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Smells like September: Picking the team for the World Race Championships

Simon Clarke is the new Australian representing Australia at the top of the 2015 Giro's GC after four stages. (AAP Image/Julian Drape)
Expert
2nd September, 2014
10

September is a special time of the year for Aussie sports fans, particularly those who follow the AFL and NRL. It’s finals time, culminating in the grand final – the biggest day of the year for many footy fans.

But September a massive time for cycling fans, as we celebrate our grand final – the world road race Championships. The best of the best assemble in one place to see who can pull on the majestic rainbow stripes in their particular discipline.

This year, that place is Ponferrada, Spain from September 21-28. It’s the seventh time the event has visited Spain since Lasarte was granted the first hosting rights in 1965 and Brit Tom Simpson claimed the rainbow jersey.

Madrid last hosted the championships in 2005 when another Tom, as in Tom Boonen, stood atop the podium.

As always the “festival of cycling” climaxes in the Elite Men’s Road Race, and as always (well recently at least), there’s likely to be an Australian or two in the mx come the finale.

Last year, nine Aussies started the Tuscan edition of the “Worlds” Elite Men’s Road Race on a course not dissimilar to that in Ponferrada.

Nearly seven and a half brutal, rain-soaked and bone-chillingly cold hours later, only one of our boys had crossed the finish line. Simon Clarke came home in seventh, the glory going to Portugal’s Rui Costa in the second slowest ever time for this race (7:25:44).

Just 61 of 207 starters managed to complete the 272-kilometre race.

It’s hard to imagine the weather will be as bad in Spain, but regardless, S Clarke will be there once again. Though where he sits in the protected rider pecking order remains to be seen because the long list of names released by Cycling Australia last week, certainly has plenty of options, and even more firepower.

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18 riders are on the Elite Men’s list: Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE), Zakkari Dempster (NetApp-Endura), Rohan Dennis (BMC), Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), Nathan Earle (Sky), Cadel Evans (BMC), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Heinrich Haussler, (IAM Cycling), Matt Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE), Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEDGE), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff Bank Saxo-Bank), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE), Richie Porte (Sky), Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff Bank Saxo-Bank) and David Tanner (Belkin).

Last year Australia selected nine riders for the Road Race and just two for the Individual Time Trial.

Of the 2013 ‘road race’ team: Clarke, Dennis, Evans, Hayman, Matthews, Meyer, Porte, Sutherland and Tanner are there again…yes that’s all of them.

But surely not all can start because how can Simon Gerrans be left out? He missed last year’s race through injury but looks set to enjoy the challenge of this 14-lap, 254-kilometre epic.

The loop features two hills. The 5.2kilometres Confderacion which peaks at 8.8 per cent, and the much shorter 1.14-kilometre Mirador – which tops out at nearly 11 per cent.

After summiting the Mirador with just under five km to race it’s all downhill to the finish with a sharp right with around two kilometres to go, a roundabout at 1.5 kilometres and a 270-degree corner inside the final 500m.

In some ways the finale is not dissimilar to Milan-San Remo, so Gerrans should be able to manage all the race throws at him, but of course, these types of parcours are so attritional, it’s never easy to judge.

Gerrans of course has won a similar kind of race here in Australia at Mount Bunningyong, albeit on a much shorter Road Nationals course (195km). The question is though, who out of our “long list” should be there with him?

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Given the year he’s had with wins at the Giro and the Vuelta, Michael “Bling” Matthews must be chosen. The course suits his profile and he won’t be fazed should any of the sprinters make it over that final climb in his company. In terms of winning, Matthews would no doubt like an upwards slant to the finale but he’s Aussie cycling’s money-man at the moment and must be considered a serious contender.

Simon Clarke will also be there. If his ride at last year’s suffer fest wasn’t enough to ensure another chance, Clarke’s aggressive, opportunistic style of riding clinches his spot in the team.

Richie Porte hasn’t hit the heights we might have expected of him this season. After a disappointing 23rd at the Tour, Porte didn’t finish his past two races, the Vattenfall Cyclassics and the GP Ouest France-Plouay, but I’d still pick him. He’ll handle the climbs and can time trial his way to the finish if needed.

Somehow Adam Hansen is riding in his ninth straight Grand Tour. Somehow he thinks he can back up at the Worlds. There’s a school of thought that riding so many Grand Tours will cost Hansen a couple of years of his career, but as there’s no sign of him slowing down yet, the team needs a machine to help set the tempo.

Alongside Hansen, Mathew Hayman should join him to share the grunt work. Hayman is probably still recovering from having to pull out of his debut Tour after waiting so long to get the chance. He is as loyal as team player as you could get and at 36 may not have many more opportunities left.

Just three spots left and even though this race isn’t one for the pure sprinters, you can’t just pick Michael Matthews so I’d give a place to Nathan Haas. He hasn’t won’t a race since a stage of the Herald Sun this year, but if he survives his debut Vuelta he’ll be cherry ripe for Ponferrada.

Like Haas, Rohan Dennis is currently riding in his first Vuelta Espana. BMC’s latest Aussie recruit was in the Tuscan team last year and along with Richie also rode in the ITT. Dennis is a certainty for an ITT spot in 2014, and while he hasn’t carried his stellar road form all the way through the season, the Vuelta should prepare him perfectly.

That leaves one spot. For me he’s no chance to win a second World Championship but Cadel Evans has to be picked. After an impressive Tour of Utah where Cadel won back to back stages and finished sixth, last night he claimed a brilliant sixth in the ITT.

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This could be Cadel’s final appearance at a World Championships and while sentiment is not a reason to pick someone for a team, form is and right now Cadel demands to be selected in the team.

So plenty of experience and plenty of winning experience too, but maybe something to debate as well.

We should find out soon enough.