably have to wait until after the TT for confirmation of that.

It’s an odd feeling to go through the favourites for the World Championships and not mention any Italian riders. A ruling by the Italian Federation excluding riders who had doped in the past means that Di Luca, Rebellin, Petacchi, Basso and Scarponi will have no place in the Paolo Bettini’s Azzurri squad in Copenhagen. I am doubtful whether any of those riders would’ve been among the major contenders. Petacchi maybe, but he hasn’t had a stellar year. Daniele Bennati will lead the team, assisted by some decent fastmen (Modolo, Oss, Gavazzi, Viviani, Belletti are all on the shortlist). His sprint win in the Vuelta seemed more as a result of the best sprinters having left the race than him being in great form, and so I wouldn’t rate Italy’s chances of taking gold very highly.

World Championships Road Race Circuit Profile, Copenhagen

The Time Trial, of course, seems a lot more clear cut than the Road Race. No doubt Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara will resume their battle to be crowned the world’s number one time trialist, with Martin having the upper hand after his victories in the Tour and Vuela. Cancellara should never be ruled out however, and it will undoubtedly be a close battle.

The other man in the photo above is good old Dave Millar. He should be a contender though since the Giro d’Italia, he hasn’t seemed too strong. Amongst the other contenders for third place in the Time Trial will be: Britain’s other hope Bradley Wiggins, recently out-time trialed by his own domestique, along with Marco Pinotti, young Taylor Phinney, new Sky signing Richie Porte, and Gustav Erik Larsson. The full startlist including start-times is here.

All that remains for us to do is wait and hope that we get a race as good as last year’s!

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