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Italy boss tips Sagan as worlds favorite after inspecting Spanish course

Davide Cassani sees a group of 25 riders arriving to the line with the rainbow stripes on the line

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Davide Cassani, the new Italian national team coach, is convinced that Slovak Peter Sagan is the favorite for the 2014 world road title.

Cassani named Sagan the favorite after inspecting the route in Ponferrada, Spain, on Wednesday. The circuit features two short, steep climbs, but Cassani said he was surprised the course was not more difficult. According to Cassani, who took over the job as Italy’s national coach last month, it’s too hard for the sprinters, but not hard enough for a pure climber.

“It is for sure not a circuit for climbers, but also not for pure sprinters,” Cassani said in a press release Wednesday. “After seeing the course, I would say Sagan is the favorite.

“His only problem in a world championship is that he cannot count upon a team strong enough to control the race in the last laps, considering that the adversaries won’t be just five guys but about 25. For us, this is, on the contrary, an advantage and let’s hope several Italians will form part of [the 25].”

Cassani rode the course and two other Italian coaches followed in a car, and filmed the route for later study.

The former pro, who has provided cycling commentary for Italian broadcaster RAI for the past 18 years, took over the Italian national team from Paolo Bettini, who has been linked to a job with the new team backed by Formula One driver Fernando Alonso.

“Italy always comes at the world championships with a strong squad even if we got no medal since 2008. Partly because of bad luck, as in Nibali’s case (Nibali crashed late in the 2013 worlds road race), but also because it is not easy,” Cassani said.

He said the course could suit improving Italian sprinter Sacha Modolo, who won two stages at the Mallorca Challenge this week, as well as Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who already holds a record five worlds medals.

“The first climb is a long one, but not a difficult one, considering the steep gradient is not higher than five percent. Not a tough one for the bunch. The second one is more difficult, with eight percent, but it is rather short. It reminds me of the circuit of Benidorm 92,” he said, referencing the course where Italian Gianni Bugno won ahead of Laurent Jalabert and Dimitry Konyshev. “The descent is not difficult; only a few curves are complicated.”

He also pointed out that the total vertical is more than 4,000 meters, indicating that it will be a race of attrition, but Cassani still expected a relatively large group of perhaps up to 25 riders to come to the line to challenge for the rainbow jersey.