The Italians are hot favourites to take the world title on home soil, but several other countries shPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Holland Holland's world championship bid got off to jittery start on Friday when a wheel-failure on the plane carrying the Dutch team from Brussels to Frankfurt forced the pilot to abort his first landing attempt. The problem was subsequently resolved and the aircraft safely brought down, although not without a few nerves being frayed first. The build-up in the Dutch camp has been uneventful, almost eerily so, since Friday. With nine of twelve riders hailing from Rabobank, selector Gerrie Knetemann is even spared the usual murmurings about conflicts of interests. A widely unfancied team will be lead, as ever, by the Rabobank duo of Erik Dekker and Michael Boogerd. Line-up: Michael Boogerd: Jan Boven: Bram De Groot; Erik Dekker; Maarten Den Bakker; Karsten Kroon; Marc Lotz; Gerben Lwik; Koos Moerenhout; Bram Tankink; Thorwald Veneberg; Pieter Weening Belgium Belgian selector Jos De Cauwer made a whistle-stop return to Bruxelles from Verona on Thursday, apparently all in the name of a team-building exercise. "I didn't want them to feel lost in the plane, and then between Milan and our hotel," said the kind-spirited De Cauwer. "It also enabled us to discuss tactics and to start building team spirit." Even under the leadership of Peter Van Petegem, one of only two Belgian's to have ridden the 1999 Worlds in Verona, De Cauwer acknowledges that his team has "modest ambitions". Philippe Gilbert and Nick Nuyens are arguably the Belgian team's two most in-form riders, but doubts remain about their staying power over 285.5km. Line-up: Serge Baguet; Tom Boonen; Philippe Gilbert; Maxime Monfort; Nick Nuyens; Nico Sijmens; Jurgen Van Goolen; Wim Van Huffel; Peter Van Petegem; Johan Van Summeren; Geert Verheyen; Marc Wauters. Italy With a failed haematocrit test (Cioni), a failed bid for sporting asylum (Rebellin), plus the usually rampant undercurrent of rumours, the host nation has prepared for the worlds in time-honoured style. If the Italians can agree on one thing, it is that Paolo Bettini carries most hopes for the azzurri on Sunday. "I am not at the same level as I was at Athens, but a lot of my rivals aren't either," the Olympic champion told journalists at the Italian HQ in Pescantina on Friday. According to Bettini, the world championships "galvanises" him, and the reduced length of the Verona circuit, to 14.75km, will make for a "much harder race" than when the Worlds were last here five years ago. The world junior champion in Verona in 1999, Damiano Cunego is a viable deputy to Bettini and one who could win in similar circumstances, breaking clear on the Torricelle climb or prevailing in a sprint finish. Italian coach Franco Ballerini has also hinted that Stefano Garzelli and Ivan Basso could have licence to pursue personal ambitions. "I am in great form," said Basso, bronze medallist at the 2004 Tour de France, on Friday. "I know that I am not the leader of this team but Ballerini has seen how I am riding and will give me the role I deserve." Line-up: Ivan Basso; Leonardo Bertagnolli; Paolo Bettini; Damiano Cunego; Dario Frigo; Stefano Garzelli; Luca Mazzanti; Cristian Moreni; Daniele Nardell; Luca Paolini; Franco Pellizotti; Roberto Petito; Filippo Simeoni. Spain Arriving in Verona earlier this week, believers in the value of omens took one look at the name of a hotel situated within 500 metres of the finishing line and cut short any guesswork about who might don the rainbow bands early in Sunday evening. The name of the hotel? The "Albergo Valverde". The chosen one himself, the 24-year-old Alejandro Valverde, was apparently less enamoured with his first impressions of Romeo and Juliet's city. "I hope that I will have recovered well enough after a difficult Vuelta a Espana," said the Kelme star. "The circuit is much harder than I thought. The Torricelle isn't a hill - it's like a mountain pass." Valverde said yesterday that Spanish selector Paco Antequera's strategy places him on a level footing with two former champions, Oscar Freire and Igor Astarloa. Juan Antonio Flecha is also "in excellent form" according to Valverde, and is Spain's "secret weapon" by Freire's reckoning. Freire himself is widely quoted by the bookmakers as second favourite, behind Bettini, to land gold on Sunday. "My first world championship win wasn't a fluke," Freire warned. "I am going all out for the gold medal. A bronze or a silver medal won't help me to become the best rider of my generation in world championships. That is my ambition." Line-up: Igor Astarloa; Juan Antonio Flecha; Oscar Freire Gomez; Jos Ivan Gutierrez; Pedro Horrillo; Eladio Jimenez; Francisco Mancebo; Isidro Nozal; Luis Perez Rodriguez; Jos Luis Rubiera; Marcos Antonio Serrano Rodriguez; Alejandro Valverde Belmonte; Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez.