Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert may be the leading lights in Belgium's team for the World Championships road race, but former winner Tom Boonen has picked out Tim Wellens as his favourite for the rainbow jersey.
Van Avermaet and Gilbert have both won Monuments this season but Wellens won the Grand Prix de Wallonnie last weekend with a 15km solo raid that reminded Boonen of another famous Belgian.
"There are some Belgians doing very well at the moment. What Tim Wellens did on Wednesday was almost 'Merckxian'," said Boonen, who retired in April, according to Sporza.
"My favourite is Wellens. Bold, but he's going well."
Wellens, who won a stage and finished second overall at the BinckBank Tour last month, has a penchant for long-range, against-the-odds attacks, which is just one weapon in Belgium's arsenal. Along with Van Avermaet and Gilbert, they also have national champion Oliver Naesen, Jasper Stuyven, Tiesj Benoot, Jens Keukeleire, Dylan Teuns, and Julien Vermote.
Speaking after his GP Wallonnie victory, Wellens said he knew his place in the Belgian hierarchy but wasn't ruling out his own chances.
"The palmares of Gilbert and Van Avermaet are still different to mine," he acknowledged, "but if you ask me if there is a chance of becoming world champion, I have to say yes. When I attack and the favourites look at each other, you never know."
The 267.5km course looks well suited to the talents of the Belgians. Twelve laps of a 19km finishing circuit that contains three climbs will sap the legs and thin out the list of contenders, while the third of those climbs - over 3km at 6 per cent - could be pivotal on the final lap as it tops out with just 8km remaining.
"If we don't have a chance, then no one has a chance," said Boonen, who won the title in 2005 and finished on the podium last year.
"We have a deep, strong team. As always the Worlds are a lottery. Usually it's the strongest guys left towards the end, but there's always a bit of gambling."
"The tactics? Like any Worlds, it will be hard from the start and the course will take shape. A team will have to take responsibility and unfortunately others will look to Belgium because we have two or three riders who could go far. Then it's a case of sending someone up the road, but it's not usually possible because the other teams don't want to let the Belgians go. So a long waiting game may be a solution, and sacrifice two riders to control things."
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