Former rider Cédric Vasseur knows the roads of the upcoming world championships road race well, having raced the 1998 Worlds in Valkenburg as well as the Amstel Gold Race several times during his pro career. The Frenchman shared his thoughts about the course and its favourites with Velochrono, pointing out that the decisive moment of the event could come from another hill than the well-known Cauberg, and that some less marked riders had good chances of success if they attacked from further out.
"This circuit is trying," Vasseur assessed, taking into account not only its length and climbing gradients but also the narrow roads, the riders' nervousness and overall speed. "Of course, we think of the Cauberg often [a key section - ed.] but there's also the Bemelerberg [900m at 5% gradient - ed.] just before it. It's a long false flat where you have to beware of breakaways. The Cauberg is harder, but it has good visibility and a long straight at the end. The other climb is twisty with limited visibility. You'll have to watch out for riders of the likes of (Lars Petter) Nordhaug [who just won the GP Montreal - ed.]."
While the Frenchman admitted that the race could come down to a last-minute breakaway sprint of pre-race favourites ("Valverde, Gilbert, Gerrans, Freire, Boonen, to name but a few") he didn't rule out that less likely moves earlier in the race could also be successful. "Maybe we'll have to wait for the Cauberg but indeed, I think that a victorious attack can be made from far out, possibly with 50 or 60 kilometres to go. And from the other side of the circuit," he said.
"I mentioned Nordhaug, but there is also Tiernan-Locke. With what he's shown at the Tour of Britain, this could be a dangerous guy. Perhaps not for the win but he's fresh and he'll surely not wait for the finale. In a breakaway from far out, a rider like Gilbert can't do anything, he's too marked. But someone like Tiernan-Locke can. It could be interesting to see him in front."
Vasseur was also cautious as to internal rivalry within the big nations' teams, Spain and Belgium. "The problem of the Spanish team is that some riders have just been rivals at the Vuelta. [Alejandro] Valverde and [Alberto] Contador made [Joaquim] Rodriguez lose the overall race... It would be unbelievable if they now rode flat out for a rider that was their rival just two weeks ago."
As for the Belgians, "I'm not sure that Boonen and Gilbert are complementary. I think that Boonen will be a burden for Gilbert, because they'll have to focus on him if a sprint is possible. Gilbert is going to have to try and get rid of Boonen because a rider of his class can't be satisfied with a countryman's victory.
"But as I said, the circuit is trying. The Cauberg will be climbed several times, it's a repetitive effort. Because of that, I'm not certain of Boonen and the other sprinters. At the team time trial, Boonen was fighting to keep his teammates' wheels on the Cauberg. I think it'll be difficult for him."