by Barnaby CHESTERMAN
PONFERRADA, Spain, Sept 20, 2014 (AFP) – Alejandro Valverde will have his
work cut out if he is to end years of near misses and finally land the world
title on home soil next week.
The 34-year-old Spaniard will be one of the favourites at the World
Championships in Ponferrada but time is running out for the 2009 Vuelta a
Espana winner to finally claim the road race title following five previous
Spain are putting almost all their eggs into the one basket, although they
have an excellent foil to Valverde in Joaquim Rodriguez, who finished second
last year in Florence.
Valverde was third in 2013, a position he also took in 2006 and 2012, while
he was second in 2003 and 2005.
But the field is tough this year on a course that offers potential
opportunities to a great number of riders.
Of course, the men’s elite road race does not take place until Sunday 28
and there will already be a number of world champions crowned before then.
Action begins Sunday with the team timetrial which, curiously, is contested
by actual professional cycling teams rather than countries, even though for
every other event riders represent their national colours.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step are taking this event very seriously but should
face a challenge from Orica GreenEDGE, Sky and BMC on the 57km course.
The timetrials continue with the men’s and women’s junior and under-23
events before the women’s and men’s elite races against the clock on Tuesday
and Wednesday respectively.
German Tony Martin will be the big favourite in the men’s event as he hopes
to land a fourth title in a row.
But 2012 Tour de France winner and Olympic timetrial champion that same
year, Bradley Wiggins of Britain looks to be coming into shape at just the
right time to challenge on the 47km course that has a couple of tricky climbs
in the final 10km.
That could work into Wiggins’s hands as he is a better climber than Martin,
but he will have to match the German’s power output on the majority flat
In the women’s 29.5km timetrial Dutchwoman Elen van Dijk will be favourite
to retain her title.
One man who won’t be riding the timetrial is four-time former winner Fabian
The Swiss has decided to concentrate on the road race and the 255km course
is suited to his abilities.
The same cannot quite be said of this year’s Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali,
who nonetheless will lead the Italian charge.
– Australia eyeing success –
But perhaps the two countries most eyeing success will be Australia and
Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Simon Gerrans comes into this event in fine
form having won the Grand Prix of Montreal and Quebec in the last week.
The 34-year-old Aussie will be ably assisted by Michael Matthews, as long
as the 23-year-old, a stage winner and leader’s red jersey wearer during the
Vuelta, can keep up with the punchers on the the climbs.
There are two climbs on the 18.2km circuit around Ponferrada and while the
first at 5.5km is not very steep, the second averages 6.6 percent over 1.1km
and that could allow the punchers to get away.
With only 4km left over the top on the final lap before the finish line,
the sprinters could struggle to get back in contention if they lose touch.
But Germany’s John Degenkolb, winner of the points jersey at the Vuelta,
and Norway’s Alexander Kristoff, a two-stage winner at July’s Tour, both have
the ability to stick with it on short, sharp climbs.
Many eyes, though, will be on the Belgian quartet of former world champions
Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert, and in-form pair Greg Van Avermaet and Sep
And current world champion Rui Costa of Portugal or Slovakia’s Peter Sagan,
who has, however, had a relatively poor season, certainly cannot be overlooked.
In the women’s race, over half the distance of the men’s, it will come down
to a straight battle — if anyone can beat Mariane Vios, they should win the
The Dutch star has never finished lower than second in eight attempts —
although she has won only three times, in 2006, 2012 and last year.