2010 world road championships: Three contenders rate the course

Philippe Gilbert, Oscar Freire and Simon Gerrans all like their chances in Sunday's elite men's race.

Come Sunday’s blue-ribbon event of the 2010 world road championships, there are at least three riders with ambitions for the podium. On the eve of the 262.7km event, here’s what they had to say.

Philippe Gilbert

“It was important for me to win and take two stages (at the Vuelta a España), and I finished the race in very good condition. The last days, I feel like I’m still in top form — optimal,” said Philippe Gilbert, arguably the biggest favorite for Sunday’s elite men’s road race.

Asked if the course was perfect for him, he replied: “Perfect for me is if (the race) finished up the second climb. But it’s six more K’s (to the finish) … we have to be careful on the last lap.”

Regardless, Gilbert likes the course, says he has a strong team and can take the 10 a.m. start in Melbourne’s Federation Square brimming with confidence.

On the similarities with last year’s course in Mendrisio — in terms of total elevation gained in the final 160km, just 40 meters separate the two — Gilbert said he rates the second climb of the Geelong circuit harder than the one in Switzerland and considers it an ideal launch pad for a classic Gilbert-style attack.

In Mendrisio, he said, “the last climb was not so hard, so it was not so easy to make a difference.” Still, he conceded, Cadel Evans went there “and kept the difference” to win.

“Cadel’s a big specialist; when he has a goal he’s always there. And he’s at home, so that’s a second motivation, so he’ll be very dangerous.”

Oscar Freire

Said triple world champion Oscar Freire, hoping to win a fourth: “I think it’s always a difficult race, because it’s always more than 250 kilometers and small climbs can be really hard climbs in the final part. In this case, it’s really short climbs, but really steep, so. …

“We also have a flat part (after the second climb) where I think everybody can recover. It’s a good parcours for attacking riders, but there are many riders who want to control the race — we can also (conform to that scenario).”

Is he surprised by the difficulty of a world championship course once judged fit for sprinters such as Mark Cavendish, but is now deemed suited to the men of the Ardennes classics?

“The first climb is the most difficult one; the second is more dangerous because it’s the last one. You can gain some seconds and it’s a really nice part to attack for attacking riders. So, I think many riders have chances to win this race.”

“The final is a little bit uphill and the sprint is not really for the (pure) sprinters. It can be a group of 30 riders … nobody knows (right) now,” said Freire with his typical sardonic grin, seen so many times on the podiums of the most prestigious one-day races.

As for the news about Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol, he said: “Nobody expected this, just two days before the world championship (men’s road race). It’s not nice for us and not nice for cycling.”

Simon Gerrans

“Everyone’s (confidence is) sky high at the moment, to race the world titles back in Australia. Everyone’s really pumped for it,” Simon Gerrans said of the vibe within the Australian team. The Team Sky rider is believed to be co-leader on the Australian team along with Evans.

“To race the world championships in Australia is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, and we’ve probably got the strongest Australian team ever put together for a world championships,” he said Saturday morning in Melbourne’s Albert Park, shortly before the final hit-out for the men in green and gold livery.

Based on the outcome of the under-23 men’s road race, does he have any second thoughts about what may eventuate?

“No, not at all. From when I saw the course in December of last year, I pretty much made my mind up about how the race would pan out, and by seeing what other teams have done and put their squads together, it’s just reassured what I thought.

“I don’t think we’ll see such a big group at the finish. It’s quite often that the under-23s will come together (at the finish) for a decent-sized group; the professional race for the elite men will break up quite a bit more,” Gerrans said.

“I’m expecting a much smaller group at the finish on Sunday.”

At this year’s Tour de France, three bad crashes in the space of a week, followed by a forced early exit out of the Vuelta following the death of Team Sky soigneur Txema González, has resulted in Gerrans’ worlds preparation being far from ideal. But the Victorian said he’s tried to make the best of the situation.

“I came back to Australia a bit earlier than initially planned and have been working really hard here, so I feel like I’ve come up pretty well.”