What's Cool In Road Cycling

Men’s Road Preview

– By Charles Manantan –

This year’s World Championships will be a real treat on the Men’s Road Race side. Robbie Mc, Eric Zabel, Oscar Freire and Mario Cipollini should be the favorites as the peloton stays more intact and complete in Zolder than in any of the last few.

Eric Zabel will have the German team behind him and should be a solid finisher, but over the last few weeks of the Vuelta (with a slew of top 5 places but not the solid pop at the finish that he is capable of) and due to his outstanding year round performance, Zabel might not have the legs it takes to win the years most frantic race.

Oscar Freire will again be supported by a Spanish team that historically stays together and works very well as a team for its best rider. This guy has his gripes and health issues all year, but it won’t be a shocker to anyone should Oscar take his third Worlds.

Robbie McEwen is the second best sprinter this year behind Zabel if you look at the UCI rankings for points earned in 2002 and overall rank, and watching the Australians work together in the Tour to take the green off of Zabel for the first time in what seems like 20 years was a site to see. If the boys “down under” can decide who is the man this year, they should be fairly strong, but might not have all the horses they need to do the job.

Team Italy have done something that is long overdue in naming a clear and easy captain, but the big question is weather or not Mario Cipollini will suffer from having to give up support so that Paolo Bettini (Bremati, Nardello, Scinto) and Danilo Di Luca (Sacchi) can have riders working for them as well. And Fassa Bortolo have Petacchi and Matteo Tossato together and one would wonder whether or not Cipo’s chief Italian Rival will be there to support him… Given that Cipo has superman Giovanni Lombardi, the Horse of Horses Mario Sceria and Daniele Bennati, he stands to do well.

Zolder is flat as a billiard table and made for sprinting, with four very strong teams looking to keep things together for what could be the best bunch sprint in a dozen years, the chances of this ending in a break are pretty slim. Given the way Cipollini has not only beaten the other favorites this year, but done so with room to spare, he is this year’s man to watch. But one must wonder if Italy would not have been better served by giving Mario two or three more helpers rather than supporting Iliac, Petacchi and Bettini when the only chance Bettini or Di Luca have would be to win in a break, and Petacchi couldn’t hold Cipo’s wheel, much less come around him this year. The next on tap is a toss up between Freire and McEwen, with the test to be if the numbers advantage for Spain can out duel the thunder Down Under. The sentimental favorite might be Zabel, given that he does nothing but beat people all year. But that simple fact makes a World title a milestone that might just be a bike length too far.

My money is on Italy to get it right (especially given that Mapei will be finished at the end of this year, and that reduces Italy’s risk of Italians chasing Italians for the sake of a Spaniard again). It’s a good thing Cipollini has a relationship with the Pope, as only God knows what the World Champions outfit will look like if that man wins!

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