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The BMC Teammachine of the American GC hopeful
Hyper-aggressive position for the sprint lead-out
How much air pressure pros use at the Tour de France
National theme bike for Tour's lone Japanese rider
Live coverage of the elite men's world championships road race.
The Worlds peloton has gathered in Lucca's Piazza Napoleone for the start of the world championships road race, where the final riders are signing the start list. The neutralised start is at 10am local time, and the flag will drop for the real start 3.5 kilometres later at San Vito.
As has been the tendency in recent years, the Worlds road race begins with a point-to-point section before reaching the finishing circuit. After leaving Lucca, the Worlds peloton tackles 106.6 kilometres via Montecatini Terme, Lamporecchio and San Baronto. On reaching Florence, the riders then take on ten laps of the demanding 16.6km circuit, characterised by the long haul to Fiesole and the sharp wall of Via Salviati.
Plenty of glum faces and race capes as the bunch rolls away from the striking walled town of Lucca for the neutralised start. Therain predicted
by Stephen Farrand yesterday has duly arrived, bringing an additional difficulty to an already demanding Worlds parcours.
Although the skies are slate grey over Tuscany and rain is falling steadily, the temperatures are a relatively pleasant 18 degrees.
Diego Ulissi (Italy) drops back to the Italian team car and picks up a rain cape as the bunch gingerly negotiates the neutralised zone.
The bunch reaches kilometre zero and immediately the first attacks begin. It appears as though Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) has designs on entering the day's early break.
There have been a number of attempts to force the day's first breakaway, but as yet nobody has been able to snap the elastic. The likes of Italy and Spain will be loathe to allow a move go clear without a representative.
Rafaa Chtioui (Tunisia) is the first man to put daylight between himself and the peloton, with a small group of riders scrambling to get on his wheel.
Bartosz Huzarski (Poland) has joined Rafaa Chtioui (Tunisia) at the front of the race, and it appears as though the peloton is happy to grant the pair a day pass. A four-man group is attempting to bridge across to the two leaders.
Chtioui and Huzarski have a lead of 40 seconds over the main bunch as tackle a short climb at Montecarlo, which is the home town of Michele Bartoli. Twice a winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Bartoli was the perennial leader of the Italian team in the late 1990s at the Worlds, claiming bronze in Lugano and Valkenburg, but falling short of taking the rainbow jersey. His final appearance was the squadra azzurra was an acrimonious one. After finishing fourth in the sprint at Plouay in 2000, won by Romans Vainsteins, Bartoli blamed Paolo Bettini for failing to lead him out as planned, precipitating his eventual departure from Mapei.
Yonder Godoy (Venezuela), Matthias Brandle (Austria) and Jan Barta (Czech Republic) have joined Chtioui and Huzarski at the front of the race. News of the time gap is at a premium, unfortunately but the five leaders appear to be 40 seconds or so clear of the bunch.
For now at least, rain is not quite general all over Tuscany. While a steady drizzle falls on the peloton, there is no rain in Florence just yet, although the skies are menacing to say the least.
Godoy, Brandle, Barta, Huzarski and Chtioui have stretched their lead over the peloton out to 3:20 after 20 kilometres of racing.
Mark Cavendish is leading the peloton on behalf of Britain's leader, Chris Froome. Twelve months ago, Cavendish spent three laps of the Valkenburg circuit on the front in support of a different British leader, Jonathan Tiernan Locke....
What a difference twelve months makes. Tiernan-Locke withdrew from Britain's Worlds team citing a lack of form, but The Sunday Times reports that the UCI has begun investigating alleged irregularities in his biological passport, dating back to the months just before he joined Team Sky.
The British-led bunch winds its way through Collodi, which is the home of Carlo Collodi (penname of Carlo Lorenzini), the man who wrote Pinocchio. And to hammer home the point, a giant Pinocchio towers over the Worlds bunch as it zips through town.
In spite of Britain's pace-making on the front of the peloton, the five escapees have nudged their lead out beyond the four-minute mark.
Mark Cavendish is locked in conversation with Geraint Thomas at the front of the peloton, while up the road, the break continues to pad its advantage.
The international television signal has been interrupted by the poor weather, which given the quality of the pictures throughout the week, is sadly not at all surprising. The latest time check has the break 4:45 up on the peloton.
The television feed has been resurrected and when pictures return, we can see that the rain is beginning to fall more heavily on the already sodden peloton.
The five leaders are continuing to collaborate smoothly in spite of the grim conditions, and they are continuing to add to their buffer over the main peloton. 5:30 is now the gap.
Rinaldo Nocentini is pacing Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) back up to the main peloton. It appears as though Nibali had some manner of mechanical problem, but he is safely back in the bunch, which is still being led by Cavendish.
Nibali is back at the rear of the peloton once again, this time with Ivan Santaromita. It appears as though Nibali has been forced to change his bike.
The sun is finally poking its way through the clouds and the rain appears to have eased for now, although it may just be a temporary respite.
The five escapees have worked well together so far, with NetApp-Endura teammates Huzarski and Barta providing particular impetus to their efforts.
Rafaa Chtioui, meanwhile, has happy memories of racing the world championships in Italy. The Tunisian took silver in the junior men's road race in Verona back in 2004.
After 50 kilometres of racing, the five escapees have stretched their advantage out to seven minutes over the main peloton, where Britain - and Cavendish in particular - continue to set the pace.
At this early juncture, the favourites for the rainbow jersey are tucked up safely in the body of the main peloton, looking to spare every ounce of energy ahead of the exacting finishing circuit in Florence itself, a circuit Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) has described as being "like a roller-coaster."
According to the Sunday Times, Tiernan-Locke's irregular blood values date back to the last four months of 2012, when he raced for Endura. Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson spoke to Jonathan Tiernan-Locke's 2012 manager, Brian Smith and he explained that both Garmin and Sky had found Tiernan-Locke's 2012 blood values to their satisfaction.
“Jonathan Vaughters got in contact and said there were no abnormalities of John’s test and that they’d still like to progress with a possible chat of taking him on," Smith said. "Then Sky approached him and took him to a training camp in Tenerife at the start of May. They started testing him and because of his interest in wanting to sign for them and their interest, we then asked if Sky would take him under their wing until the end of the season. Which they obviously decided to do."
The five escapees are on the climb of San Baronto, where Rafaa Chtioui is setting a steady tempo. Britain continue to control affairs in the main peloton, which is now eight minutes behind.
Incidentally, Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso was at the start in Lucca this morning. The Ferrari driver took time to speak to Peter Sagan and confirmed to the press that he would be backing a team in 2015. Last week, of course, it was confirmed that his negotiations to rescue the Euskaltel-Euskadi team for next season had failed.
Cavendish leads a long line of British riders on the way up the climb of San Baronto. They're 7:38 down on the five leaders, who have just crested the summit.
The British-led peloton reaches the top of San Baronto 7:07 down on the five leaders. Luke Rowe and Steve Cummings are currently setting the pace for the British team, which, like last year, has set out its stall to control the bunch through the opening half of the race.
Yonder Godoy is still part of this leading group. The Venezuelan is the youngest rider in today's race at just 20 years of age. He signed a three-year deal with Gianni Savio's Androni-Venezuela squad in July. "My only aim is to gain some experience and enjoy the emotion," he told Tuttobici on the eve of the Worlds.
As the break makes its way through Casalguidi, they ride past a large picture homage to the late Italian national team coach Franco Ballerini, who was killed in a rallying accident in 2010. I wrote earlier of the Bartoli-Bettini contretemps at the Plouay Worlds in 2000. Ballerini began his spell as c.t. the following year, and his great gift was his ability to unify the squadra azzurra behind its designated leader, something it had repeatedly failed to do through the late 1990s. And indeed, in Ballerini's first outing as coach, in Lisbon in 2001, when Paolo Lanfranchi famously (he claimed accidentally) chased down Gilberto Simoni.
The rain is falling steadily on the peloton once again, where Britain continue to control affairs, while a clutch of Italian riders are lined up on a watching brief just behind them.
The British squad are on very familiar roads at this part of the course, as many of them cut their teeth at international level while based at British Cycling's Academy in nearby Quarrata.
With just 45 kilometres or so until the race reaches the Florentine finishing circuit, the gap between the break and the bunch has been cut back to 5:50. Mark Cavendish continues to do the lion's share of the work on the front for Britain.
Italy's regista, or road captain, Luca Paolini drops back to the team car for a quick consultation. For now, the azzurri and just about everybody else will be more than happy to allow the British squad to keep controlling the peloton.
We have yet to see Fabian Cancellara today, but the Swiss rider was typically relaxed during his final press briefing, where he channelled his inner Sir Alex Ferguson by listing his principal rivals for the rainbow jersey - and failing to mention either Peter Sagan or Philippe Gilbert. Cancellara even name-checked Filippo Pozzato, a dramatic volte-face from last week, when he cheerfully told Gazzetta dello Sport: "I don’t know what he can do. If I was him, I wouldn't even turn up." Charming.
Cancellara's rationale for not including Sagan among his favourite is the fact that the Slovak did not ride the Vuelta a Espana in preparation for the Worlds. We have to go all the way back to that contentious Plouay Worlds for the last time the rainbow jersey went to a rider who didn't compete at the Vuelta, when Romans Vainsteins triumphed. Although, it should be noted that in 2011, Mark Cavendish pulled out of the Vuelta after just four days en route to claiming the rainbow jersey in Copenhagen.
In any case, Sagan and his agent Giovanni Lombardi are confident that he can be a major factor this afternoon. Sagan has certainly learned his lesson from last year, when a prodigious bout of post-Tour criteriums left him completely ill-prepared for the Worlds in Valkenburg. This time around, he spent six weeks training and racing in the USA and Canada after the Tour de France, and he returned from his North American campaign with another eight victories inscribed in his palmares.
The race is drawing ever closer to Florence, although the famous skyline is not visible in these conditions. To compensate, you can see how Fiorentina fans oncerecreated the view in the Stadio Artemio Franchi
, which is incidentally where today's race finishes.
Britain continue to lead the peloton, with Mark Cavendish still setting the pace.
Meanwhile, on RAI, Vini Fantini manager Luca Scinto has confirmed that his team will continue to exist next season in spite of the positive tests of Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio at the Giro d'Italia. "The giallofluo will be in the peloton next year with our heads held high," he said.
Yonder Godoy (Venezuela), Matthias Brandle (Austria), Jan Barta (Czech Republic), Bartosz Huzarski (Poland) and Rafaa Chtioui (Tunisia) are now in the park of Le Cascine at the edge of Florence. The 2005 Giro time trial won by David Zabriskie finished in this very peaceful park, often overlooked by visitors drawn to Florence's historic core.
Heavy rain is falling on the break as they ride through Le Cascine and along the banks of the Arno. "The weather reminds me of Valkenburg in 1998," Scinto says. "Although, that day it was cold as opposed to just wet."
This is a particularly heavy shower to herald the arrival of the Worlds in the cradle of the Renaissance.
The break passes the Porta al Prato, and have formally entered the city of Florence. They are now on the Lungarno itself and heading east towards Ponte Vecchio and the centro storico.
The five escapees pass through Piazza del Duomo for the first time, and under the Giotto's designed Campanile.
There have been a couple of fallers in the main peloton immediately on entering Florence. The combination of rain and twisting roads could make this a very treacherous Worlds circuit.
The peloton is 8 minutes down on the five escapees, who are just a kilometre away from beginning the first of ten laps of 16km long finishing circuit.
The average speed after 106 kilometres of racing is 38kph. The five escapees have crossed the finish line for the first time, while the peloton is negotating its way through Piazza del Duomo.
Chtioui and company are about to tackle the 4.3km climb to Fiesole for the first time. The steepest part of the climb is near the top, where the gradient stiffens to 8% in the final 1500 metres before the summit.
Rafaa Chtioui leads the break through the first kilometre of the climb. Meanwhile, the bunch is still making it way towards the finish line at Campo di Marte.
The rain appears to have eased slightly and the sun is attempting to nudge its way through the clouds, but it looks set to be a long, wet afternoon for the Worlds contenders.
Mark Cavendish and Luke Rowe lead the bunch through the finish line for the first time, 7:44 down on the five escapees.
30 or so riders have been distanced slightly after the race's first foray into the streets of Florence. Bradley Wiggins and Richie Porte are among those who are 30 seconds down on the front of the bunch.
The official timing system has not recorded Vincenzo Nibali as having crossed the finish line in the main bunch, but that is because he changed his bike in the early part of the race and does not have a transponder on his replacement.
Chtioui has done the bulk of the work in the break on the climb, but it is Godoy who leads them to the top of the climb to Fiesole.
Eight minutes further down the road, the bunch is on the early slopes of the climb to Fiesole, with Great Britain still on the front, working in the service of Chris Froome. Bradley Wiggins, meanwhile, appears to have latched back on to the rear of the main peloton.
Peter Sagan (Slovakia) and the Irish pair of Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche are positioned towards the front of the peloton. In these early laps, the sinuous descent off Fiesole could pose more problems than the climb itself, and positioning will be crucial. Of course, every rider in the race will have been warned to sit in the first 30 positions on this circuit, and that causes its own problems.
Alejandro Vlaverde and Luis Leon Sanchez (Spain) have also positioned themselves just behind the British team.
Luca Paolini and Michele Scarponi (Italy) have now moved towards the front, and it appears as though the azzurri are preparing to start contributing to the pace-setting at the front of the bunch. They are all too aware of the need to make things hard on the climbs to try and distance Sagan and Cancellara.
The break is on the climb of Via Salviati, but the real action is back in the main peloton, which has just crested the summit of Fiesole.
The Italian team has hit the front of the bunch en masse over the top of Fiesole, and all nine men in blue (and black gilets) are up there. Is this a pre-meditated attack or are they simply looking to keep Nibali out of trouble on the first dangerous descent of the day.
Alessandro Vanotti forces the pace on the way down from Fiesole and the Italians have stretched out the peloton into one long line. This is a statement of intent from Paolo Bettini's men, who are determined not give Sagan, Cancellara and Gilbert an armchair ride to the final lap.
This rainsoaked, curving descent brings to mind the Giro d'Italia stage to Pescara that first deflated Bradley Wiggins' pink jersey hopes. There are a lot of riders who won't fancy another 100 miles of this kind of guerrilla warfare.
The Italian move has split the peloton on the descent from Fiesole. From the aerial pictures, it appears that there are just 40 riders in the front part of the peloton as they attack the climb of Via Salviati.
Scarponi leads the front part of the bunch up the climb of Via Salviati. There are 50 riders or so in this group, but the gap to the remnants of the bunch is only a handful of seconds and Luca Paolini appears to be asking him to lower the pace.
The peloton reaches the top of Via Salviati 6:31 down on the five escapees. That concerted effort from the Italians has shed some of the stragglers from the peloton, but the main contenders are all still in contact.
That Italian move looks to have set the tone for their afternoon. "We talked about this for the past three days in the event of bad weather. Now let's see if we can keep it going," reserve Simone Ponzi tells RAI from the technical area.
Italy continue to force the pace on the front of the peloton, which is strung out in a long line. Meanwhile, word reaches us that Chris Horner (USA) and Daryl Impey (South Africa) were involved in a crash.
Vanotti and Ivan Santaromita, who fell earlier, are drilling on the front for Italy as they finish their first lap of the circuit. A number of gaps appear to have opened in the bunch as a result of their pressing.
At the end of the first lap, the Italian-led bunch is 5:55 down on the five escapees.
Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador are among the riders caught behind, at least according to the official timing system. There is always the possibility of bike changes etc. seeing riders left without transponders, of course, so we'll look for visual confirmation.
Indeed, Peter Sagan stopped to change his bike and take on a musette, and he passed the finish line 40 seconds down on the front of the peloton, but he is now successfully chasing back on.
The five escapees are still together at the top of the second ascent of Fiesole, while Italy continue to force the issue in the main peloton.
Meanwhile, Nicolas Roche is already three minutes down on the peloton, and Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish are seven minutes down. Their afternoons surely won't last much longer.
Rigoberto Uran (Colombia), Rafal Majka (Poland) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) are also back with Sagan, but they appear to be closing the gap to the front of the peloton.
The Belgium team of Philippe Gilbert is moving up en masse just behind the Italians as the bunch reaches the summit of Fiesole for the second time, 4:38 down on the break.
Uran, Boasson Hagen and Contador et al are all back with the front end of the peloton, which now numbers 85. We have no confirmation of Sagan's whereabouts through the official timing system, given that he is now on a replacement bike without a transponder.
The Italian team are again pressing on the way down from Fiesole. Without race radios, they won't know precisely who is and who isn't part of the 85-man peloton, but they aren't taking any chances.
The reduced bunch hits the climb of Via Salviati for the second time, and still Italy forces the pace in front. Oscar Freire, a man who knows a thing or two about winning a world title, is not pleased with how Spain have ridden so far. "They're riding badly. As soon as there were crashes on the circuit, they were caught behind," he tells RAI.
Peter Sagan is safely back in the main peloton, but he will have had to expend more energy than he would have liked at this early stage just to get back on.
Cadel Evans, Philippe Gilbert, Dani Moreno, Alberto Contador, Dan Martin, Fabian Cancellara, Thibaut Pinot, Alejandro Valverde, Rui Costa. Thomas Voeckler and Chris Froome are all still in the main peloton, 4:30 down on the break.
The rain continues to cascade over Florence, and number of riders have been involved in a crash on Via Trieste. Darwin Atampuma (Colombia) and Warren Barguil (France) are among those affected.
Cadel Evans and David Tanner (Australia) have also both fallen, and it looks as though Evans' world championships may be over. He is standing against the crash barrier on the roadside and it doesn't seem like he is going to remount his bike.
8 laps to go:
The bunch passes through the finish line 4:10 down on the five escapees. Italy continues to lead the bunch, but it seems that 15 or so riders have been delayed to varying degrees by the Evans crash. Diego Ulissi (Italy) is among those chasing back on.
Dan Martin (Ireland) seems to have been caught up in that crash. The Irishman has come through the finish line 2:30 down on the main peloton, and it looks as though his hopes of claiming the rainbow jersey have evaporated.
Filippo Pozzato (Italy) suffered a puncture just before the end of the second lap, and he, too, is chasing back on alone.
Luca Paolini, Italy's regista has sat up and is waiting for Pozzato to try and guide him back up to the main bunch. Meanwhile, their Italian teammates are trying to slowing things down on the front on the lower slopes of the climb to Fiesole.
Pozzato and Ulissi have safely latched back on to the main peloton with the help of Paolini, but that brief relenting of the Italian pace-setting could help some other riders caught up in the crash edge their way back on.
Cadel Evans' Worlds challenge has ended as a result of that crash. The Austalian has abandoned the race.
Godoy, Brandle, Barta, Huzarski and Chtioui have reached the top of Fiesole for the third time, but the real drama is taking place four minutes down the road, where a combination of the conditions and Italy's forcing is whittling down the main peloton.
We also have confirmation that Bradley Wiggins and Chris Horner have both abandoned the Worlds. Horner was caught up in a crash on the entry to Florence. David Tanner, Martin Elmiger and Oliver Zaugg have also withdrawn, along with, of course, Cadel Evans.
Italy continue to force the issue on the third ascent of FIesole, and the bunch reaches the summit 3:35 down on the break. Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Dani Moreno and Valverde are all still in there for Spain, while the Colombian pair of Uran and Betancur are also present, along with Cancellara, Gilbert, Froome and Sagan.
Dan Martin crests the summit of Fiesole 5:50 down on the leaders and 2:15 behind the peloton. The Irishman is trying his best to get back on, but his task seems an impossible one at this point.
Over the other side of the climb, Bjorn Leukemans (Belgium) is the latest man to crash, although - somehow - nobody else appears to have been caught up in the accident.
The five escapees are grinding their way up Via Salviati for the third time. They have worked very well together so far, carefully managing their tempo on the course's climbs so as to stay together.
Another crash on the descent from Fiesole has split the peloton once again, and there are just twenty riders or so at the front as they tackle the climb of Via Salviati.
The Italian team are forcing the pace again on the climb, and they have just a small handful of riders for company - Gilbert and Cancellara in this front group, but there is no Peter Sagan.
There are just 15 riders in that group at the front of the peloton, while Valverde, Sagan, Froome, Contador and Rodriguez are some 15 seconds behind and scrambling to get back on.
The Italians are keen to keep this move going as they hurtle over the other side of Via Salviati. The riders in this group are: Ulissi, Nocentini, Scarponi, Nibali, Visconti, Cancellara, Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Rast, Grivko, Fuglsang, Mollema and Kelderman.
Just behind them, Alberto Contador is trying to marhsal the Spanish chase on behalf of Rodriguez and Valverde. Sagan and Froome have also ben caught behind.
It looks as though the larger, Spanish-led group will catch back up to Nibali, Cancellara, Gilbert and company, but all of this chase efforts behind will start to take their toll on the pursuers.
7 laps to go:
The Italian-led group comes through the finish line 2:22 down on the five escapees, but just seven seconds clear of the Spanish-led chasers.
Rui Costa and Peter Sagan are also in the Spanish group" but Chris Froome is further behind. The Tour winner came through the finish line almost 40 seconds down on Nibali, Gilbert and Cancellara and his Worlds challenge is hanging in the balance.
There has been a regrouping on the front of the bunch as they approach the fourth ascent of Fiesole. The Spanish-led group has caught the Nibali-Cancellara-Gilbert move. Peter Sagan is safely in there too, but Froome is still in a group some 40 seconds down and chasing back on.
As is so often the case, the world championships has become something of a war of attrition. This time around, however, the whittling down process has started earlier than we might have expected, and it's also come about in a different way than we might have anticipated. Rather than the repeated climbs of Fiesole and Via Salviati, it's the rain-soaked, crash-strewn descents that are filtering the peloton.
Dan Martin (Ireland) has called a halt to his world championships.
Godoy, Brandle, Barta, Huzarski and Chtioui have reached Fiesole with six and a half laps still to race. The Italian-led peloton is in the final kilometre of the climb and gradually eating into the break's advantage.
There are 75 riders in the main body of the peloton, which reached the top of the climb to Fiesole 1:55 down on the break. Chris Froome is still in the race, but he is in a small group 38 seconds behind all of the main contenders.
There appeared to be a detente of sorts in the main peloton on the way up to Fiesole, but Italy are back forcing the pace on the way down the other side.
Indeed, a trio of Italians have unwittingly opened a small gap over the peloton but they will sit up and adjust their pace.
Godoy leads the break up Via Salviati for the fourth time, and their efforts are beginning to show. There are struggling their way up the climb and the main peloton is ineluctably closing in on them as we approach the final 100 kilometres of racing.
Godoy, Huzarski and Barta have opened a small gap over Chtioui and Brandle on the climb, the first time that the unity of the leading group hsa been fractured.
Alessandro Vanotti and Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy) set the pace in the main peloton on the climb of Via Salviati. The tempo is brisk as opposed to intense, but some riders have been shaken loose on the way up the short, shapr climb.
The bunch reaches the top of the climb 1:35 down on the break. The Italians still have their designated fast man in the front end of the bunch, but it's worth noting that John Degenkolb is still in there too.
RAI is reporting that Fabian Cancellara is 40 seconds down on the main peloton. Certainly, he has not been clocked by the timing system atop Via Salviati, which suggests that the Swiss rider needed to make a bike change, but we have yet to see him on our television pictures.
Froome, meanwhile, is now two minutes down on the main group of favourites, and his Worlds challenge appears to be over.
Rafaa Chtioui has been dropped by the break, which is now down to just four riders as they cross the finish line with six laps to go.
6 laps to go:
Fabian Cancellara is safely in the main peloton, alongside Nibali, Gilbert and Sagan. With 99km to go, they are 1:37 down on the four leaders.
Cancellara has no number on his bike, which suggests that he required a change, and explains his absence from the official timing system.
Samuel Sanchez (Spain) has abandoned the race, as has Matti Breschel (Denmark), while we can also confirm that Nicolas Roche (Ireland) was an earlier abandon.
There are 74 riders in the main peloton with six laps of the Worlds still to go.
Chris Froome is no longer being recorded by the timing system, which suggests that he has abandoned the race. We await official confirmation.
Froome has abandoned the world championships. After controlling the race for the first 100 kilometres, Britain has no rider in the main peloton of 75 riders with almost 100 kilometres of the Worlds still to go.
The bunch is on the long drag up to Fiesole. Luca Paolini has dropped back to the team car for an on-the-hoof conference with Paolo Bettini. The Italians have raced well so far, but the men they want to shake loose - Cancellara, Sagan and Gilbert - are still hanging in there, not to mention Valverde and Degenkolb.
The break has splintered still further on this ascent of Fiesole. NetApp-Endura teammates Huzarski and Barta have pressed their way clear of Brandle and Godoy as they approach the summit.
There is one British rider left in the race, incidentally, although Geraint Thomas is almost a minute down on the main peloton.
Once again, the pace has been steady in the main field on the way up Fiesole, but we can expect further pyrotechnics on the treacherous descent. The bunch crests the summit exactly two minutes down on Barta and Huzarski.
The Italian team is committed to its process at this point, and they continue to press the pace on the way down from Fiesole.
Claps of thunder overhead herald the impending arrival of more heavy rainfall. Up front, Barta and Huzarski grind their way up Via Salviati for the fifth time.
There are fewer Italians on the front on the way down the descent this time around. Vanotti and Nocentini have done their work, and Italky are clearly running out of riders to do the legwork, considering that Nibali, Pozzato and Scarponi are all protected to varying degrees. They're looking for some help from Belgium and Germany in controlling the bunch as they tackle Via Salviati for the fifth time.
Giovanni Visconti is at the back of the bunch. It appears that he punctured before the climb of Via Salviati. Meanwhile, Nibali has dropped back to talk to Bettini. After five hours of racing, Italy appear ready to alter their approach.
Since the Italian squad relented its pace-setting, the break's gap has grown by a minute. They hold a lead of 2:36 at the top of Via Salviati.
Maxime Monfort and Johan Vansummeren (Belgium), and Marcus Burghardt and Fabian Wegmann (Germany) began to contribute to the pace-setting at the front of the peloton on the climb of Via Salviati.
Spain still have Rodriguez, Valverde and Contador in the main peloton of favourites, while Pinot, Bardet and Voeckler are all in there for France. Cancellara, Sagan, Gilbert, Rui Costa, Degenkolb and Nibali are all present and correct too, of course. WIth five laps to go, this race is very delicately poised.
Alessandro Vanotti has put in a huge afternoon of work for his leader Nibali, but the pace has definitely slackened in the main peloton on the last lap as the Italians seek some help from Belgium and Spain in controlling the race.
Five laps to go:
Jan Barta (Czech Republic) and Bartosz Huzarski (Poland) lead the bunch by 3:25 with five laps to go. Italy's Alessandro Vanotti leads the peloton through the finish line, but for all the Italian team's work, there are a lot of Belgian and Spanish jerseys in there, not to mention Sagan and Cancellara.
I'll now hand over to Dan Benson for the final five laps of action from Florence.
The peloton now head through the tightly packed feedzone. The Italians continue to press on the front of the peloton but it's the Belgians who are growing in stature as the race unfolds. Gilbert is well supported and his team haven't had to do much work yet.
Our two leaders continue their race at the head of affairs. They'll last at least another lap but their chances rest with the mercy of the Italian-led peloton. It's the Italians who lead the bunch onto the climb with Scarponi in second wheel at the moment. The Dutch have moved up too.
Alex Howes, one of the last two Americans in the race, drops back to his team car to talk to Mike Sayers. All the American leaders our out of the race so Stetina and Howes will be expected to finish, at least.
Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia) is still in the mix. No team confirmed for the Astana man yet for 2014. A strong ride will certainly help his chances though.
As now we see four Swiss riders line up on the far left of the bunch, Cancellara at the back of that string. They started with just five riders, but they're arguably one of the top line ups in this year's race.
Paolini, one of the most experienced riders in the race, leads the peloton down the descent. No risks taken this time around and the field is so small that there's no need to fight vigorously for position.
Degenkolb is still in the mix. He's a dark horse for today and he's still with a couple of his German teammates. He was fourth in the worlds last year and he is suited to tough, demanding courses. If it comes down to a group sprint and he's in the mix with Sagan, it could be close.
It looks like Paolini drops his chain but he doesn't panic and is quickly back in the bunch. Burghardt has jumped out from the bunch on the last climb before the finish.
Boasson Hagen is at the back and he's starting to struggle already. Heano and Gesink are also losing a little bit of ground as Contador grits his teeth as he rounds one of the corners.
Nocentini is sliding out of the back of the bunch too as confirmation comes through that Geraint Thomas is out of the race having abandoned.
Burghardt's move has worked in the sense that it's shed the peloton of a few hangers on. The Belgians are still there in force though.
The two leaders make their way up to the finishline. They'll have four laps remaining having completed 206km.
A number of gaps have started to appear back in the bunch though. Spain lead the peloton over the line, as Gilbert takes on some food. Cancellara is there too and for the first time Italy have moved off the front as they regroup.
The gap to the leaders remains at 2 minutes as Vansummeren leads the peloton over the line.
Gesink, Boasson Hagen and Contador have all made it back to the much reduced peloton. Gautier has now slipped clear.
The Frenchman looks and he only has about 8 seconds. Fuglsang is near the front but he looks to be the last Danish rider in the race.
Can Vansummer make any inroads into the break's lead? Gilbert looks concerned enough to usher another rider up to the front to help with the workload.
Burghardt is back in the field and shielding Degenbolb for Germany. The Belgians have replaced Italy on the front though with Van Avermaet setting the pace. The pace is starting to increase with four laps remaining of this very demanding circuit.
Voeckler moves his troops to the front, alongside the Belgians. The Spanish are still in the mix but they're dotted around the peloton rather than making the pace.
The two leaders are climbing now and the Belgians should be able to make inroads into the pair's advantage. Gilbert has five teammates with him at this stage.
There's an attack from Stetina but he's quickly chased down by the French and Belgians.
Italy sense the danger and throw a man up the road. This looks like a dangerous move forming off the front of the field with around a dozen riders.
The race is still on and already the knives are out for Paolo Bettini’s tactics. Former world champion Francesco Moser believes Italy have done too much too soon. “They started working too early,” Moser told RAI. “They’re not the only team in the peloton, the Belgians were there too. It’s the kind of work that should have been shared.”
Stetina looks back and see that the race is all coming back together. Scarponi is the Italian in the move, along with Voeckler. Henao is also there.
The Italian team are looking shaky at the moment. They've had to use Scarponi perhaps a little earlier than expected and a couple of their riders have blown.
Kelderman who had been on the attack is about to be caught.
The Stetina move has been brought back but the American continues to fly the flag for his country and sits right on the front of the bunch.
Ullisi is off the back now and Vansummeren too.
Gautier has moved clear with Visconti and the pair are working well together with 56km to go. That will be a test for the Belgians as they wont want to give Visconti too much room.
The two leaders are really struggling now and the chasers could be with them as they tackle the last climb on this lap.
Visconti and Gautier have forced the other teams to chase, while at the same time saved Nibali and Voeckler from committing more men to the front of the race.
Keldermann is at 25 seconds, Gautier and Visconti at 42. There's not much chasing from the field though. Cancellara and Gilbert may need to help each other here.
The two leaders are on the ropes now. They've not much in the tank as Visconti and Gautier drive on at 34 seconds.
Those two have just under a minute on the peloton and there's still no reaction from the Belgians or Swiss. The Spanish have been very quiet so far too.
Over the line for the leaders and Vansummeren has recovered enough to move back to the front of the peloton. Mollema, Gesink, Monfort are all near the front as the rain continues to pour down. The gap is at 1'42.
Contador, Sanchez and Valverde are in the mix for Spain but they've not played any of their cards yet. They've played a patient game and it will be interesting to see how they perform on the last few laps.
Simon Clarke is there for Australia by the way. he's the lone Australian left in the race after Cadel Evans and co all abandoned.
Jan Barta (Czech Republic) and Bartosz Huzarski (Poland) still hold their advantage. Are we really heading towards the upset of all upsets?
Visconti, Gautier, Kelderman have linked up in the first chase group with Georg Preidler (Austria).
Up at the front of affairs and Barta is starting to struggle.
Visconti drives on and Kelderman is dropped. That now means the Dutch will have to think about chasing.
Huzarski is now on his own and leading the World Championships.
And Visconti is now alone too having dropped the riders in his group. He about to drop Barta and he goes right passed him. Visconti on the big ring and pulling this race back into the Italian team's hands.
The lone leader, he's in the saddle, inching towards the top of the main climb. He has roughly 30 seconds at the moment.
Vansummeren pulls the bunch along as Visconti slowly starts to pull himself towards Huzarski.
A brief break from the rain as Visconti starts the descent. and Rodriguez moves up towards the front and Gilbert gives him a long, good stare.
The bunch are 1;38 back at the top of the climb.
Just two laps to go when they cross the lap next time.
The fresher Visconti takes much better lines through the apexes of each corner and he's now just 18 seconds off the Polish rider.
Just over 40km to go and Visconti is giving everyone a perfect demonstration of how to descent in the wet.
Onto the Via Salviati, and surely this is where Visconti will become the lone leader in the worlds. Both riders out of the saddle as the Polish rider really starts to crack.
Visconti is in difficulty too though and he still doesn't have Huzarski in sight.
The gap between then is at around 5 seconds.
Visconti finally makes contact and moves right to the front, hands arched over the drops as he leads through a tight corner and onto the second part of the descent.
A little ramp now and Huzarski is hanging in there.
The gap to the leaders is at 1;15.
35km to go and there's news that Nibali has crashed.
Paolini is down for certain.
Nibali is back on his bike but he has crashed, his shorts in tatters. It could be all over for the Italian.
Nibali is trying to adjust to shoes but he's going to struggle to get back into contention. He's all alone too.
Visconti won't know, with no race radios but he'll have to carry on riding anyhow.
Two laps to go and Italian hopes are in the balance as Visconti leads over the line and Nibali struggles to chase back to the bunch after a crash.
And the Belgians are really setting a tough pace now. Cancellara, Degenkolb , Gilbert are all there but Nibali's race could be over.
Valverde is ther Rui Costa too, and Contador.
Boasson Hagen is also there as well.
Nibali is chasing on his own, at roughly a minute down on the bunch. He's not giving up.
And Bakelants takes over from Vansummeren on the front. The Belgians are taking the race by the scruff of the neck.
Up ahead and Visconti isn't getting any help with the gap at 1:05
All three medallists from 2012 are in contention as Contador sits near the back of the group. Scarponi is still up there for the Italians though.
Nibali is chasing back through the convoy.
Onto the long climb now with 30km to go.
Voeckler has been dropped and a Colombian rider begins to set the pace for the Belgian team.
Nibali is 16 seconds down on the bunch so he could still make contact. It's taking a lot of energy though.
The Belgian team have the two leaders at less than 30 seconds. The Germans are still in force as Nibali makes contact with the bunch via some help from the Italian team car.
All the favourites are waiting for the last lap and Nibali is on Cancellara's wheel.
Atapuma is still on the front as up ahead the leaders are down to just 25 seconds as they reach the steep section of the climb.
The gap is down to 9 seconds and the bunch is starting to line out.
Bakelants has been dropped
Visconti looks back and he can see the peloton. It's all over that move.
Everything wrests on Nibali and Scarponi now for the home nation. Pozzato is also in the mix.
Uran is there, Rodriguez and a good chunk of Spanish teammates and there's still no attacks from the main favourites.
Contador has been dropped but Degenkolb and Sagan are both near the front.
Fuglsang, Howes, Moreno, Rast, Stybar Golas, and Pinot have made the 42 strong field as Visconti starts to slip back.
Gilbert hasn't put a foot wrong so far. he's used his team when he's needed them and so far so good for the defending champion.
23km to go and the bunch is all together with the Belgians still on the front
Weening moves up for the Dutch as Valverde moves onto Cancellara's rear wheel.
Into the Via Salviati. Will we see any moves?
Everyone is watching each other, no one team even wants to take up the pace duties and there are so many struggling legs out there.
Cancellara looks very strong as there's an attack from Bardet.
Scarponi moves to mark that move.
Onto the descent and Bardet's brief moment off the front is about to put to bed.
Burghardt leads the field with roughly 30 minutes of racing still left in the race.
A rider from Croatia has started a move but Visconti, Uran and Moreno close that down.
A rider from Slovenia has attacked too but that's been brought back with 1 lap to go.
Maxim Iglinskiy (Kazakhstan) is near the front.
Rodriguez and Boasson Hagen are near each other too, Sagan is still in contact too and it's all going to come down to the final two climbs of this world championships.
Spain post a man on the front in order to keep the pace high.
Just 15km left.
As the peloton start the approach to the penultimate climb.
And now it's Italy on the front with Visconti doing the work.
Gilbert, Valverde, Sagan and Cancellara are all watching each other.
Visconti peels off and now Denmark are setting the pace. Scarponi in third wheel.
Fuglsang in second wheel as Sorensen sets the pace for him. Fuglsang looks very strong.
Nibali is still near the front of the peloton too.
Sagan is fifth wheel.
Rui Costa is all there. Weening, Valverde, Gilbert, Betancur and Mollema. They're all waiting.
And Scarponi attacks.
Fulgsang cant follow and Rodriguez has to close this move.
Rodriguez has a gap with Scarponi and two more riders.
And Nibali is starting to chase
Rodriguez is looking for Valverde
And Nibali is right there on Scarponi's wheel.
More riders are losing ground. Boasson Hagen one of them.
Scarponi leads Nibali and now Nibali attacks.
Valverde goes with him.
The pair have 3 meters but it's Rodriguez not Valverde.
And now Rodriguez attacks and Nibali has to chase
Now the pair have a gap.
Rodriguez leads the race with Nibali right on his wheel as they crest top top with Rui Costa, Uran and Valverde at 5 seconds.
Gilbert is at 24 seconds
No sign of Cancellara or Sagan at the moment.
And now Nibali takes a turn on the front.
Valverde will not chase this so it's down to Rui Costa and Uran to do the work. It's only a 4 second gap.
And a huge crash for Uran.
He's on his feet but that all went front on a slight corner.
So now Nibali and Rodriguez have just one rider really chasing them.
And now we have four riders, Valverde, Nibali, Rui Costa and Rodriguez.
And Rodriguez has a gap on the descent.
Nibali isn't going to get any help here. He has to chase this move himself though.
And Rodriguez is heading to the win.
The lone Spaniard has around 9 seconds. Nibali keeps looking around but he's not going to get any help from two riders like Rui Costa and Valverde.
The gap is at 10 seconds and Rui Costa takes a short turn before Nibali takes over.
Nibali will have to do this the hard way.
And Roriguez is on the lower slopes of the final climb.
He has 11 seconds
5km to go and Rui Costa is losing a bit of ground.
The gap is down to five seconds.
Nibali turns on the power and Valverde just plays the waiting game.
Rui Costa is still there too.
And the four riders are back together.
Nibali can't wait for the sprint.
And now Rodriguez goes again but Nibali catches him.
Rui Costa still at the back is waiting for his moment.
3km to go and final ramp
Rodriguez goes and Nibali is forced to chase
But Nibali is struggling to catch Rodriguez this time and the gap remains at around 30 meters.
And the gap is getting bigger with 1.8km to go.
The gap is at 5 seconds and Costa attacks!
Costa is clear and chasing Rodriguez.
I think Costa will take this, he's closing on Rodriguez.
The gap is down to 2 seconds.
Costa is on Rodriguez' wheel
Rodriguez turns around and tries to talk to Costa. and the Spaniard will lead out.
And Costa comes around and he takes it.
And here comes Valverde to take third.
Nibali will have to settle for fourth with Simon Clarke in fifth.
Rui Costa timed his attack to perfection. He waited for Rodriguez to establish a gap and when Nibali sat up Rui Costa attacked. He caught Rodriguez in the final few hundred meters and then hung on despite a late sprint challenge for the Spaniard.
Lampre will be made up with that result too, Rui Costa signed a one year deal with them earlier in the summer. Their first world champion since Ballan in 2008.
Here's the top ten:
1 Rui Costa (Portugal) 7:25:44
2 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain)
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spain) 0:00:16
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) 0:00:16
5 Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) 0:00:31
6 Peter Sagan (Slovakia) 0:00:34
7 Simon Clarke (Australia) 0:00:34
8 Maxim Iglinskiy (Kazakhstan) 0:00:34
9 Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) 0:00:34
10 Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) 0:00:34
Thanks for joining us today, for what has been a memorable world championships. You can find our reports, results and photos, right here.