Oliver Naesen returned from a reconnaissance ride of the World Championships road race course around Imola, Italy, on Saturday morning and told Belgian media that it was "difficult – very difficult", while also confirming that the Belgian squad would be united behind Wout van Aert for Sunday's race.
"We knew it was going to be difficult, and that was confirmed after the reconnaissance," Naesen told the Belga news agency via Het Nieuwsblad. "You have those two climbs [the Mazzolano and the Cima Gallisterna], but it's never flat in between, either.
"There's little time to recuperate other than for just a few miles on the race track because it's flat there and the roads are wider," he said of the start and finish area of each of the 28.8km circuits, which the men's race covers nine times during a race that totals 258.2km and has 5,000 metres of climbing.
"It's going to be a gruelling course. It's about constantly pushing and concentrating," Naesen continued. "The first climb is the shorter of the two, and isn't too bad, but the second climb is a lot steeper.
"It's a course for a very strong Wout van Aert," he said, with his compatriot having accompanied him on the ride. "He's got a very positive attitude as he was very happy with what he saw."
Naesen – who makes up the eight-rider Belgian squad alongside Van Aert, Greg Van Avermaet, Loïc Vliegen, Jasper Stuyven, Pieter Serry, Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot – also told Het Nieuwsblad that he thought that positioning during the race was going to be very important.
"You have to keep your leaders up at the front on those narrow, winding roads," he said, and named France's Julian Alaphilippe and Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang among the other favourites.
"Then there are the Slovenians, with Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, and the Italian and Spanish teams are also always good at the World Championships," said Naesen.
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