Men's road race: Cunego and Valverde tipped for rainbow jersey duel
By Justin Davis, AFP
Alejandro Valverde underlined his rainbow jersey credentials by being crowned Tour of Spain champion a week ahead of the men's road race at the world cycling championships next Sunday in Mendrisio, Switzerland.
But the Spaniard's maiden major Tour win could count for little if he comes up short against a quality packed Italian team which includes Damiano Cunego and reigning champion Alessandro Ballan.
Australians Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans, as well as Swiss Fabian Cancellara, Luxembourg pair Andy Schleck and Kim Kirchen and Belgian Philippe Gilbert, are also expected to be major contenders.
But it is Cunego, second last year at the championships in Varese and the winner of two high mountain stages at the three-week Tour of Spain, who is being touted as Valverde's biggest challenger on the testing 262.2km road race course.
A former Tour of Italy champion who, like Valverde, has also excelled on the hillier one-day classics, Cunego has something else in common with the Spaniard.
Crucial for both contenders will be a strong, nine-man team that can counter, launch some of their own attacks and generally cause mayhem before taking their leader as close as they can to the finish line.
If either Valverde or Cunego want a small insight into how tactics can play a role, they might fancy a look at either the under-23 men's race, or the women's elite race where Welshwoman Nicole Cooke, the Olympic champion, will bid to defend her rainbow jersey.
But most of those saddling up for next Sunday's blue riband event know the script well. A painful race of attrition usually leaves a small group of favourites at the end, and Cunego believes it will go right to the finish.
"It's a deceiving finale, and lends itself to a few different scenarios," Cunego told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "There won't be many of us left to fight."
Cunego will be supported among others by Filippo Pozzato, a former Milan-SanRemo winner, and former Tour of Flanders champion Ballan during the 19 laps of the hilly 13.8km circuit, which climbs a total of 4655 metres.
Valverde, a runner-up in 2003 and 2005 and third in 2006, will be able to count on Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez and former three-time world champion Oscar Freire.
Evans, who lives near the race course, is arguably Australia's biggest hope for a first medal at the world's since sprinter Robbie McEwen's silver medal in 2002.
After finishing third in the Tour of Spain, the former two-time Tour de France runner-up believes the fact this year's circuit climbs more than last year's will make for a more selective finale.
"I expect that Sunday will come down to a small group (of contenders), less than in other years," said Evans.
"At the moment, I am thinking that Cunego will be a rival, maybe Andy Schleck, (Philippe) Gilbert could be good. Valverde too, if he bounces back all right. It's going to be a great race, that's for sure."
Men's time trial: Cancellara favourite, but wants road race
By Gregor Brown, Cyclingnews.com
Can anyone beat Fabian Cancellara in the time trial?
Fabian Cancellara is the favourite to win his third World Championship time trial title next Thursday in Mendrisio, Switzerland. It's not the other riders who will be his main rival, but his quest to also win the road title three days later.
"My main goal was the road race, but I did well in the time trials," said Cancellara after winning his second time trial in the Vuelta a España.
"It will be an extra motivation if I can start the road race with the time trial rainbow jersey in my suitcase. The two days of rest between the races will be enough."
In addition to two time trial World titles (2007 & 2008), Cancellara took the Olympic time trial win last year in Beijing, China. This season, he won time trials in the Tour of California, Tour de Suisse, Tour de France and Vuelta a España.
Last year's winner Bert Grabsch (Germany), Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain) and Lars Boom (Netherlands) are the favourites to challenge Cancellara.
Grabsch won his title last year when Cancellara skipped worlds because he was exhausted from a long season. He has won the Dauphiné Libéré and German Championships time trials, and finished third in the Vuelta's Valencia time trial this year.
Wiggins finished second in many time trials this year, but took fourth overall in the Tour de France and won the British Championship. Unlike Cancellara, he is focusing only on the time trial.
Boom won the Under 23 title in Stuttgart, Germany, two years ago and showed top form with a solo win last week in the Vuelta.
Women's road race not just for Vos
By Laura Weislo, Cyclingnews.com
Last year's world's women's road race podium: Marianne Vos, Nicole Cooke and Judith Arndt
One cannot launch into predictions of the women's world road race championship without starting at the name Marianne Vos. The Dutchwoman has been on the podium of the race since she entered the senior ranks at age 19 in 2006. After taking silver the past two consecutive years, Vos will be keen to elevate her status back to gold this year, and the course is one that suits her characteristics.
Vos leads both the UCI rankings and the Women's World Cup thanks to victories in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, La Flèche Wallonne and Open de Suède Vargarda. Not to mention the rider has also claimed the Dutch national title, stages of the Tour de l'Aude, Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen and Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale and the overall Holland Ladies Tour, as well as numerous other victories throughout the season.
Together with defending world champion Nicole Cooke, the pair have accounted for half of the medals won in the women's world championship road race over the past four years. Cooke has had a fairly quiet season, but the formula worked well for her last year when she hardly raced before claiming both Olympic and World titles.
However the women's peloton has become increasingly competitive this year, with several riders stepping in with excellent performances who may challenge the divas of the past few years.
Swede Emma Johansson, currently ranked second in the world, has had enormous success this year, having led the World Cup series for the better part of the season. Yet her number of second places far exceeds her victories this season, so she'll have to find that winning formula if she wants to best the likes of Vos.
The Germans always bring a strong team, and this year is no different. Ina Teutenberg is just getting back to top speed after an incredible first half of the season in which she took victories in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Liberty Classic, the German Road Race title as well as numerous stage wins and smaller one-day races.
If the peloton cannot drop Teutenberg in the hills of Flanders, they will have to try much harder to get rid of her in Mendrisio, otherwise her powerful sprint rarely lets her down. The only rider to have bested Teutenberg on several occasions has been Dutch sprinter Kirsten Wild, but she has more trouble getting over hills than her German counterpart.
Together with Arndt, Trixi Worrack and Claudia Häusler, the Germans occupy four of the top 10 spots in the world rankings, and will be a formidable team at the event.
Wild cards for the road race include Diana Ziliute (Lithuania) who has had a sort of renaissance this year, as well as Italy's Noemi Cantele, solo breakaway artist Emma Pooley (Great Britain) or perhaps even up and coming American Evelyn Stevens.
Americans favourites for women's time trial title
By Laura Weislo, Cyclingnews.com
Amber Neben, winner of the women's time trial in 2008
The United States of America team will head into the women's time trial as top favourite for the gold medal, thanks to the presence of both defending champion Amber Neben and Olympic time trial gold medalist and 2006 world champion, Kristin Armstrong.
Both women have proven themselves worthy of the rainbow bands this season: Neben displayed her rainbow banded jersey atop the podium in time trials at the Giro Donne and as part of the winning team in the Tour de l'Aude team time trial.
The pair has gone head-to-head twice in time trials this year, and both times Neben came out on top. She bested Armstrong over a much shorter distance than what they will face in Mendrisio in both the Giro Donne and Tour Cycliste Féminin International Ardèche.
The Americans do not have a lock on the championship, as several other riders have been putting in strong performances against the clock as of late. Christiane Soeder (Austria) won stage 2 in Ardèche after spending the previous stage in a solo breakaway.
Also not to be discounted is two-time winner Karin Thürig (Switzerland), Britain's Emma Pooley, who won the British time trial title this month, her compatriot Wendy Houvenaghel, who took the top prize in the Chrono Champenois, and the evergreen Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo. Judith Arndt will make her return to racing just in time for Worlds, and will be an unknown quantity for the time trial, but can always be considered a threat.
For complete coverage of the 2009 road world championships, visit Cyclingnews.com.