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Favorites for Sunday’s world road race championships

From Gilbert to Cavendish, a look at the favorites for the elite men's road race.

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Gilbert gets it at the line, but Farrar has narrowed the points race again.
Gilbert's stage 19 win at the Vuelta showed he's in top form

A few of the favorites for Sunday’s elite men’s road race championships. The race starts at 10 am Sunday local time, which is 7pm Saturday in the U.S. Eastern time zone.

Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Even before his two stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana, Gilbert was tipped as the perfect man for the challenging Geelong course, which culminates on a slightly rising section that should prove a challenge to most after 262 km of racing. A fairly strong climber with a great finish, the Belgian’s penchant for launching acceleration after acceleration could make the difference on the 15.9 km circuit.

Filippo Pozzato (ITA) Known for his impeccable style and love of fast cars, Pozzato is equally classy on the bike. Despite a relatively barren season, the Italian, a former winner of Milan-San Remo, comes into the worlds with a stage victory at the Vuelta under his belt. Questions remain over the 29-year-old’s chances against such a strong field, but the Italians, despite missing out on the podium in 2009, have been strong in recent years.

Oscar Freire (ESP) If there’s one man who knows how to come in under the radar, it’s Spaniard Freire, who knows how to climb and sprint with the best. Freire had a great start to the season, beating Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi to win his third Milan-San Remo title. It’s been a comparatively quiet lead-up to the worlds, although Freire employed the same discreet approach build-up on his way to rainbow jersey wins in 1999, 2001 and 2003. A fourth win would make Freire the all-time record holder for the number of men’s world road race titles.

Samuel Sanchez (ESP) As Olympic road race champion, Sanchez knows all about coming out on top in races of attrition, and the Spanish all-rounder, who excels on hilly courses, comes into the race having finished a career-best fourth overall on the Tour de France. Race-savvy and cunning, Sanchez could become a last-minute replacement for team leader Freire if the Spaniard is not quite feeling up to the job.

Freire wins Milan-San Remo for the third time. | Graham Watson photo
Freire won his third Milan-San Remo this year.

Thor Hushovd (NOR) Known primarily as a sprinter and one-day classic specialist, Hushovd admitted at this year’s Tour de France his sprinting legs have let him down this season. But on this course, with a finale which should suit the powerful Norwegian, Hushovd might just find the motivation to dig deep and hand his country their first ever rainbow jersey. Like Cavendish, Hushovd won stages on this year’s Tour de France and Tour of Spain.

Fabian Cancellara (SUI) After Cancellara’s fourth gold medal in the time trial, the pressure is off the Swiss who knows he can worry a few of the big contenders on the hilly Geelong course. Cancellara was one of the main contenders in last year’s finale, only to miss out on a podium place after burning his powder too early. A non-sprinter and not a climbing specialist, Cancellara’s biggest weapon is an acceleration which, once unleashed, is practically unassailable.

Matti Breschel (DEN) Breschel had a great season in 2009, a year after winning bronze, his first world championships medal, behind two Italians at the 2008 championships in Varese. Although 2010 has been a quieter season to date, the 26-year-old should do well on a course that suits his abilities. An outside bet.

Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS) Strong, versatile and determined in one-day races, the 29-year-old Russian national champion came close to his biggest career victory in April when he finished second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Although he has no wins to date this season, the peloton won’t be letting Kolobnev out of its sights in the race’s final laps — he has won silver in the road race in both 2009 and 2007.

Matthew Goss (AUS) Despite the presence of fellow sprinter Allan Davis, Goss has been touted by defending champion Cadel Evans as the Aussie who could bring victory home. A versatile sprinter, the Tasmanian did not win a stage at the Vuelta but was instrumental to HTC-Columbia teammate Mark Cavendish’s three stage wins.

Simon Gerrans (AUS) Gerrans has also been touted as Australia’s team leader, although the Victorian’s plans to hit the worlds in near peak form were disrupted when his Sky team quit the Tour of Spain after a team masseur died. Racing at home will undoubtedly give Gerrans extra motivation, but the 30-year-old might need it at the tail of a season which, on the victory front, has so far been barren.

Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) Boasson Hagen is not an out-and-out sprinter but Team Sky’s deadliest weapon in one-day races has an acceleration that is hard to match, and can put it to good use going uphill as well. Boasson Hagen has a total of six victories so far this season, including stage 7 of the Dauphine Libere where, at the end of a tough, rain-hit course, he left the peloton in his wake on his way to a superb solo victory.

Tyler Farrar (USA) Farrar has slowly been making up ground on main rival Mark Cavendish in Europe, and comes to the worlds with two stage wins from the Tour of Spain and having defended his Vatenfall Cyclassics crown in August. The slightly uphill finale could suit the American sprinter more than it does Cavendish, but whether he has the tactical skills, and power, to match the likes of Gilbert and Pozzato remains to be seen.

Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) It’s been 13 years since France won a men’s world road race crown, but in Chavanel France should have a real contender. Chavanel bounced back from massive injuries, including a fractured skull, earlier this season to claim two stage wins on the Tour de France, where he was also the race’s most aggressive rider. Chavanel likes to go on the attack, but he will be marked closely.

Mark Cavendish (GBR) Cavendish has shown time and again this season he is the fastest man on two wheels, at least on the flat. Unfortunately the chances of a bunch sprint, small or otherwise, must be tempered by the fact the road race finale finishes on a challenging uphill section. With a total of 22 climbs on the circuit, Cavendish has a tough task on his hands.