A look ahead to Sunday's men's road race at the 2014 UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain
When: Sunday September 28 2014
Distance: 254.8km (14 laps)
Where to watch: LIVE on BBC website and red button, highlights on BBC website shortly after
This year’s men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships has a certain changing-of-the-guard feel to it, both in terms of the usual nations that traditionally dominate the race, and the generation of riders favourite to win the coveted rainbow jersey.
On home roads, this could be the last chance for the talented Spanish climbing duo of Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez – now 34 and 35 respectively – to finally land the world title they have been chasing for so any years.
While Spain’s stars are aging, Italy’s pool already seems to have dried up, and enter this year’s race with a notable lack of big names aside from Vincenzo Nibali, who doesn’t seem to have the form to mount a challenge for the win.
Instead, the increasing globalisation of the sport is represented by the fact that the Australian team will likely be expected to take the responsibility of controlling the race, with pre-race favourite Simon Gerrans in their team.
Then there are the emerging cycling nations of a Michal Kwiatkowski-led Poland and climber-filled Colombia, both boasting the maximum roster of nine riders and capable of animating the race in a way their teams of old could never hope to.
One traditional powerhouse boasting a strong looking line-up is Belgium, although even in their case the star names are being overshadowed by a handful of young pretenders. Where once Tom Boonen would be confident of outgunning most sprinters-who-can-climb on a balanced course like this one, now he has John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff and Michael Matthews to contend with. And whereas no-one looked quicker up a kilometre long hill in 2012 than Philippe Gilbert, now the likes of Kwiatkoswi, and Dan Martin seem to have the beating of him.
Some long-dormant superpowers also seem to be re-emerging, with Germany hoping to combine the sprinting of Degenkolb with the power of super-domestrique Tony Martin to claim the nation’s first title since 1966, and France looking to emulate their success at the Tour with strong rides from the likes of youngsters Nacer Bouhanni, Romain Bardet and Tony Gallopin.
All this isn’t to say that no familiar faces will be in the mix come the final lap – Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan, for instance, have both targeted this race as their primary latter-season goal, and will be hoping for a first ever road race rainbow jersey.
As for Great Britain, a hilly course and persisting injuries has ruled out 2011 champion Mark Cavendish, leaving a roster full of outside bets. Chris Froome came out of the Vuelta in good form but has never shown a talent for one-day races like this, and so, despite being the team’s biggest name, is not their biggest hope for a win.
That label goes to Ben Swift, who has enjoyed a breakthrough season this year. Having demonstrated an ability to get over climbs at races like Milan-San Remo this year, to go alongside his fast finish, the 26-year old looks ideally suited to this kind of parcours, and will be hopeful of a top ten.
Classics star Ian Stannard missed out due to injury, but Commonwealth champion Geraint Thomas lines up along with fledgling talents Simon and Adam Yates. The twins both look like future winners, but for 2014 the men’s squad will probably have to settle for just Bradley Wiggins’ time trial gold medal.
2013 Rui Costa (Por)
2012 Philippe Gilbert (Bel)
2011 Mark Cavendish (GBr)
2010 Thor Hushovd (Nor)
2009 Cadel Evans (Aus)
2008 Alessandro Ballan (Ita)
2007 Paolo Bettini (Ita)
2006 Paolo Bettini (Ita)
2005 Tom Boonen (Bel)
2004 Oscar Freire (Spa)