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Cycling World Championship Road Race preview

The UCI Road World Championships are taking place in Florence this week, with the big finale being the Elite Road Race. Who better to draft in for the preview than the expert... For premium quality cycling tips, follow @wheeliebets and sign up to his service via his site. Here is his free preview without odds references.

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World Championship Road Race

I have gone over this race in my mind 100 times already and it's actually given me sleepless nights. It's my joint favourite race along with the Tour of Flanders simply because it's often a political game of enthralling tactics and broken promises year on year. In my opinion, recent editions in Copenhagen and Geelong devalued the race and even Valkenberg didn't serve up the treat I expected but this Firenze course promises so much, just waiting to see how the tactics will work on a course that is twisting and turning and expected to be run off in wet conditions. Add in a few climbs and the best climbers taking on the best Classics hard men all without their trade team support and under the umbrella of their home nation and we have a race to whet the appetite.

My background form guide had to be races over the 250km mark on hilly circuits and that means my starting place was this year's Monuments. Just to refresh your memory, there are 5 Monuments and we have raced 4 already in 2013. The Big 4 in 2013 were

Milan San Remo - March
Tour of Flanders - April
Paris Roubaix - April
Liege Bastogne Liege - April

There is no hiding place in the final 40 kilometres of any Monument. More often than not, all the Worlds top riders take part in 2 or more of these annual races but the make up of the peloton can be markedly different depending on the race, for example, I can't remember Cancellara ever racing in Liege Bastogne Liege nor Rodriguez riding Flanders, the races are completely different.

That's what makes this course in Florence unique in that it takes the climbing elements from a Monument like Liege or Lombardy which should favour Nibali, Gilbert, Martin, Rodriguez and Valverde but with the extreme distance, brings in endurance Classic Flanders specialists like Cancellara and more recently Sagan.

Add in a political feel to the race and there can be hearts broken. Riders, stripped of their trade team duties and meshed together under their nation's colours are willed upon to forget a season's competitiveness against fellow countryman with the common goal in obtaining an oddly striped jersey. The Rainbow Bands, synonymous with brilliance, is so prized as to make even the most unselfish heart hard with the finish line in sight.

Can a fellow countryman, someone who's an opponent 364 days of a year be trusted not to stab you in the back with the finish line in sight ?

This season started with a wet and cold Milan San Remo. They raced through dirty snow and freezing fog which left some riders hypothermic, some frozen and others cursing but the favourites were in evidence with 10 kilometres to go as they started the Poggio. First Chavanal and Stannard, then Sagan, then Cancellara and then Sagan again all to be denied by rank outsider, Gerald Ciolek in a dash to the line between 6 of the bravest souls and a flying American. Ciolek doesn't ride this weekend but this weekend's market is headed by those left and right of him.

The cold spell continued throughout March and into April and the second Monument was billed as a battle between Sagan and Cancellara. The Ronde didn't disappoint; Cancellara crushing the Slovak on the Paterberg before soloing into the finish at over 28 mph for the final 16 flat kilometres to Oudenaarde, the undisputed Lion of Flanders, no one able to live with him on a hilly testing circuit over 250kms.

Cancellara wasn't finished and he doubled up at the third Monument of the season a week later, Paris Roubaix, this time crushing Sepp Vanmarcke in a two up sprint. Cancellara was immense, feigning fatigue in the last hour of racing before attacking and blowing everyone off his wheel in the final pave sectors. Only Vanmarcke could live with the speed and pace but couldn't better the Swiss rider.

Cancellara finished his Spring season with two wins and a third, quite easily the best rider of the campaign but with Sagan lurking in the shadows. With that, the Swiss star took the next 3 months off and focused on his end of season target, the World Road Race.

Liege Bastogne Liege is the final race of a series of races coined the Ardennes Classics which generally feature the lighter climbing centred rider. Peter Sagan bypassed Paris Roubaix so he could take a shot at Amstel Gold but he was a long way short of his best and the races were dominated by riders we would see in the Alps and Pyrenees later in the Summer.

La Doyenne is the second longest Classic but is regarded as the hardest of the Monuments mostly because there are so many metres climbed (4700m) across 11 peaks in the race. Each year it is an attritional race but is a form guide of the highest calibre. With so many metres climbing, I am of the opinion it is possibly the go-to race for our contenders this weekend. The cream of the crop attended 2013's edition, some coming in fantastic form fresh from Tirreno Adriatico as well as from Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallone. There were no hard luck stories.

With so many big names, it wasn't unusual that the Cote du Redoute was raced largely negatively but it did strip the peloton down and we had attack after attack before the end culminating with a very experienced sextet racing for the finish. I was obviously delighted to see my countryman Daniel Martin win but it was the manner in which he did it makes me think he's a massive favourite for this weekend no matter how the race pans out. The calibre of the opposition contained riders in form - Nibali, Froome, Rodriguez, Valverde were the three big names who joined riders like Hesjedal, Scarponi and Betancur with no answer in the end to the pace and panache of the Irishman

Finally, it's gut feeling time...
The race will be incredibly quick from the start with the promise from the British, Italians and Spanish teams to make it a real test. There are riders who can't do the distance, who can't do the hills and who'll lack the endurance at the level required so here's a list of the main men to keep on side of

Early season Classics men - Cancellara, Sagan, Stannard, Boasson Hagen
Mid Season Ardennes Classics men - Martin, Gilbert, Iglinsky, Betancur, Moreno, Valverde, Rodriguez,
National Champions - Wegmann, Vichot,
Climbing Gods - Nibali, Contador,
Recent Form - Gesink, Scarponi, Ulissi, Stybar, Bakelandts, Voeckler, Barguill, Roche
Olympics & Worlds Form - Degenkolb, Uran, Breschel, Sanchez,

My Top 20

1. Cancellara
2. Martin
3. Rodriguez
4. Valverde
5. Nibali
6. Roche
7. Sagan
8. Stannard
9. Scarponi
10. Gesink
11. Gilbert
12. Boasson Hagen
13. Vichot
14. Bakelandts
15. Moreno
16. Uran
17. Van Avermaert
18. Rui Costa
19. Stybar
20. Voeckler

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