Friday, September 21, 2012

World Champions Preview - Road Race

Ever since this course was revealed, one rider has been everybody’s big time favorite; Philippe Gilbert. He was unbeatable last season and with the finishing line like just a few kilometers after Cauberg, I too couldn’t really see any other rider taking the rainbow jersey. That was last year though. This season Gilbert has struggled to perform and if it hadn’t been for his two stage wins in Vuelta España I think many would have only counted Gilbert as a dark horse for this Sunday. Now he’s suddenly the big favorite again and even though I must admit it’s hard not to take him as my winner pick, I honestly see a handful of riders able to challenge him.

The fact that the finish line is located 1,7 km after the top of Cauberg means that riders like Peter Sagan, Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde will have a good chance of coming back if Gilbert should manage to drop them. And yes, I think it all will come down to Cauberg. The Belgian team and the Spanish team are simply too strong and with a course like this one they can’t afford not to work hard in order to keep it together in the end. Furthermore they will have Slovakia (6 riders) and probably Australia (9 riders) to help out as well. Simon Gerrans may not want to go up mano a mano with Gilbert and Sagan but he sure doesn’t want to attack 50 kilometers out either. He has been showing great shape lately and Australia need to make sure he gets delivered in a perfect position. This means we have at least four teams to control the peloton and even though opportunistic riders like Thomas Voeckler, Vincenzo Nibali and Alexander Kolobnev want to have a say too, I think this World Champion (like last year) will be won by one of the big favorites.

For quite some time I’ve been naming Alejandro Valverde as my personal favorite for the rainbow jersey and I won’t change that. Despite a hard Tour de France it seems like Valverde came out of the Vuelta as one of the strongest riders and even though Spain have 9 guys who can win this race, I think it will be a mistake not to aim to win with Valverde. Oscar Freire, Dani Moreno, Samuel Sanchez and Purito are all excellent riders for this type of course but in a sprint right after Cauberg none of them can match Valverde’s finish - not even Freire! Alejandro Valverde has a very rare killer instinct when he sees the finish line, like Danilo Di Luca, and if he’s in the front when the approaching Cauberg for the last time, I think  he will be more than difficult to beat. The way I see it, this will be a fight between Valverde, Gilbert and Sagan - probably in that order too as Sagan doesn’t seem as fast right now as earlier this year.

As always I have a couple of jokers too and this being the World Champions one of these is Matti Breschel. I’m not just been patriotic, I actually think Matti has a solid chance of another medal. He should have won in Australia two years ago and after two years full of bad luck it’s now time to take revenge. He showed in Vuelta a Burgos that his shape is good when he won Stage 3 and again in the Vuelta when he tried to anticipate Gilbert’s winning move in La Lastrilla. According to himself he’s not among the favorites and that’s true. He’s not a favorite, but he is one of the outsiders. Matti Breschel is an excellent championship rider who always performs on the big scenes and if he has one of his great days he should do top10 for sure and why not podium again…

Another joker is Moreno Moser. The young Italian has been outstanding in this first year as professional with many great wins and together with Vincenzo Nibali and Oscar Gatto, Moser is probably the best Italian pick for a medal. For the first time in many years the Italian team isn’t build around one rider and that means Azzurri will have to attack, attack and attack if they want to win. Nibali has never been afraid of attacking from afar and even though he often lack some tactical sense you’ve got to admire his way of riding. Like Nibali, Moreno Moser also knows how to take the peloton by surprise. Despite his young age I would say we already know his signature move - a late attack within the final kilometers. Moser has an outstanding engine and if he manages to get up over Cauberg among the first 10-20 riders, I will say it’s almost certain he will try with a solo move on the last 1,7 kilometers. Portuguese Rui Costa is also a rider to look out for this Sunday. Same goes for Michael Albasini and Tour of Britain winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke.

Winner pick: Alejandro Valverde
Jokers: Matti Breschel & Moreno Moser

During the Vuelta España I had a daily winner pick duel with Eurosport blogger Blazin' Saddles. Surprisingly enough it all ended in a draw after 21 stages, so to settle the score I'll go head-2-head against Felix at the World Champions. You have my winner pick and two jokers already, here are his:

Winner pick: Philippe Gilbert
Joker: Simon Gerrans & Rui Costa

Explanation: The Belgian is coming into form after a terrible season. Two Vuelta stage wins has turned things round for Gilbert, who won the Amstel Gold Race in successive years over these roads. He knows what it's like to win on the Cauberg, plus he has the sprint to take it after the flat 1.7km run over the summit. Peter Sagan has been quiet recently, suggesting his best form came back during his hat-trick of wins during the Tour, while Alejandro Valverde will be exhausted from his final-week exertions during the Vuelta. The flat run-in won't help the Spaniard either. That said, if Sagan is in touch with the leaders over the top of the 10th and final ascent of the Cauberg, then he'll be near-impossible to beat. For my joker, I was tempted by Rui Costa, the in-form Portuguese, and also by Thomas Voeckler, who has the whole French squad behind him on what seems to be a tailor-made course. But I'll go for Simon Gerrans instead. The Australian has ordered his season with the Worlds in mind; he's in form after his win in Quebec and he's podiumed in the Amstel Gold before. If anyone can cause an upset, it's Gerrans.

1 comment:

  1. My Winner Pick: Peter Sagan
    Joker: Edvald Boassen Hagen & Diego Ulissi