Road World Championship selection throws up big questions
Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde fight out the finish of Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under (Image: Felix Lowe)
With the Vuelta done and dusted, the road cycling community turns its attention to the UCI road world championships, to be held next week in the Netherlands.
The men’s road race takes place on a 261km course similar to that of the Amstel Gold Race, finishing with several laps of a circuit including the famous Cauberg hill.
It’s a long, hard course full of short climbs, and best suited to classics riders.
With several of Australia’s long-listed riders showing excellent form in recent weeks, selectors won’t be required to make too many daring decisions.
But there will be a few contentious ones in there.
The Australian men’s elite road race team of nine riders will be selected from Simon Clarke, Allan Davis, Simon Gerrans, Adam Hansen, Heinrich Haussler, Michael Matthews, Cam Meyer, Richie Porte, Mick Rogers, Rory Sutherland, and David Tanner.
Surprisingly neither Matt Goss nor Mark Renshaw were selected in the squad – Renshaw’s feud with Cycling Australia’s selectors seem to be ongoing, but 2011 silver medallist Goss’s omission is perhaps more of a surprise.
With Cadel Evans having withdrawn due to illness, injury and indifferent form, only two of the listed riders will miss out. Unlucky.
Even without Evans, this is a well-balanced team with plenty of options, whether the race comes down to a bunch sprint, a punchy attack on the Cauberg, or a long breakaway.
Simon Gerrans’ win in Quebec last week, and a fourth in Montreal, show that he has rediscovered the form that won at Milan-San Remo, and he will probably go in as Australia’s best chance of victory.
Haussler also has a strong classics pedigree and despite a lack of big wins this season, memorably finished second to Peter Sagan in four consecutive stages of the Tour of California. He’s a decent smokey.
Simon Clarke and Allan Davis both showed pretty solid form at the Vuelta, and deserve a spot. Clarke has shown that he can outclimb the sprinters, and outsprint the climbers, and is in the form of his career. Whether that’s enough to beat the classics specialists is another thing, but he’s definitely worth a punt at the selection table.
The experience and grunt of Porte, Hansen (if he doesn’t hate the sight of his bike after completing his third grand tour of the year), and Rogers will be important if the race needs controlling.
Rory Sutherland (United Healthcare) is not as well known as some of his team-mates, but some big wins in North America this season, including an impressive stage win at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge against quality opposition, mean he would also be unlucky to miss out.
The choice between the relatively unheralded Tanner (Saxo-Tinkoff), Meyer and Matthews depends on whether the selectors think the race is likely to finish with a sprint or a breakaway. Meyer is probably better suited to a support role if required to chase, but Matthews is a wildcard for the win. Tough call.
It’ll be an even tougher call in the time trial.
The selectors have the option to pick two riders from Luke Durbridge, Meyer, Porte, and Rogers.
This is a real dilemma.
The 45.7km TT course could politely be called ‘lumpy’, and won’t suit diesel-style powerhouses like Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara.
Rogers’ sixth place at the Olympics probably earns him the first spot, but there isn’t much to separate Meyer, Porte and Durbridge.
Porte shaded Meyer by a mere two seconds in the time trial at the Vuelta (they finished sixth and eighth respectively), which may give him the edge.
Meyer’s Vuelta form was reasonable until he retired, but Porte’s brilliant second place on the brutal stage 20 climb to Bola del Mundo just reiterates how strong he still is, even after dragging the peloton around France all July.
Porte was also fifth in the final time trial at the Tour de France (never mind his first effort, he was clearly saving himself and finished six minutes back). I think he deserves the second spot.
There is, however, a complication. Durbridge is the national champion and has won three individual time trials this season, but with the exception of the prologue at the Dauphine these have been at second-tier races.
Durbridge did defeat Meyer at the Tour of California, finishing 8th to Meyer’s 11th, but a top-10 in a long time trial at a grand tour should count for more than a win at smaller regional races, you would think.
Whichever way the selectors lean, they probably have two riders capable of getting in the top ten, but it’s hard to see Wiggins being beaten on a hilly course.
The elite men’s teams look strong for both the road race and the time trial, but I think outright favouritism will be focused elsewhere.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see which way the selectors go, and with the inclusion of a trade team time trial on the programme, there’s a touch of extra interest for those who don’t make their national squads.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.