By Gregor Brown
Italy's Damiano Cunego is the number one favourite for the 76th World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland. The demanding Mendrisio circuit suits him even more than last year, when he finished runner up to teammate Alessandro Ballan in Varese, Italy.
Cunego's Italian team dominated the Varese finale, putting three men in the final move. Ballan launched his solo attack with three kilometres remaining, while Cunego marked his rivals and took the silver medal sprint.
Mendrisio is a different beast, though. The circuit is shorter and makes for more climbing, 4655 metres in total. The final of two climbs comes only 2.5 kilometres from the finish, where last year it was an extra kilometre farther.
"It's a deceiving finale, lending itself to coups," Cunego told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "There won't be many of us left to fight."
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Luxembourg's Andy Schleck are also the type of rider who excels in a challenging finish.
Valverde has won two editions of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège classic and looks ready to win the Vuelta a España overall Sunday. Three times he has finished in the Worlds top three and has support of the only team which can be considered to be as strong as the Italian squad.
It's a different story for Schleck, who won this year's edition of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège and finished second at the Tour de France. Team Luxembourg lacks depth, a situation which became worse when Schleck's brother Fränk ended his season early for knee surgery. Schleck will rely on Kim Kirchen to mark the Spanish and Italian teams.
Australian Simon Gerrans, Spaniard Samuel Sánchez and Belgian Philippe Gilbert are possible winners.
Gilbert has the end-of-race punch that allows for wins, like in the Giro d'Italia stage to Anagni this year. If team Belgium backs Gilbert completely, as the national director says it will do, then Gilbert has a chance.
Sánchez is preparing just as he did for his Olympic win last year, racing for the classification win in a Grand Tour. He should be co-captain with Valverde and all of team Spain will back him if he makes the right move.
Gerrans has targeted wins this year and succeeded: a stage in the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, and French one-day classic GP Plouay.
Ballan and Filippo Pozzato (Italy), Cadel Evans (Australia), Sylvain Chavanel (France), Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) are outside favourites. Ballan, defending champion and winner of the 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen and Pozzato, winner of the 2006 Milano-Sanremo, are both capable of winning big one-day Classics. Their presence bolsters Cunego's chances, but provides a back up if their leader fails.
Evans will work with Gerrans and will seek revenge for the Vuelta's flat tyre incident. He lives only a few kilometres from Mendrisio and knows the course well.
Cancellara said his goal is to win his first road title for home team Switzerland, more so than a third time trial title. He won both time trials in the Vuelta and led the race for five days.
The big teams will watch Kolobnev closely. France will keep Chavanel for the finale, working with nominated captain Pierrick Fédrigo. Boasson Hagen, winner of Gent-Wevelgem and three stages of the Tour of Britain this month, could become Norway's first World Champion if his form holds on.
Oscar Freire (Spain), three-time champion and racing near his Swiss home, Joaquím Rodríguez (Spain), Fabian Wegmann (Germany) and David Millar (Great Britain) are other riders to watch.
France fields strong team for U23 races
By Gregor Brown
The Under 23 races will give riders a stage to show their talent to potential teams as well as giving them a chance at the prestigious rainbow jersey. Past winners like Ivan Basso, Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Gerald Ciolek have gone on from to professional success after their victories.
This year's course has two climbs, Acqua Fresca and Novazzano, which add up to 3185 metres of total climbing. The 13.8-kilometre circuit is repeated 13 times for a total of 179.4 kilometres.
The maximum team size is five, compared to the elite men's nine-man teams, so the race will be less controlled. There are 22 countries that can bring five-man teams: Italy, Belgium, Germany, France, Russia, The Netherlands, Denmark, Slovakia, Austria, Great Britain, Norway, Slovenia, Moldavia, Poland, Spain, South Africa, Columbia, USA, Venezuela, Iran, Kazakhstan and Australia.
Last year's winner Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo from Columbia is now 23 and unable to compete in this category.
Riders to watch are Tejay Van Garderen and Peter Stetina (USA), both who went well at France's Tour de l'Avenir. France brings Avenir winner Romain Sicard and Tony Gallopin, who signed last week with Cofidis for next year. Martin Reimer heads team Germany, he beat many top pros when he won the German title in June. Niklas Arndt will support Reimer.
Jan Ghyselinck (Belgium) had a couple of good wins early in the year and is focusing on the Worlds. Italy's Damiano Caruso, Denmark's Rasmus Guldhammer and Australia's Travis Meyer are others to watch.
"Mendrisio won't be easy," said Italian director Andrea Collinelli. "You will have to have talents on the climbs and resistance."
It's the 14th year of the Under 23 road race. Past winners: Giuliano Figueras (1996), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (1997), Ivan Basso (1998), Leonardo Giordani (1999), Evgueni Petrov (2000), Yaroslav Popovych (2001), Francesco Chicchi (2002), Sergey Lagutin (2003), Kanstantsin Siutsou (2004), Dmytro Grabovskyy (2005), Gerald Ciolek (2006), Peter Velits (2007) and Fabio Duarte (2008).
Cancellara Worlds time trial favourite
Double duties might be Fabian Cancellara's only downfall
Fabian Cancellara is the favourite to win his third World Championship time trial title next Thursday in Mendrisio, Switzerland. It's not the other riders who will be his main rival, but his quest to also win the road title three days later.
"My main goal was the road race, but I did well in the time trials," said Cancellara after winning his second time trial in the Vuelta a España.
"It will be an extra motivation if I can start the road race with the time trial rainbow jersey in my suitcase. The two days of rest between the races will be enough."
In addition to two time trial World titles (2007 & 2008), Cancellara took the Olympic time trial win last year in Beijing, China. This season, he won time trials in the Tour of California, Tour de Suisse, Tour de France and Vuelta a España.
Last year's winner Bert Grabsch (Germany), Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain) and Lars Boom (Netherlands) are the favourites to challenge Cancellara.
Grabsch won his title last year when Cancellara skipped worlds because he was exhausted from a long season. He has won the Dauphiné Libéré and German Championships time trials, and finished third in the Vuelta's Valencia time trial this year.
Wiggins finished second in many time trials this year, but took fourth overall in the Tour de France and won the British Championship. Unlike Cancellara, he is focusing only on the time trial.
Boom won the Under 23 title in Stuttgart, Germany, two years ago and showed top form with a solo win this week in the Vuelta.
Three-time winner Michael Rogers (Australia), Svein Tuft (Canada), third last year, Tony Martin (Germany), Ignatas Konovalovas (Lithuania) and Gustav Erik Larsson (Sweden) are outside favourites for the win.
The race covers three 16.6-kilometre circuits, 49.8 kilometres. The 650-metre long Rancate climb is the main difficulty with sections of 10 percent. (GB)
Americans favourites for women's time trial title
By Laura Weislo
The United States of America team will head into the women's time trial as top favourite for the gold medal, thanks to the presence of both defending champion Amber Neben and Olympic time trial gold medalist and 2006 world champion, Kristin Armstrong.
Both women have proven themselves worthy of the rainbow bands this season: Neben displayed her rainbow banded jersey atop the podium in time trials at the Giro Donne and as part of the winning team in the Tour de l'Aude team time trial.
The pair has gone head-to-head twice in time trials this year, and both times Neben came out on top. She bested Armstrong over a much shorter distance than what they will face in Mendrisio in both the Giro Donne and Tour Cycliste Féminin International Ardèche.
The Americans do not have a lock on the championship, as several other riders have been putting in strong performances against the clock as of late. Christiane Soeder (Austria) won stage 2 in Ardèche after spending the previous stage in a solo breakaway.
Also not to be discounted is two-time winner Karin Thürig (Switzerland), Britain's Emma Pooley, who won the British time trial title this month, her compatriot Wendy Houvenaghel, who took the top prize in the Chrono Champenois, and the evergreen Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo. Judith Arndt will make her return to racing just in time for Worlds, and will be an unknown quantity for the time trial, but can always be considered a threat.
Women's road race not just for Vos
One cannot launch into predictions of the women's world road race championship without starting at the name Marianne Vos. The Dutchwoman has been on the podium of the race since she entered the senior ranks at age 19 in 2006. After taking silver the past two consecutive years, Vos will be keen to elevate her status back to gold this year, and the course is one that suits her characteristics.
Vos leads both the UCI rankings and the Women's World Cup thanks to victories in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, La Flèche Wallonne and Open de Suède Vargarda. Not to mention the rider has also claimed the Dutch national title, stages of the Tour de l'Aude, Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen and Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale and the overall Holland Ladies Tour, as well as numerous other victories throughout the season.
Together with defending world champion Nicole Cooke, the pair have accounted for half of the medals won in the women's world championship road race over the past four years. Cooke has had a fairly quiet season, but the formula worked well for her last year when she hardly raced before claiming both Olympic and World titles.
However the women's peloton has become increasingly competitive this year, with several riders stepping in with excellent performances who may challenge the divas of the past few years.
Swede Emma Johansson, currently ranked second in the world, has had enormous success this year, having led the World Cup series for the better part of the season. Yet her number of second places far exceeds her victories this season, so she'll have to find that winning formula if she wants to best the likes of Vos.
The Germans always bring a strong team, and this year is no different. Ina Teutenberg is just getting back to top speed after an incredible first half of the season in which she took victories in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Liberty Classic, the German Road Race title as well as numerous stage wins and smaller one-day races.
If the peloton cannot drop Teutenberg in the hills of Flanders, they will have to try much harder to get rid of her in Mendrisio, otherwise her powerful sprint rarely lets her down. The only rider to have bested Teutenberg on several occasions has been Dutch sprinter Kirsten Wild, but she has more trouble getting over hills than her German counterpart.
Together with Arndt, Trixi Worrack and Claudia Häusler, the Germans occupy four of the top 10 spots in the world rankings, and will be a formidable team at the event.
Wild cards for the road race include Diana Ziliute (Lithuania) who has had a sort of renaissance this year, as well as Italy's Noemi Cantele, solo breakaway artist Emma Pooley (Great Britain) or perhaps even up and coming American Evelyn Stevens. (LW)