VALKENBURG, Netherlands (AFP) –
Philippe Gilbert and Tom Boonen will lead a powerful Belgian team as the world championship road race takes centre stage on the roads around Valkenburg on Sunday.
“No other team will be as strong as Belgium with Tom as a sprinter and myself as an attacker,” boasted Gilbert ahead of the 267km race over rolling terrain on the final day of the one-week championships.
Gilbert will definitely fancy his chances on a route very similar to that used for the Amstel Gold Race one-day classic, which he has won twice in 2010 and 2011 before finishing sixth in 2012.
The difference is the finish line, which comes after the climb to Cauberg and is 1.8km further ahead after an initial 500m ascent before 1.3km of flat sprinting which makes Gilbert’s task that much harder to hold off the speedsters in the peloton.
“It will be another kind of race,” warned Gilbert. “No-one is going to go flat out to Cauberg in order to retain energy for the final 2km.”
The attacking riders or punchers will need to be wary of the sprinters who possess climbing skills and will try to stay in touch over the Valkenburg climbs that will come into play over 10 laps of the 16.5km circuit which is proceeded by 100km of racing across several Limburg municipalities.
Defending champion Mark Cavendish is being given little chance of retaining the rainbow jersey, while Britain’s team come into the race with little left in the tank and Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and runner-up Chris Froome feeling the effects of an exhausting season.
The pick of the sprinters is Boonen, who was very much the man in form early in the season and his victory during the Paris-Brussels race underlines his credentials as not only a sprinter but a strong one-day racer as he chases a second world crown seven years on from his triumph on the roads of Madrid.
“Boonen is not just a sprinter,” warned French hope Thomas Vockler, who also has championship credentials after a strong season, including two stage wins on the Tour de France and winner of the climber’s polka-dot jersey.
Other contenders to look for are Slovakian champion Peter Sagan, who picked up three stage wins on the Tour and finished third at Cauberg during the Amstel Gold Cup race.
Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway is another rider who will like the conditions and his outright speed has brought him into the frame as another potential champion on Sunday.
The weather may also play havoc with the race with the possibility that national teams will build their strategy around their punchers such as Simon Gerrans of Australia (winner of the Quebec GP), Russia’s Alexandr Kolobnev or the Italian duo of Moreno Moser and Vincenzo Nibali.
While Belgium may have the strongest team on paper, the Spaniards will be also be near the front as Tour of Spain winner Alberto Contador makes his return to the race following suspension and is well-supported by Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez and 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez
Three-time world champion and 36-year-old veteran Oscar Freire will take inspiration from Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov who won the Olympic gold medal at 39.