The riders to watch for the men's elite road race
The outcome of this year's elite men's world championship road race is difficult to predict, with the last climb of the Cauberg offering a launch pad for attacks and the final 1.5km to the finish and giving the sprinters and their teams a chance to bring the race back together.
This means that other factors such as the weather, team tactics and even professional team alliances, could decide if an attacker or sprinter pulls on the rainbow jersey on Sunday.
Cyclingnews expects one of the following ten riders to take the title.
Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)
Gilbert lives just over the border from the world championship course, seems perfectly suited to the demands of the Cauberg and is fast enough to win a sprint finish. He finally found some flashes of form at the Vuelta a España and is the Belgian bookmakers' favourite at 13:5. His biggest rival could be Belgian teammate Tom Boonen. Will the Flandrian let an attack with Gilbert in it go clear over the top of the Cauberg or insist the Belgian team works for a sprint finish?
Tom Boonen (Belgium)
Boonen has resurrected his career in recent months and would love a second year in the rainbow jersey after winning in Madrid in 2005. Despite never being competitive in the Amstel Gold Race, he is confident of surviving the Cauberg and is convinced he can win the sprint just 1.5km after summit. However his hopes of victory are perhaps in the hands of others. If the attackers work together over the top of the Cauberg and stay away, Boonen will be left to sprint for the minor placings.
Simon Gerrans (Australia)
The Australian team has secured a place on the world championship podium for the last three years but their chances look weaker this year with the absence of 2009 world champion Cadel Evans and sprinter Matt Goss. Gerrans is on form - he proved it by the way he won the recent Gran Prix de Quebec, but the Australian team lacks alternatives and some experienced hands. Gerrans is a fighter and showed he has the class to compete at this level by winning Milano-Sanremo, but he and Australia will have to hope that other several nations force a very selective race.
Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)
No nation feels the importance of the world championships like Italy. But "La Squadra" has scaled back its hopes and ambitions after the Italian Federation President Renato Di Rocco introduced a rule blocking riders who have served doping bans or who are involved in doping investigation. National coach Paolo Bettini has been forced to build his team around Vincenzo Nibali, with talented young riders Moreno Moser and Diego Ulissi as alternative.
Nibali has worked to hang onto some form after his excellent Tour de France but his lack of a fast finish will be a major handicap if a large group reforms after the final climb of the Cauberg. Watch for the Sicilian to try and go away with Joaquim Rodriguez on the climb. A medal of any colour would mean a successful for a redimensioned Italian team.
Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
Sagan dominated the green jersey competition and the ways of celebrating victory at the Tour de France but has admitted he no longer has the form of the summer after racing for far more days than he should have.
Sagan may also struggle to handle the distance, especially with little team support. He will have to play a waiting game, but as in the spring classics, his youthful temperament and lack of experience could cancel out his huge talent.
John Degenkolb (Germany)
The young German earned a leadership role and tag of favourite for the world championships thanks to his five stage victories at the Vuelta a España. He can handle the hills far better than many of his sprint rivals but will need to match his finishing speed with excellent climbing skills and perfect race tactics to have a shot at the world title.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
Boasson Hagen showed his form and class by winning the GP Plouay-Ouest France with an unbeatable late solo attack and is the sole protected rider in the Norway team due to the absence of Thor Hushovd.
The quiet man from Lillehammer has the strength to go with attacks on the Cauberg and the finishing speed to win the sprint on Sunday but doubts remain if he can read a race to perfection and really fight for victory in an important sprint finish, without the support of Team Sky to help him.
Alejandro Valverde (Spain)
The Spanish team includes Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez, but Valverde has the best chance of another Spanish world championship success.
He showed his form at the Vuelta and seemed to improve as the race went on, even if he was unable to match Contador. He has won Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche-Wallonne in his glory years but surprisingly not the Amstel Gold Race which perhaps suits him even better. His excellent sprint could mean he spoils the UCI's annual party and completes his comeback from his blood doping suspension with the rainbow jersey.
Oscar Freire (Spain)
Freire is very close to the end of his career and will only race on in 2013 if he wins a fourth world title in the Netherlands. It would seem against all the odds but Freire knows how to peak and win world championships. He will remain invisible for most of the race but will know where to be on the final climb of the Cauberg and then take advantage of anyone else's mistakes.
Thomas Voeckler (France)
French national coach Laurent Jalabert picked Voeckler as team leader due to a lack of any other real alternative. The Europcar rider has shown some form after recovering from his excellent Tour de France but now seems to be doubtful about his chances after struggling to fight off the jet-lag after racing in Canada.
However, Voeckler likes a fight and will no doubt try to shout himself to success and pull his face in agony. He arrived in Limburg early this week and has stacked up long rides to get ready for Sunday. It might not be enough but he is the only card France has to play.
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