David Millar has predicted a "very brutal" men’s World Championship road race on Sunday, and he is certain that the winner will be a rider who – like him – has ridden the Tour of Spain, which finished last week.
"I think if you haven’t done the Vuelta you haven’t got a chance," said Millar, who will lead a nine-man British team into the title race. It’s the first time the country has qualified the maximum quota of riders, thanks mainly to the points accumulated by Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins – neither of whom, ironically, is riding on Sunday.
But the change in the British team is reflected not only in its size. "Even last year, we were a bunch of individuals that would just rock up," said Millar. "There wasn’t much thought or motivation about it, but we have to thank not only Cav and Wiggo but [British coach] Rod Ellingworth. He has spent so much of the last year building this team, which is what I think we are for the first time. We feel we have a duty to perform here, rather than just turn up and get a free tracksuit."
As designated leader, Millar admits he feels "a lot more responsibility," but the Scot’s form at the end of the Vuelta, particularly his victory in the penultimate stage, a time trial, has led some to suggest that he could figure at the sharp end of Sunday’s title race.
That sharp end doesn’t come, as Millar said, until the final quarter – and until then it is a game of patience. The Vuelta was similar, but over three weeks rather than 260km. Though he felt able to attack in the final week in Spain, he held back, having determined to put all his eggs in the one basket.
"I have a free, relaxed role," said Millar of Sunday’s race. "You’ve got to relax. Staying at the front [the entire race] is not my way of doing it, and you watch the guys who’ve done well in this race, they don’t do that.
"You almost know what’s going to happen in the first three-quarters," he continued. "The break goes, it’s a war of attrition, and the race starts with five laps to go, by which time three-quarters of the field will be eliminated.
"You have to wait. Most guys can only go once. [Paolo] Bettini could go three, four times, which normally meant he was in the right moves – but the majority of leaders only have one go. After 230km, if you go in a move with 30km to go and it’s caught, you’re gone. You can’t then do anything against the guys who weren’t in that move. So it’s a gamble: do you go with the first wave of attacks, or wait?
"That’s where Spain and Italy make it complicated. They’ll have guys dedicated to go with that first wave of attacks, with guys like [Damiano] Cunego, [Oscar] Freire and [Alejandro] Valverde waiting."
One of the big favourites is Fabian Cancellara, the Swiss star who will be bidding for a World Championship-double after winning Thursday’s time trial. "Cancellara will be a man possessed, but his options are limited as well," said Millar. "He’s got to either control himself, and just wait, or gamble. Either way, it’s a gamble. He’s in a particularly delicate position, but he’s so bloody strong and on home terrain."
For Millar a "satisfactory" result would be to finish in the top-twenty. "But we want to get top-ten," he added.
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