In 2006, when Marianne Vos claimed her first elite women's world road race title, she was fresh out of the junior ranks, but after five consecutive second place finishes, the defending champion is neither ready nor willing to let the rainbow jersey slip from her grasp again.
Vos and her powerhouse Dutch team will line up on Saturday at the road Worlds in Florence with the sole intent of bringing home the gold. "Even if I have already 10 world championship titles, I'm still excited about this one," Vos told Cyclingnews. "It's always great to do Worlds, and especially since it's in Florence. Even if I've done so many world championships before, I am still excited and a little nervous."
Vos has had a different kind of season: after winning the gold medal at the London Olympic Games and taking her triumphant victory at the Worlds in her home country, she first turned her focus to the cyclo-cross Worlds, which she won for the sixth time, and then dabbled in mountain biking before dominating the World Cup for her fifth overall win.
Although her 2013 has featured less in the way of stage race wins, she's been nearly unbeatable in one-day events. Vos's preparation ahead of the Worlds included victories in the final two World Cups of the year in Sweden and France.
"It's been really good, the last two World Cups of the season were good and then I had a little rest to be fresh here," she said. "I did [Premondiale Giro] Toscana and I felt good, but then there were some issues with the security." Several teams including hers left the race when road closures were not enforced to their satisfaction. Vos had been leading the race until her departure and said, "Until then I felt good. I had a good race, so it was good for the confidence."
Vos has left nothing to chance in her bid for a repeat victory. They Dutch team came in March to view the course, and she has been reviewing the circuit since then. As a rider who prefers a hard race of attrition, Vos likes the route, which contains five 16km laps with two selective climbs in each loop.
"You [may be able to] come back, but I don't think you can come back five times," she predicted. "If the race is hard, it will be difficult. I think the selection will be made on the climb and will stay to the finish."
"First we have to have confidence in our own team, because we have eight really strong riders. Some of the girls who didn't make the squad are at home watching television and they're maybe in the top 30 or 40 in the world. That's incredible. I have confidence in them.
"But I saw the Italians last week. I could see they were really well prepared for this Worlds in their own country. [Tatiana] Guderzo was strong, [Noemi] Cantele is strong, [Elisa] Longo Borghini is back from her injury, Rosella Ratto is strong... Longon Borghini, I count on her as being back fully from her crash. Then, you have the rider who is always good in the world championships and that's Giorgia Bronzini. She did really well in the hilly stage of Toscana. Normally we are the favorites, but I think Italy is really close."
Vos also tips Emma Johansson and Evelyn Stevens as riders to watch, but said the riders will need to come to the last lap as fresh as possible.
"The course is going to be killing in the final."