By Gregor Brown
Cycling's big nations are announcing their teams, and leaders, this week for the World Championships. The road race parcours next Sunday, September 29, will breathe in the Tuscan air, mix with the countryside's golden hues and climb around 3000 metres before finishing in Florence.
Great Britain's Chris Froome called it a course for climbers after a visit. Many observers expect it to be the hardest in years, since Lugano in 1996 or Hamilton in 2003. Teams are fielding climbers who, if they are lucky, can sprint.
Only eight countries - Spain, Colombia, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, France, Poland and Switzerland - earned a full nine spots. Great Britain takes eight men and Belgium, the most successful nation with 26 titles, fields seven.
Belgium takes defending champion, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing). Gilbert won on the Valkenburg course last year, finishing among screaming, drunk Dutch fans and on the same Cauberg climb that closes the Amstel Gold Race. Despite a drought of victories in 2013, he proved to be ready for the worlds with a Vuelta a España stage win. The pressure will not all fall on Gilbert, Belgian National Coach Carlo Bomans said yesterday that Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) could respond and go with attacks.
Spain announces its team tomorrow (Wednesday), but already has rivals worried with riders like Luis León Sánchez (Belkin), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel), Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff). Contador specifically skipped the Vuelta a España and programmed a series of one-day races to be prepared.
Italy, behind Belgium, has the most World titles. This year, the event takes on greater importance with it being on home soil. National coach Paolo Bettini wants to make an impression, a bronze medal at least, to pull Italy out of its recent drought. As reported yesterday, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will lead the team. If he cannot shake most of his rivals on the climbs then Italy will work for Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) in an eventual small group finish.
The Netherlands fields a group of climbers, including GP Quebec winner, Robert Gesink (Belkin). France still has to name its final team, which should feature Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard). Colombia, after an outstanding season, also earned nine spots. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Darwin Atapuma (Colombia) and Rigoberto Urán (Sky) are just a few of its options.
Australia earned nine spots but lost its ace, climber/sprinter Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) to a hip fracture. The team could likely work with nations like Great Britain to make the race for its climbers, Richie Porte (Sky) and former champion, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).
Froome (Sky) should lead Great Britain's team with a strong supporting cast that could include Bradley Wiggins (Sky). Sir Bradley is down for the time trial, but said that he is ready to support Froome. "I always relish the opportunity to be able to ride the worlds for Great Britain, whoever the leader is and do a job that's asked of me," Wiggins told the Telegraph newspaper. "[If] Chris manages to win it and I can play a part in it, then that's a very satisfying thing."
Some of the smaller nations include Slovakia, which will clearly lead with Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Denmark has Matti Breschel (Saxo-Tinkoff), Norway Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Russia Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha).
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