Chris Froome has confirmed to Cyclingnews that he will lead the Great Britain team in Sunday's Elite men's world championship road race with Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and the rest of the squad set to make the 272km race as hard as possible to give the Tour de France winner a shot at victory.
Greg LeMond was the last Tour de France winner to win the rainbow jersey in the same season, back in 1989, in Chambéry, France, when he beat Dimitri Konyshev and Sean Kelly in a thrilling sprint in the rain.
Froome has so far had little success in one-day races but the hilly circuit around Florence, with the 4.3km climb up to Fiesole, should produce a selective race and give the Grand Tour climbers a chance of taking the rainbow jersey. Despite a lack of recent results, Froome believes he has a chance of pulling on the rainbow jersey and emulating LeMond.
Many of the favourites for the world title have found their form by riding the Vuelta or a series of other summer stage races in Europe. Froome opted for a different preparation, spending almost a month in the USA, much of it in Colorado, book ending his training at altitude by riding the USA Pro Challenge and the Canadian WorldTour races in Quebec and Montreal.
While Peter Sagan won four stages and Tejay van Garderen won overall in Colorado, Froome struggled with the altitude. He was also off the pace in Canada but is hoping his training and some recent recovery will produce some late-season form.
"I feel like I'm getting back up now," he told Cyclingnews before riding the team time trial and helping Team Sky win the bronze medal behind Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Orica-GreenEdge.
"I struggled a little it with the intensity in Canada but I'm on the right road now. The road race is close to 280km and over that distance guys will be less punchy towards the end, I hope so at least. I'm feeling better and better."
The secrets of the hilly Florence circuit
Before heading to North America, Froome spent a day in Florence in early August to study the road race circuit. He rode two laps of the finishing circuit, studying the main climb to Fiesole and the short but steep climb of Via Salviati. He was perhaps more optimistic at the time, telling Italian magazine Bicisport of his hopes and possible race strategy.
"I've never targeted a one-day race before. I had a go at Liege-Bastogne-Liege but it didn’t work out. But I think I can do something on this course," the Italian magazine reported him as saying in their cover feature.
"It's difficult to predict how the race will evolve. The route is open to several different scenarios but I think it suits two kinds of rider: the ones who will suffer on the climb but if they get over it, they're unbeatable in a sprint. I'd put people like Edvald Boasson Hagen and Sagan in that group. Then there's the kind of riders who will use the climbs to force a selection, people like me, Nibali and Rodriguez."
Froome pushed hard during his second lap of reconnaissance to select his gears for Sunday's race and understand the chances of a late attack staying away to the finish.
"The climb is hard and if someone manages to get 10 seconds over the top and gain five seconds in the corners of the descent, they could stay away. When the peloton can't see you, they lose the conviction that they can catch you," he said.
"At the Worlds, so near the end of the season, your head is more important than your legs. Who's going to do the chasing after 270km of racing?"
No chance in a sprint finish
Froome is notoriously slow in a sprint finish and happy to accept he has little chance of victory if he wants to emulate Greg LeMond. He knows he and Great Britain, perhaps in an alliance with Italy, Spain and France, will have to make the road race hard, in the hope of eliminating Sagan, Cancellara and Gilbert.
"If the race is decided in a sprint, I'd lose. There's no doubt about that. I can't even remember the last time I did a sprint," he said.
"I know I can’t wait for Via Salviati. If I want to win, I've got to move sooner than that. The little ramp close to the finish (with three kilometres to go) could be a chance to get rid of the faster finishers who will be tired. We've got to get rid of the sprinters one by one, hoping the climb does the big damage."
Tired after a long season
Froome admitted he is tired after a hugely successful but also very demanding season. He made his debut at the Tour of Oman and has mixed stage race victories with intense training camps even before going on to win the Tour de France. He competed in a string of lucrative criteriums after the Tour de France and then headed to Colorado.
He admitted to Cyclingnews that he's looking forward to enjoying a break at the end of the season.
Froome is the current leader of the UCI WorldTour standings but did not seem interested in fighting for victory with Joaquim Rodriguez at the Tour of Beijing.
"I'll do Lombardy and I think that will be it, though I'll possibly do the Japan Cup. It's been a pretty full on season. I haven't had much of a break. I'm looking forward to switching off a bit," he told Cyclingnews.
Despite all his success in 2013 Froome seems the same person as ever. He is still very relaxed and genteel, insisting that his life and his character will not change now that he is a recognised global sports star he has joined the exclusive club of Tour de France winners.
"It's been a real eye opener. It's been a real experience but my life has not really changed," he insisted.
"I only think you're only really the flavour of the month for so long and I'm just the same person as I was before."
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