Worlds class: The espoirs of Verona

Five years on, which Under-23 riders made the cut?

Every year, the potential winner of the elite men's road race seems to dominate talk surrounding the World Championships. One of the races on the Worlds programme that frequently offers great racing is the espoirs championship, where the World's best Under-23 riders throw caution to the wind in their quest for glory.

With much of the field hungry to impress in the battle for a professional contract, the racing is possibly more intense than the elite men's finale. Team tactics play a lesser role and those last men standing are all in with a shout at the title.

Often the champions of tomorrow are forged in this cauldron of competition, which is why a look back five years - to the espoirs race at the 2004 world championships in Verona - may be a useful guide to the personalities in this year's elite men's road race.

Cyclingnews has picked the cream of the crop from a particularly rich batch of espoirs in Verona and ranked them in order of potential for this year's elite men's world championships road race.

1. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) - 31st in 2004

A win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and second overall in this year's Tour de France have been the highlights of the season for the younger of the Schleck brothers. The buzz surrounding Saxo Bank's star (and Cyclingnews blogger) is totally justified by his results and an affable nature to boot. A hilly Mendrisio circuit should suit the tall, lean Luxembourger, who'll surely be one of the main contenders on Sunday.

2. Matti Breschel (Denmark) - Sixth in 2004

Breschel finished last year's world championship road race in third, behind Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego, and has said he'll be aiming for a similar performance on Sunday in Mendrisio. Excels on terrain that other sprinters may find a little too difficult due to his slighter build and ability to get over climbs whilst maintaining plenty of power for the bunch kick. Won't be high in too many prognostics but he could throw up a surprise.

Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus) was the winner of the Under-23 World Championship road race in Verona, 20043. Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus) - First in 2004

Siutsou took out the espoirs title with a classy ride in 2004 and has demonstrated that it was no fluke ever since. A stage win in this year's Giro d'Italia after a brave solo move late in the day indicated he has the goods to win at Grand Tour level. He's powerful yet agile enough to get over some tough terrain; this Columbia-HTC rider could be worth a long-odds bet.

4. Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia) - 13th in 2004

Brajkovic won the Under-23 time trial title in Verona before backing up for a top-20 in the road race. One of the best climbing talents to emerge in the last five years, the Slovenian hasn't enjoyed his best season in 2009, although a strong performance in Mendrisio could rectify that. One of the dark horses for a top-10, there's not much of him to watch for, so he'll certainly make his move with stealth.

5. Philip Deignan (Ireland) - 17th in 2004

This Irishman largely flew under the radar until his arrival at the Cervélo TestTeam in 2009; this season he has impressed mightily, with a strong ride in the Giro d'Italia and a stage win at the Vuelta to his credit. After his performance in Verona, Deignan went on to finish ninth in the 2005 Under-23 World Championship road race in Madrid, beating the likes of Lars Boom and Mark Cavendish.

6. Giovanni Visconti (Italy) - Seventh in 2004

Visconti is part of the Italian juggernaut and it's likely he'll be a domestique for the likes of Cunego and Ballan. While holding the crown of Italian national champion he spent eight days in the leader's jersey at the Giro d'Italia in 2008; this is when most observers began taking notice. A talented rider now plying his trade with Professional Continental team ISD after a move from Quick Step, Visconti will be a valuable ally for the big guns on Sunday.

7. Nicolas Roche (Ireland) - 22nd in 2004

Irish fans have been looking to the son of cycling legend Stephen Roche to come to prominence in the pro peloton and over the past two seasons, young Nicolas has delivered. He has ridden with maturity and poise in 2009, with 23rd overall in the Tour de France no mean feat on his first attempt. In tandem with Philip Deignan, Roche is the future of Irish cycling and may be able to ride into a decent result in Switzerland.

8. Tyler Farrar (USA) - 28th in 2004Tyler Farrar (centre) was a member of the USA's Under-23 World Championship team in 2004.

Tyler Farrar has been knocking on the door of big things for the past two seasons and in 2009 he joins other members of the 'Class of '04' in delivering on that promise. His first grand tour stage win at the Vuelta a España and domination of the sprints at the ENECO Tour have demonstrated the speed of this young American, who has been brought to the highest level by Jonathan Vaughters' Garmin-Slipstream squad. Mendrisio may not suit him but he'll give it his best shot regardless.

9. Thomas Rohregger (Austria) - 33rd in 2004

Rohregger is another rider who has quietly crept up in the pro scene since his ride in the 2004 espoirs World Championship road race. Now spoken of a potential grand tour stage winner due to his climbing ability, he may well be the antidote required by Austrian cycling after the Bernhard Kohl saga. He'll be part of a solid Austrian squad which could come home with a top-10 performance.

While we've looked at those riders who will be riding at this year's world championships, there are a host of other notable riders who took part in the espoirs race in Verona and are now making their mark on the professional scene. They include:

Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)
Heinrich Haussler (Germany)
Tim Duggan (USA)
Andriy Grivko (Ukraine)
Koen De Kort (Netherlands)
Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan)
Serge Pauwels (Belgium)
Peter Velits (Slovakia)
Dan Fleeman (Great Britain)
Wouter Weylandt (Belgium)
Dominique Cornu (Belgium)
Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spain)

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