Predicting The Outsiders’ Chances
– By Gordon Cameron –
Sunday might just be one of those days in cycling where the totally expected happens. The Worlds road race in Zolder, Belgium takes place on a ‘sprinter’s course’, so the success of a breakaway is less likely than usual. The stronger nations should control the whole race before getting it all together for the finale they want – a head-to-head sprint between Cipollini, Zabel, Friere and McEwen (check out Charles Manantan’s World’s Preview for more on the sprinters).
But weird things happen in the Worlds – inexplicable team tactics, odd alliances between riders of different nationalities, mercenaries cashing in on deals done on the road to ‘betray’ their team-mates or leaders.
Italy may still have too many leaders and not enough workers, as Bettini and Di Luca won’t be keen on sacrificing everything for Super Mario. And going on the basis that the Italians (in particular) can’t help but screw things up for each other, riders from less powerful countries will hope to take advantage at the finish.
Just because everyone is talking of a sprint doesn’t mean it will happen. And if the stronger teams are checking on the whereabouts of their sprinters, it’s still possible that some lone wolf may just slip clear when the concentration wavers. Ludo Dierckxsens has built a career on crazy attacks that rarely succeed – maybe one might work out on home ground?
The Worlds often offers the chance for the unknown and the unheralded to take a medal – you don’t even need to look at the results from decades past. Witness names like Friere winning gold in 1999 ahead of Zberg and Robin; Vainsteins ahead of Spruch a year later; Hauptmann getting on the podium for Slovenia last year. Who might upset the bookmakers in 2002?
Look out for Robert Hunter – the South African has the strength to survive the 256km course, and even with only one team-mate has the tactical awareness to get into position for the finish. After all, it’s claimed he spent most of his time doing this at Mapei as they showed him less than total commitment when he needed it. And thinking of ‘alliances’ Hunter will be riding for Rabobank from 2003 – any chance of him tagging along in the slipstream of the Dutch riders on Sunday?
What of Holland? Plenty of strong riders in the team, and they may just be motivated to help one of their sprinters like Jans Koerts or Max van Heeswijk have a go. If not, Boogerd has the class to pull off an escape.
If it’s a windy, or wet, day, then the pure sprinters might just have the snap ridden out of them by the end, and a strong man like Jaan Kirsipuu of Estonia may have a chance. He isn’t really in the highest echelon of sprinters anymore, but still has a winning mentality and could spring a surprise if he gets to the finish near the front.
Other outsiders? USA’s Fred Rodriguez has plenty of experience of racing in Belgium, and has a reasonable team with him and a good finish. Jan Svorada (Czech Republic) missed Paris-Tours to be ready for Sunday, and is a shot. Mind you, about 100 other pros fancy their chances in the most open Worlds for years.
At the time of writing, 3 of the 5 gold medals won so far at the 2002 Worlds have gone to Eastern Europe and 1 to South America, with only Anna Zugno scoring in the Junior Women’s TT for Italy. There’s no reason to suppose that the traditional powers will be any more successful on Sunday.
Italian selector Franco Ballerini has done a lot to prevent a repeat of last year’s shambles when his riders chased each other down. He’s gone with Cipo’s wishes and brought along the Acqua e Sapone lead-out men, but whether all the egos can be kept in check once the race starts to unfold is another question altogether. The Italians will expect help from Germany, Australia and Spain to keep things together. Just don’t be surprised if someone else benefits from all their donkey-work.