By Hedwig Kröner and Gregor Brown in Varese
Amongst the nations contending for the rainbow jersey of the World Championships road race on Sunday, Italy, Spain and Belgium stand out as the strongest teams on paper, with the Northern European nation rated third in line behind the two others. Belgium has nine riders on the start list for Sunday, of which five, according to the team, could be contenders for victory: Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet, Nick Nuyens and Stijn Devolder. As much as this may be an asset, it could also prove fatal for the squad if team tactics remain unclear.
Boonen, the designated leader of the Belgian squad, played down his role in the light of his teammates' fitness.
"I don't see myself as the big chief this year - I think we have a really strong team with a few riders who are able to do a really good result as well," he said to Cyclingnews. "The others worked hard for this race as well, not only me. These four, five riders are also here for a result, and we just have to keep our heads clear and try to get into the final with as many riders possible. Once we are at that point, we have to take the right decisions and not get in each other's way. But I think we are all experienced riders who know how to ride the finals of big races, so I don't expect any problems within the team - there are more problems with the other teams!"
The 2005 World Champion did not think that the Varese course - 15 laps for a total of 260 kilometres - would be too hilly for him as a sprinter. "The course is hard, but it's not as difficult as everybody says. I don't think there will be five guys at the finish line; I think it's going to be more. It all depends on the way the race is ridden," he commented.
Boonen thinks a sprint is not his only option to win. "I'm a sprinter, but the important thing is that I don't need a sprint to win," he continued. "I can also sprint in a small group. I'm not a rider that tries to mess up a race, I'm a rider that tries to follow and get into a good position in the final lap."
He knows the other teams will mark him, making his task more difficult in the final laps.