The Italian national coach, Paolo Bettini likes what he sees in Valkenburg. His team has previewed the World Championships road race course for Sunday, when - even with a young team - anything is possible.
"I did it when I was young and I would've liked to have raced it when I was at my best," Bettini told Cycling Weekly. "However, I'm happy how it went for me. I won two titles all the same."
Bettini raced in his first Worlds in 1998, when the race last came to Valkenburg and Switzerland's Oscar Camenzind won. "I was young, it was my first Worlds and I didn't understand anything. It rained, it was 5°C and a very hard day."
He won gold in the 2006 Salzburg and the 2007 Stuttgart Worlds. He took over as national coach in 2010 after Franco Ballerini died. This year, due to new Italian Federation rules, he leads a young and relatively green team. Out of the 11 men selected (including two reserves), the average age is 27.2 and seven make their debut.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) will lead the team. He placed third behind Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in the Tour de France and nearly ran away with one-day wins in Milan-San Remo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
After a 106-kilometre transfer from Maastricht, the race finishes just down the road from Liège with 10 circuits around Valkenburg and up the Cauberg. It is similar to the finish of the Amstel Gold Race every April, but the line is another 1.5 kilometres down the road after the Cauberg climb.
"With the line on the top of the Cauberg, like in the Amstel Gold, whoever has the legs is able ride ahead and win. With the Cauberg, there are going to be at the most five or six riders playing for the title," added Bettini.
"Vincenzo is in great condition and has shown able to put everyone in trouble, you saw that in San Remo and Liège," Bettini added. He said that Nibali would need to attack early or get away on the final climb of the Cauberg because finishing in a small group would be a dangerous situation. In a sprint, he explained, "He would be at a very big disadvantage."
Spain's Alejandro Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez, Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Simon Gerrans (Australia), Peter Sagan (Slovakia) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) are favourites, Bettini said. "Spain and Belgium," he added, "will be in charge of controlling the race this year instead of Great Britain."
Road World Championships 2012: Coverage index
WorldTour transfers 2022: All of the men's and women's new signings for the 2022 season
Who's changing teams for 2022 and who's retiring from the world of professional cycling
By Tim Bonville-Ginn •
Here are all the riders retiring from the men's & women's WorldTour peloton in 2021
A list of every rider who is hanging up the bike and stepping back from racing at the end of 2021
By Tim Bonville-Ginn •