By Monika Prell
The Spanish national selector Francisco Antequera is convinced that his team is the favourite for the rainbow jersey. He nominated a strong squad with José Iván Gutiérrez and Luis León Sánchez (both Caisse d'Epargne), who will dispute the time trial, and Oscar Freire and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Alejandro Valverde and Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel Euskadi), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom), Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) and Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas) for the road race. In case of a potential non participation due to the UCI's efforts to keep him away from Stuttgart, Valverde would be replaced by José Iván Gutiérrez.
"I come to these World Championships with more aspiration than ever because--even if it's not very good to say it--I think that Spain is the favourite," stated Antequera according to El Mundo. He continued that "We have a great squad of workers and three riders who are in top form."
The national selector is convinced that the participation of Valverde won't be endangered. "The arbitral court of Sports (CAS) will declare him innocent because at the moment there is no evidence against him. The UCI will have to let him start. When I saw that the Federation and the Superior Sport Council supported him I was convinced that we will win."
But there is also doubt about Juan Antonio Flecha. "He told me that he has a cold. Today I will talk to him and if he is not better, I will call up another rider. Before, when the teams consisted of 12 riders, there was a bigger margin. Now, with nine riders you have to select riders in perfect condition."
About his two leaders, Antequera believes that "between [Oscar] Freire and [Alejandro] Valverde there is a good harmony. I know that it is harder to focus the [other] riders on supporting two leaders instead of one. So I decided that Freire will be our leader for the final sprint, meanwhile Valverde will have liberty in the last two laps. But if Valverde reaches the finish line together with Freire, he [Valverde] will have to launch for him [Freire]. At the moment Freire is perhaps the fastest sprinter of the world." He is conscious that "Now it's easy to talk, but later, in the race, it will be more complicated to fulfil this, but I want it this way."
The time trialists will travel to Stuttgart today, the street race participants will travel to Barcelona on Wednesday, where they will have a meeting until Thursday when they will fly to Stuttgart. In this meeting, Antequera will explain the tactic. "Samuel [Sánchez] will have to be with every breakaway intent when there are important riders. Both he and Valverde are the riders who will make us calm. The other ones know that they will have to work for the leaders."
The national selector believes that "Italy is without doubt the strongest rival. They have very good riders and their only debility is perhaps that they have too many leaders and few riders to work. Another difficult selection will be the German one, the host squad." Concerning the sprint he considers that "the withdrawal of [Tom] Boonen is not important, we saw in the Vuelta that he was not in a good form."