Top cyclists from around the globe are threatening to make sure the world road race championships do not end on a dream note for hosts Australia next Sunday.
The annual event will be held in Geelong, south of Melbourne, from September 29 to October 3 with a total of six events in the elite men, elite women and under-23 men categories.
But when it comes to the worlds, the blue riband event of the men's road race and its legendary rainbow jersey is what most fans come to see.
Cadel Evans, a former two-time Tour de France runner-up, won Australia's maiden rainbow jersey in the elite men's road race last year on a climber's course that had a total elevation of 4,655 metres.
With only 3,076m this time round, the Aussie is playing down his chances.
"It's not a course that suits me," said the Australian, who is leaving the likely leadership duties with Simon Gerrans, Matthew Goss and Stuart O'Grady.
A handful of Europeans with a strong winning pedigree, however, could block the hosts' path to the podium in Geelong on October 3.
Belgium's Philippe Gilbert, Italian Filippo Pozzato, Spaniard Oscar Freire and Norwegian Thor Hushovd are among the leading favourites having shown their winning form at various times this year.
Gilbert has focused his entire season on a race whose challenging circuit and finish suit his abilities well and comes to the championships in perfect condition having won two stages at the Tour of Spain.
When former two-time winner Paolo Bettini, now the Italian team's coach, saw the Geelong circuit for the first time, he immediately said: "This is a course for the Belgian team, especially Gilbert."
In the unlikely scenario of a bunch sprint - the finish line of the road race is on a slightly rising section around 700 metres long - Freire should have the measure of Cavendish, Hushovd, Farrar and German Andre Greipel.
Although Australia have two sprinters in Allan Davis and Goss, Evans believes Goss could have the goods if it comes down to any kind of sprint.
"It might be in our interests for Mark Cavendish not to get to the finish," added Evans.
"But if Mark (Cavendish) can get there, it also means that Gossy (Matthew Goss) can get there and I think of all the guys people have been speaking about, Gossy is the one who's showed he can really do something."
The road race teams have been trickling into Geelong since last week, causing problems for local police by not respecting red lights during daily training runs that have allowed them to gauge the circuit's difficulties.
However they are likely to pay close attention when the under-23 men and women's road races, held on the same 15.9km circuit albeit with 10 and eight laps respectively, are held on Friday and Saturday.
Dutchwoman Marianne Vos, a former world champion, arguably leads the favourites ahead of British Olympic champion Nicole Cooke, Germany's Trixi Worrack and a strong Italian team that took gold and silver last year.
Cooke, who missed out on any medals last year, claims she is in fine form after a tough training block in Wales and has a good idea how to tackle the 127.2km race.
"I have raced before in Geelong and have a good idea of what to expect," said the Welshwoman.
Like Spain's former three-time world champion Freire, Fabian Cancellara has the chance to become an all-time record holder if he wins the men's time trial for a fourth time.
A huge question mark hangs over Switzerland's Olympic champion, however, following his decision to leave the Tour of Spain early due to fatigue.
Cancellara's biggest rival is likely to be Germany's Tony Martin, one of the few riders to beat the Swiss this year, at the Tour of Switzerland.
© AFP 2010
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