Hours after finishing his first reconnaissance of the Richmond World Championships course with Team USA on Thursday, Tyler Farrar strolled into the lobby of the downtown Marriott near the finish line looking confident and relaxed.
The 31-year-old American, the most experienced rider on US team, has been tagged as the road captain for the relatively young squad, and he appeared to be taking it all in stride.
Expectations for the this year's race – the first time it will be in the US in nearly 30 years – are high for the home team despite the fact that the country's best finishers last year were Brent Bookwalter in 25th and Alex Howes in 30th.
A medal performance this year would be quite a leap in results, but Farrar told Cyclingnews the six-rider team is coming into the race with extraordinary motivation.
"You're always motivated for the World Championships," Farrar said. "But as an American, having the World Championships in the States is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing – once in a career at least.
"That's the big thing: we want to put on a good show. We don't want to be anonymous in the peloton on the course on Sunday. We want to race aggressively and hopefully put someone on the podium."
Just which rider will give the home team the best chance for that medal is up for debate, and Farrar indicated on Thursday that it will be a game-time decision for the US squad. Although Bookwalter and Howes carried the banner for the team in last year's finale, the make up of this year's roster is quite different.
Farrar might be the one if the race comes down to a field sprint, but the rider from Seattle told Cyclingnews he doesn't think that will be the outcome at the end of Sunday's race.
"I don't think it will be 150 riders at the finish," he said. "It's not going to be a pure bunch sprint, per se. I think the weather will be a huge factor in it. I see some rain forecast for Sunday, and there's a lot of corners.
"Most of the corners are fairly wide, and in the dry those corners are going to flow. But in the wet you're going to have to really slow down and reaccelerate out of everyone one of them. After six hours that really takes its toll. I think you'll see a smaller group then if that’s the case."
Farrar said even it's a beautiful, sunny day, however, he doesn't expect a full-on bunch kick. Two cobbled climbs near the finish lead to an uphill rise to the line, and Farrar believes the climbs will make life difficult for the pure sprinters, possibly causing a late split or solo breakaway like the one Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland used to win last year in Spain.
"If you look at the lap, the last four or five kilometres are pretty savage," he said. "Each climb on its own isn't terribly hard, but they come in quick succession one after another right at the end. All it takes is that gap opening and the race is gone. It's not easy to close even a 10 second gap."
Farrar said the list of riders to watch on Sunday is long.
"It's pretty hard not to put a guy like Sagan on the list," he said. "I have no idea after his crash at the Vuelta where he's at physically, but if you look at the course and you look at him, it's a bit of a no-brainer. So obviously him, and I think Michael Matthews; it really suits him.
"It's a power sprint. It's not a pure speed sprint here at the finish. So even if it does come down to a larger group, it's still a bit grunty in the last K, and that suits [Matthews] really well."
Farrar tagged German riders John Degenkolb and Andre Greipel as possible contenders, depending on how the race is ridden, and, of course, the Belgian team is loaded with talent.
"They have several cards they can play," he said. "Which one they choose to play, I guess we'll find out on Sunday."
The course doesn't favour riders like Alejandro Valverde or Vincenzo Nibali because it won't be selective enough, Farrar said, adding the caveat that bad weather could change things dramatically.
"If it comes down to a sprint from 80 guys, I don't necessarily see him winning or being on the podium," Farrar said of the Spanish rider who has finished third the past three years.
“But if it becomes a more selective race, if the weather is bad and things split up more, sure. He's obviously a classy bike rider. But I think it's not an ideal course for him. You look at the last years, the courses he's podiumed on were climbing World Championships, and this isn't a climber’s World Championship. That being said, Valverde is capable of impressive things, so you can never really count him out."
Another one to watch could be US rider Taylor Phinney, who could be the US team's wildcard.
"He's certainly probably the freshest guy here," Farrar said of Phinney, who has less than 20 days of racing since returning from injury after 14 months away.
"Taylor is obviously a huge talent. He's still in the process of coming back from his injury, but I think he's well on his way. You see the way he was racing in Colorado, in Tour of Britain. I think he's going to be really good. So hopefully maybe he'll be the wildcard that works out for us."
Big changes to Qhubeka team if Cavendish comes on board
Farrar also commented on speculation that his South African Pro Continental trade team is trying to sign British sprint phenom Mark Cavendish for next season. Once rivals in the Grand Tour sprints, Farrar could now find himself an integral part of the Mercurial Manxman's lead-out train.
"It will be a big change," Farrar said. "I think it could be a really good change. I don't know at this point in time if it's happening or not, but I think it could be a really nice fit, because we have some really experienced fast guys on the team.
"Cavendish is arguably the greatest sprinter ever, certainly right up there, if not the best ever, so you've got a certified closer. It could be a really successful pairing if he was to come to the team. But even we don't know if it's happening or not."
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