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Worlds '07: Ranking the Elite Men's Teams

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I haven't done a list in, what, six days?? Picking an individual winner is a crapshoot, but it's a reasonably hard course, which means teamwork will count for a lot. So here's one observer's favorite squads:

1. Spain

Just loaded for any kind of race: Valverde and Sanchez for a classics finale, Freire and Florencio for a sprint finale, even Sastre if for some reason the race turns into the Joux-Plane. Not to mention scores of threatening or otherwise helpful guys: Flecha, Barredo, Beltran, Joaquin Rodriguez. Like I said, they are positively loaded, not to mention balanced.

2. Germany

Another utterly deep and talented squad: Burghardt, Schumacher and Zabel head up the list of potential winners, with Zabel the reigning silver medal and likely a man on one last mission. Kopp and Ciolek (reigning U23 champion) will be around in case of a sprint, though so too will Zabel. The supernatural power of Jens! will pitch in, along with Wegmann, Knees and Ronny Scholz. This should be Zabel's team though, and the old warrior might have one last win in him.

3. Italy

Absent the DiLuca matter, this might have been the favorite, and even with Nibali or Visconti taking Il Killer's place, it's a megasquad. Paolo Bettini and Davide Rebellin both look like perfect matches for the course, though the team may wind up working for Filippo Pozzato. Then there are the Lampres, Bennati and Cunego, huge names in their own right even if Cunego hasn't impressed much lately. Plus Bruseghin, Tonti and Bertolini to help out. But the DiLuca situation is a bit ugly, especially when you consider his pedigree over courses like this. And Italian teams don't always unite behind a single winner. A team to watch, as always.

4. Russia

Into the second division now... Still, Vlad Gusev is an ideal rider for the course, as would be Menchov or Efimkin if they were around and not exhausted. I haven't seen a final list and I suspect at least one of those names will go missing. If so, Gusev can count on Karpets, Pavel Brutt, and maybe Ignatiev? Plus the usual assortment of useful guys. I don't see the closing speed needed for this course, but Goose will be in the mix.

5. Netherlands

Another squad for which I haven't seen a final listing, but Thomas Dekker and Michael Boogerd will be solidly among the favorites regardless of who else is in support. Dekker won in the 3-Lander last week, so he's a hot hand and a huge talent. Having Karsten Kroon around would be a big boost.

6. Ukraine

Dipping down into the third division now... Ukraine are more of a one-man-band, but Yaroslav Popovych will be a serious contender if he's on form. Other recognizable names around like Grivko, Bileka, and Kostyuk, though I'm not sure who's riding or in shape.

7. Belgium

Bit of a disaster... Boonen crashed out of competition, but no matter since this wasn't going to be a good course for him. It's a great course for Stijn Devolder, but his form will be a big question mark, despite his insistence that his knee is OK. Lots of experienced peloton fodder in the lineup, but few who look capable of winning. After all, the race isn't in Belgium.

8. United States

George Hincapie is the only guy with a winner's pedigree for this course, though Jason McCartney has been strong lately and won a Vuelta stage. Otherwise, the lineup of Julich, Vandevelde, Farrar, Pate, Zabriskie, etc. looks like a nice group, but on a different plane from the Spanish Armada.

9. Luxembourg

Kim Kirchen might only have Benoit Joachim to count on, but that's a hell of a lot more encouraging than a lot of teams can say.

10. France

Typical French squad, full of maybes but nobody who makes you think they can win. Sylvain Chavanel will be the captain, and Thomas Voeckler's win in Plouay makes him slightly more interesting than he was. Casar, Fedrigo and Feillu would be threats on a flatter course. Ludovic Turpin is not someone to completely forget, I suppose. Bah, there's no way they'll win; they're just heading up the fourth division here.