Spain is one of the big favourites for victory in the Elite men's road race in Limburg, and with Oscar Freire, Samuel Sanchez, Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez in their nine-man squad, it is not hard to see why. But how can a team with so many top riders decide on who works for who?
One of the most important problems facing the Spanish selection is that they have so many riders that could win the world title, that they risk having a top-heavy structure. Certainly none of the five above would be out of place at all as sole leaders of other, weaker teams. But can so many cooks spoil the Spanish broth?
“We’ve got a saying in Spain which is ‘better too much luxury than too little,’” responded Juan Antonio Flecha, whose role is expected to be one of the ‘team captains’ on the road with Pablo Lastras. This leaves just Dani Moreno and Jonathan Castroviejo as Spain’s only domestiques.
“A Worlds that is always unpredictable, it’s better to keep your options open,” Flecha said.
“If there’s a bunch of 50, then we’ve got Freire, Samuel is good for breakaways, Valverde if it’s a small group sprint. The only thing that’s certain in a Worlds is that nothing is certain, and nobody’s got a crystal ball.”
One rider who looks set to have to accept a secondary role is Alberto Contador. He said he will probably be there “to make the circuit feel much tougher than it really is. Then on the last two laps it’s over to other riders. In terms of climbing, it’s 2500 metres of climbing over 267 kilometres. 267 kilometres is a lot, but that amount of climbing isn’t so significant in that kind of distance.
“I’ve recovered from Wednesday’s time trial”- where he finished ninth, well below expectations. “It didn’t work out, I never got into the right kind of rhythm, but sometimes that happens. I got overtaken by Tony Martin, but at least I can say it was the world champion who came past me,” he said with a smile.
Spanish team coach Jose Luis de Santos was asked which Spanish riders will look after the breaks?
“I’m not going to give anything away and we’ve got a team meeting this [Saturday] afternoon to reach a final decision,” he said, “But I expect both Moreno and Castroviejo to have a very big team role. It’s not that hard a circuit and we rode the first 100 kilometres as well and that wasn’t so difficult, but a lot will depend on the weather. If it’s windy or raining, it could be very different. For me, either way, the Belgians are our biggest rivals.”
Joaquim Rodriguez - the last Spaniard to take a top three result in the road-race, a bronze back in 2009 in Mendrisio, is ready for any possible outcome.
“The Worlds is so different a race to any other that you have to be prepared to adapt for all sorts of different circumstances. If it breaks up, for example, Alejandro [Valverde] could have an option,” he said.
Valverde said he was fully recovered after fainting on Friday after lunch. Three times a podium finisher in the Worlds, Valverde warned he “was in perfect condition to race.”
Samuel Sanchez could be just as dangerous as Valverde and Rodriguez. After his crashes and injuries wrecked his chances in the Tour and the Olympics, the 2008 Beijing Olympic champion rode well in the Tour of Great Britain, his last race, with a long attack on the second last stage across Devon.
“I’m going ok, my injuries are basically cured although sometimes I’m in pain when I’m off the bike, not on it,” he said. “The terrain in the Tour of Britain was good for try outs for the Worlds, very similar to here. But the Worlds is a very different race to anything else. What’s crucial, though, is that we have riders in any of the breaks that go in the last three laps."