When Australian men's road coach Bradley McGee signed off on the team he and his fellow selectors picked for the World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain next week, he was confident that before him was a line-up that could win the 254km race.
"It's only my second year in selection. But it has been said by many people of credibility that it has got to be one of the strongest teams Australia ever put together," McGee said.
The team is to be led by Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and Cadel Evans (BMC). Also included are Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), Mat Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge) and Rory Sutherland (Saxo-Tinkoff).
It is a selection made after some notable absentees. McGee said Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) declared himself unavailable for selection, while Richie Porte (Team Sky), Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) and Zak Dempster (NetApp-Endura) withdrew from the long list of 18 riders due to illness or fatigue.
A team for the future as much as today
While McGee is looking at the prospect of a world title, he has one eye on the future. Linked to that future is Rohan Dennis who will compete in the road race and time trial.
Dennis, 24-years-old and at the end of his second year as a professional, has undergone a season of massive change with his mid-season transfer from Garmin-Sharpe to BMC.
Dennis' finishing place in the Vuelta a España of 84th place at 3:12:44 to Spanish winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was not crucial to his selection, but significant was that he notched up his first grand tour finish – especially with an impressive third in the 9.7km time trial on stage 21, 9 seconds behind Italian Adriano Malori (Movistar).
But Dennis' place for one of two spots that Australia had qualified for in the time trial was booked before that strong finish – even before the Vuelta's start on August 13.
"His first time trial at the Vuelta [stage 10 - 25th at 2:09 minutes to Germany's Tony Martin] was not a great one, but we understood the reasons. We backed him in more or less on the Commonwealth Games performance.
"A change of teams, change of roles … it would have been ludicrous to expect he would set the world on fire from day one [at BMC]. To do what he has been doing, I think, is already a big positive; and with the change mid-season … it is almost unprecedented."
Great expectations for Dennis – or not
What Dennis can do in the road race is uncertain, but McGee believes he will have an impact. McGee is also looking to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, saying:
"What we want to see from Rohan and not Rohan in particular – we are looking at Rio – do we have the capacity to have a crack at the podium, maybe a top five?
"Come the Olympics, it is only a maximum of five riders a team [for the road race] including the time trialler. If someone is going to be there they have to start putting their performances down to show a pathway into that high level. I am not going to base that on a 9km time trial [in stage 21 of the Vuelta] but the Worlds will count.
"A 9km time trial at end of Vuelta shows he has finished strongly, on a positive note, he is probably the hungriest bike rider in the peloton at the moment with the number of second places he has had over time," McGee added with a laugh. "That's good energy to have.
"I feel for him but I'm aware of the gain you can get out of that energy. He'll be right. We have got a lot of faith in Rohan. He has come through as a rider and as a person.
"We will support him all the way so long as he is doing the right things – which he is."
Why not two time triallists?
Australian time trial champion Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge were under consideration for the second time trial position. But as McGee said: "Based on 'Heppy' and 'Durbo's form and performance … the level teetered off a little bit at this stage. For the long term I am not concerned about that. These are still young riders.
"They have to put seasons in their legs before they can have a legitimate claim to that step up to the top five of the podium potential in the time trial.
"Rohan appears to be a little ahead of the game there - just in his capacity as a GC rider it has helped him. There is no point taking these guys just to run a top 15 or 20."
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)
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