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WorldTour: Five men with a shot to win

Favorites for the 2013 WorldTour

Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha): “Purito” is the prototype WorldTour rider; the 2012 champion has the varied skillset and staying power to thrive under the way the series is set up right now. Rodríguez is one of the few riders who can perform across the season, from hilly one-day races to strong GC in stage races. His worry now is that his Katusha team was denied a WorldTour license and has been given a temporary Pro Continental license to start the season. If Katusha’s license appeal fails and he races under a Pro Continental license, Rodríguez’s results won’t count in the WorldTour rankings. With an obsession to return to the Tour de France to fight for the podium, Rodríguez has vowed to jettison the team. If “Purito” is smoking like he was in 2012, he could easily win again — if he can land on a team in the race.

Peter Sagan (Cannondale): The kid from Slovakia, eighth in 2012, is poised for a huge season. Three stage wins and the green jersey at the Tour de France last year, not to mention a slew of other results, were just a preview of what Sagan is capable of. His killer instinct, unbridled ambition and ever-growing confidence will make him the man to beat in just about any one-day race he starts this year. He will be a podium favorite for all the spring classics, minus Paris-Roubaix, and seems poised to win at least one. Taking the flowers in a one-week stage race is not out of the cards (he’s already done it at the Tour of Poland), so expect Sagan to gobble up plenty of points as the season unfolds.

Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing): The rainbow jersey should give Gilbert wings throughout the season. The Belgian, winner of the series in 2011, has already promised an ambitious racing schedule that includes the classics, perhaps two grand tours, and plenty of other racing to honor the rainbow stripes. Gilbert’s handicap is that he never ranks highly in the GC, meaning that he will need a repeat of his 2011 Ardennes treble to have any hope for the series. And that’s just what he plans to do, with an audacious goal of trying to win Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this spring.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana): “The Shark” is betting everything on the Giro d’Italia. A showdown with Bradley Wiggins and Ryder Hesjedal will be one of the top stories of the year. If Nibali, fourth in the 2012 WorldTour, can win the maglia rosa and a few stages, he’ll snag huge points early. With the worlds on a hilly course in Italy, Nibali will likely start the Vuelta a España in what would give him another chance to chase points against the Spanish mountain goats. He’s already proven he’s up to the task, winning the 2010 Vuelta. His strong ride in last year’s Liège proves that Nibali can also perform in the classics. It might only be a question of staying healthy and motivated.

Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff): The “pistolero del Pinto” is taking aim at one race: the Tour de France. After two years battling his clenbuterol ban, Contador returned to racing last summer without missing a beat, winning the Vuelta in one dramatic, late-race throw-down to snatch victory away from Rodríguez. Contador is a born winner and has a keen competitive streak to race to win in every event he starts, but he promises to race differently in 2013 in order to arrive at the Tour with the absolute guarantee of having the best chances to win. Contador’s racing schedule will go a long way toward seeing if he has any chance of accumulating enough points to challenge for the top spot. A return to the Vuelta is likely, though the Tour is what it’s all about this year. Of course, UCI rules state that Contador’s points won’t count anyway for another full season, something his team is challenging.

Other challengers: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is always a steady performer throughout the season and he won the ProTour in two of its four seasons (2006 and 2008). Like Contador, he is focusing on the Tour in what he believes is a real shot for the podium.

Valverde’s Movistar teammate Rui Costa could be a surprise this season and will gain more responsibility to race for results in such races as the Basque Country tour and Vuelta.

Wiggins and Sky teammate Chris Froome are focused on the grand tours, guaranteeing them a lot of points if they’re winning stages and riding the podium

Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) is another consistent performer all season long — he won the 2007 ProTour — but following his illness-plagued 2012 campaign, his focus is on the Tour.

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