Australia is set to ride the 2013 UCI World Championships with a full squad of nine riders for the elite men's road race. The event in Florence will be the first for the team with Brad McGee at the helm as sports director, following the dismissal of Matt White, with the three-time grand tour stage winner and Olympic gold medallist encouraged by the options available for the squad.
With allocations for the World Championships set to be formally announced next week, Cyclingnews understands that Cycling Australia will release a long list in late August with Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge), Richie Porte (Sky), Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) along with 2009 World Champion and former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC) spearheading the team.
According to McGee, there should be no surprises when it comes to selection for the demanding Florence circuit, but that doesn't mean he'll have an easy task when it comes to drilling down to the final nine.
"It's probably a selector's dream this year with the right riders presenting themselves in the right way," he told Cyclingnews. "Of course it's going to be difficult because we do have more than a full compliment of could-be riders and I think it's just a great showing of the support that the pros give to the national team."
The top 10 countries in the WorldTour rankings will be able to field nine riders, so long as they have at least that many in the individual rankings. After the Tour of Poland, Australia joins four other nations to have qualified the maximum amount of riders, with Spain, Italy, France and the Netherlands. The deadline is August 15 for riders to post a result that can improve their current standings.
The elite men are set to cover a total distance of 272.5km in the road race, in what Angelo Zomegnan, the head of the organising committee calls "one of the hardest for many years."
There are more than 3000m of climbing, as much as in a mountain stage at the Giro d'Italia or the Tour de France. The total distance during the 11 circuits around Florence in the men's race add up to 58.650km of climbing or 30% of the distance covered on the circuit.
Belgium, team of the defending champion and 2013 hopeful Philippe Gilbert, has been open in their disappointment of having a likely-seven-man squad for what is set to be a busy day of racing.
"I think on this course [numbers matter]," McGee said naming Spain and Italy as the teams likely to dominate. "It's really hard to predict the actual race format. I think options are going to be key."
The O'Grady void
A stalwart for the Australian national team with seven world championship campaigns, Stuart O'Grady announced his retirement and confessed to doping before the 1998 Tour de France a fortnight ago. Earlier, he had withdrawn his availability for Florence however his absence will still be felt with O'Grady's nous and experience in the peloton undeniably a key element of Australia's past success.
O'Grady missed the 2012 worlds campaign due to injury, but McGee is confident that moving forward Australia has more than just one rider who is able to step into the role of road captain that the veteran made his own.
"If there's a spanner in the works, it's just that it's hard on everybody," McGee explained in the wake of the O'Grady revelations. "We're all quite torn; it's an emotional hurdle to get through. Stuey's been the backbone of the industry if you like for 20 years.
"Because he had ruled himself out quite a while ago we were quite mindful of that. There are definitely riders on the list to fulfil that role. And I think we've now got a number of them rather than relying on one solely."
The McGee stamp
Asked what would make his tenure different to that experienced under White from 2011 when he took the role of professional men's road co-ordinator with Cycling Australia, McGee wasn't sure not having experienced first-hand the Orica GreenEdge sports director's style. McGee's time in the Australian team was spent under the eye of Neil Stephens who had the role for the 12 years prior to White.
McGee is looking to create a synergy between riders and staff.
"It's really just seeking balance and best practise off everybody and combining them in the best possible way," he explained.
Claims of a selection bias where non-Australian Institute of Sport have been left out of national squads for worlds championships and Olympic Games have dogged cycling for many years and measures have been put in place in a bid to lessen that perception, including having Allan Peiper as part of the selection panel. Recently, with White in the national role, there were suggestions that Orica GreenEdge riders also received favouritism. McGee is looking to avoid any such difficulties.
"That's one thing that I hope is that I'm well perceived by anyone in the system," he said. "I'm very open. I definitely don't have favourites. I feel like I'm the middle man and definitely have no bias in either direction so I'll give credit where it's due and work on everybody's individual tactics to come in and be ready to deliver for Australia."
It was not a role that McGee envisaged himself in, having resigned from his role as a DS with Saxo-Tinkoff late last year and returned to Australia to become head cycling coach with the New South Wales Institute of Sport, was doubtful over his suitability for the Cycling Australia role due to geographical challenges. Cycling Australia took their time in replacing White, but in reality, no other man was better qualified for the role with McGee crediting high performance director Kevin Tabotta for putting the new team together, with Brian Stephens the European-based co-ordinator.
"I was always reluctant because I only looked at the whole job as a one-man show and I knew I could never deliver that," he explained. "So there's been great leadership from Kevin and CA to put this together and the feeling immediately was yes, this can work and now I'm quite confident to say it's working.
"I'm connecting with the riders and following them and communicating is never a problem. It's something I was doing for years anyways with Saxo internationally. You've just got to pick your right moments and be aware of their current situations."
McGee will head to Europe in the weeks before the world championships to finalise preparations.
"Even though I've been over there and lived and breathed it for a long time, things change quite rapidly so I'd like to get in there and see those changes and appreciate them," he said.
If McGee has his way, the run that began in 2009 and ended in 2011 with Australia picking up a medal of every colour in the men's road race, will begin once again.
"I find success is just a symptom of good planning and delivery," he told Cyclingnews. "I'd like to think that at the moment we're doing our upmost from the planning side of things. The talent's definitely there and then it will come down to delivery on the day."