World Championships countdown, Varese, Italy, September 20, 2008
The world cup winner up against the new Olympic champ, last year's world title victor missing and the chance for returning champions to relive past glories... Ben Atkins looks at why the women's road race at this year's world championships is promising to be a smashing affair.
Italy should still prove to be the team to beat in 2008, even in the absence of reigning champion Marta Bastianelli. Last year's winner still awaits her fate after returning a non-negative doping test in July. Team captain Noemi Cantele - fourth in both of the last two editions - was born and raised in Varese, so no one will know the course better. Alongside her will be Olympic bronze medallist Tatiana Guderzo - who also won the worlds silver in 2004 in Verona.
Last years bronze medallist Giorgia Bronzini, who is always tough to beat in a sprint, will be another rider from the Squadra Azzura to look for as will be Giro dItalia and recent GP Plouay winner Fabiana Luperini, although she'll be working for the team as the course may not be hilly enough to play to her strengths.
Winner two years ago and last years silver medallist, Marianne Vos, leads the Netherlands team and is probably the overwhelming favourite, especially after missing the winning break in Beijing. Germany will, as usual, field a very strong team led by 2004 champion Judith Arndt, who has won the World Cup so convincingly this year. With her will be regular squad member Trixi Worrack and evergreen sprinter Ina Teutenberg, who is proving to be so much more than that with several breakaway victories this year.
Great Britain fields its strongest-ever womens team, It is led by Olympic champion Nicole Cooke and time trial silver medallist Emma Pooley, and ably supported by riders such as Sharon Laws. A strong team is what Cooke has missed in her previous worlds campaigns; so this, coupled with the confidence of her Beijing victory, could make it the Welshwomans year. The USA also fields a powerful team with Kristin Armstrong and Amber Neben backed up by a team that includes Katheryn Curi-Mattis and Kori Seehafer, both of whom have won world cup races this year.
Sweden wields a double-pronged attack with Olympic silver medallist Emma Johansson joined by 2002 and '03 champion Susanne Ljungskog - both are in with a good chance of victory. Further Anglophone interest takes the form of Canadians Alex Wrubleski and Erinne Willock and Oenone Wood and Nikki Egyed of Australia. The Australian team is based in Varese and this will be Woods last race before she retires.
In the womens time trial, Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong of the United States will definitely be the woman to beat, but she will come under pressure from Cervelo-Lifeforce team-mates Switzerlands Karin Thürig - bronze medallist in Beijing - and Austrias Christiane Soeder. Germanys Hanka Kupfernagel should also be a contender; the reigning world champion will want to make amends for a lacklustre performance at the Olympics. Others notable riders for the TT include Great Britains Emma Pooley, who won silver in Beijing but may find the course a little flat for her liking, and 2002 champion Zulfia Zabirova of Kazakhstan.