Sagan among the favourites at World Road Cycling Champs

Jim Slater 09:29 27/09/2015
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In formation: Simon Gerrans (l) in training with Philippe Gilbert (c).

A narrow cobblestone climb and expected rain has turned today’s men’s road race at the World Road Cycling Championships into an up-for-grabs showdown among the planet’s greatest riders.

Defending champion Michael Kwiatkowski, 2014 runner-up Simon Gerrans of Australia, Spanish near-miss stars Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez and Slovakia’s Peter Sagan are among the favourites over the 261.4 km course (start time: 16:30 UAE).

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“There are so many guys. It’s going to be a wide open race,” Gerrans said.

A 90 per cent chance of rain could make Libby Hill’s narrow cobblestone climb a slow and risky fight while the other steep urban street climbs take their toll on those chasing the rainbow jersey symbolic of world supremacy.

Valverde, a career-best third in this year’s Tour de France at age 35, has two classic triumphs this season and last year and could finally be in line for the world title after four third place finishes, including each of the past three years. Not since Oscar Friere in 2004 has a Spaniard won the road race, but if not Valverde it could also be 2015 Vuelta a Espana runner-up Rodriguez, the 2013 road race runner-up who was also third in 2009.

Kwiatkowski, 25, does not plan on surrendering his crown without a fight after resting since helping a runner-up effort in the team time trial last weekend.

“I’m happy about my performance,” he said. “I’m on my way to being up there on Sunday.”

Sagan has been fancied because his best success has come on sprint courses with short but steep climbs like Richmond, although it might come down to how well his countrymen can position him for the final sprint to the line.

“I believe that Juraj Sagan and Michael Kolar will do everything in their power to get Peter to be out in front towards the finish. If they succeed, then it will be only down to Peter to tackle the given opportunity,” Slovakian coach Jan Valach said. “He proved many times already that in the end he can deal with the situation well on his own. However, it should not be forgotten that there will be many riders who will do all they can to thwart Peter’s desire for the rainbow jersey.”

A season of nagging injuries has left Gerrans rested going into the race while countryman Michael Matthews can point to solid race showings as each tries to become the first Aussie to win the road race crown since Cadel Evans in 2009.

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