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Varese '08: Handicapping the Elite Men's TT

Worlds08_mediumA while back I wrote a post querying whether this year was a particularly huge opportunity for the non-Cancellara time trial greats of the sport. Cancellara was surely going from the Tour to the Olympics, which raised the possibility that he wouldn't completely own the Worlds chrono. Enterprising chronomen, therefore, might want to rearrange their calendar a bit to take advantage of this once-in-a-decade opportunity not to get their heads handed to them by Tony Spartacus. Of course, nobody listened, and the cream of the Chrono establishment followed Cancellara to Beijing... and got creamed. Fair enough -- Cancellara was still talking of defending his world title, and the lure of performing in front of 500 million people every quadrennial is undeniably strong.

Still, Cancellara has since backed out and opened up this world championship to the field, and a pretty fair number of guys from the A-List are lining up in Varese tomorrow. Let's break down their chances... on the flip.

First, after much searching, I found an actual startlist: at Ah, the zen quest -- to provide the world with cycling startlists, and nothing more -- continues. So do the questions about why nobody else has an updated startlist. As for the analysis, I am rating the guys on their general excellence, current form, and suitability to the course. Ranking system of 1-5 points, with totals determining the likely winner. Or that's the hope, at least.

Michael Rogers, Australia

Excellence: A two-time world champion, who still hasn't seen his 30th birthday. But his last win in any time trial was the 2006 Worlds. It's hard to diss a guy with that kind of hardware, particularly since his problems are usually due to injury or illness. Rating: 4 
Fitness: As good as it gets. He came on slowly all year after going missing in the Spring (my ability to remember why guys missed time is alarmingly bad), meaning his legs should be as fresh as anyone's. Second to Christian VandeVelde in the Tour of Missouri is nothing to be ashamed of. Rating: 4
Suitability: Well, it's the Worlds. That's a start. The shape of the course -- mostly flat with a 2km climb of note -- is probably well suited to him, or at least doesn't overtly favor the other guys. But I think 47km is a tad long. He finished 8th in Beijing, well behind the medalists, at the same distance. Rating: 2.5
Total: 10.5 He'll be top 10, but probably out of the medals.

Stijn Devolder, Belgium

Excellence: On the upswing. He doesn't have any truly glamorous wins to his name, and when he does win, it's usually in Belgium. But he's been a chrono contender at the Vuelta and some other international events. He'll score some major ITT wins before he's done. Rating: 4 
Fitness: Should be OK. He did a busy spring and 15 Tour stages before dropping out, and skipping Beijing as well. Nothing dramatic.Rating: 3
Suitability: Like Rogers, this may be a tad long for his tastes, though he won at 45km against the rather pedestrian Belgian Nats field. The climb shouldn't bother him much. Rating: 3
Total: 10 Surprise me!

Svein Tuft, Canada

Excellence: Undoubtedly the best time trialist in Canada (at the moment). And seventh in Beijing proves that his abilities can play on a bigger stage. Still, that result is a bit of an outlier; his wins are all in the Western Hemisphere. Rating: 2.5 
Fitness: Just off the pace of Rogers and VandeVelde in Missouri. CQ probably doesn't register all of his events, but I'd guess he's a little less beat than most. Rating: 3.5
Suitability: Achieving such a result in Beijing suggests that the hills are his friend, at least to the extent they hurt his rivals. Canadian nats were 40km, so the distance isn't unfamiliar. But... he just doesn't spend enough time in Europe for me to like his chances. Rating: 2.5
Total: 8.5 Looking for a HUUUUGE upset.

Frantisek Rabon, Czech Republic

Excellence: Hm, Champion of the Czech Republic. That's probably about it at the moment. Simply riding for Columbia guarantees that he's an emerging star. Rating: 2 
Fitness: Not a ton of racing days since the Giro. Fresh as a daisy? Maybe, but he's not scoring many wins either. Rating: 2.5
Suitability: It'd be nice if the race were closer to the Czech border, where he does well. OK, Italy doesn't quite border on the CR. He can do the distance, but it's a stretch. Rating: 2
Total: 6.5 File this name away for now.

Sylvain Chavanel, France

Excellence: Good-not-great. He doesn't win many chronos. Rating: 2 
Fitness: Harumph... he's having his best year ever, by far. He also just started his second grand tour (dropped out on stage 16), after a blistering spring as well. How can he possibly keep going? Maybe he's the next Jens Voigt. Anyway, he nailed the Vuelta ITT, just 12" off Leipheimer's winning ride. Rating: 4
Suitability: No real issues. The length isn't much more than Ciudad Real was (40km). Brutha can climb a bit too. Rating: 3.5
Total: 9.5 A stretch, but he shouldn't surprise people anymore.

Bert Grabsch, Germany

Excellence: Another homer: wins in Germany a fair amount, including most recent Nats. But his signature win was the 2007 Vuelta mega-chrono. Rating: 3 
Fitness: Second at the D-Tour chrono. No grand tours under his belt for '08. He should be feeling great. Rating: 4
Suitability: More than anyone on this list, that climb may get in his way. He's a pure power guy, even out to 50km. Rating: 3.5
Total: 10.5 If the hill isn't a factor, he could sniff the podium. But that's a big "if".

Tony Martin, Germany

Excellence: It's coming: three ITT wins this year, and a second in the Giro d'Italia finale. Not bad for a 23-year-old. Rating: 3 
Fitness: Won the D-Tour Bremen chrono. Not a ton of miles on him. Rating: 4
Suitability: 47km against the cream of the crop is a totally new experience for young Tony. That Giro performance looks good, particularly being just up the road from Varese, but at that point only a handful of guys were full-gas. Rating: 2
Total: 9 Should be a good learning experience... by which I mean, he won't likely win.

David Millar, UK

Excellence: More of a warhorse than a star, given his travails. But Millar can definitely bring it, and has looked even better in his second comeback season. Rating: 3 
Fitness: It's been a long season, with the Giro-Tour double. He's downshifted since Paris, and hasn't ridden against the watch since his 5th in the last Tour ITT, so there's a chance he's fully recovered. Rating: 3
Suitability: 47km? No problem, he just beat Cadel Evans in a 52km ride. Hills? Millar was once a climber. If anything, he might wish there were more inclines. Rating: 4
Total: 10 In the mix, though not likely on top of it.

Marco Pinotti, Italy

Excellence: Just a cut below the best: three Italian titles to his name and a win in the Giro finale (though, like I said above, that has caveats). Rating: 3.5 
Fitness: Coming off a win in the Tour of Ireland, but he wasn't good in the Missouri ITT, for whatever reason. He shouldn't be too worn out. Rating: 3
Suitability: Large home-field advantage, as if the Italians would have it any other way. The course won't trouble him. Rating: 4
Total: 10.5 Anywhere else, he'd be lucky to crack 9 points.

Stef Clement, Netherlands

Excellence: Another up-and-comer; he was solid in the Olympics, third in the 2007 Worlds, and a former Dutch Champion, all before his 26th birthday. Rating: 3.5 
Fitness: Not looking good: his results at the Vuelta were those of a guy who just finished contesting the Tour, then flying to China. Rating: 2
Suitability: No problems, given that his best result was last year's worlds. Rating: 4
Total: 9.5 I'd be amazed if he had anything left in the tank. He'll have loads more chances at the title though.

Edvald Boasson Hagen, Norway

Excellence: Depends... sprints? He's excellent. Time trials? He... might also kick ass. But the sample size is far too small. Rating: 2 
Fitness: At 21, he has no excuse for feeling tired, though he's raced a fair amount. His sprinting at the Tour of Britain was outstanding, if that's any indicator. Rating: 4
Suitability: Well, he won the Norway nats at this distance, but that field bears no resemblance to the one in Varese. He also won against a strong field at Criterium International... but over 8km. So, who the hell knows? I'm guessing the climb isn't gonna help. Rating: 2.5
Total: 8.5 He might have a chrono title in his future, but will he be too busy chasing other glories?

Vlad Gusev, Russia

Excellence: Persona non grata? Gusev and his funky blood values are on the startlist. He's a solid chronoman, but not spectacular. Rating: 2.5 
Fitness: You have to wonder... he won the Tour of Sochi over a field of locals, but otherwise has been adrift since his sacking by Astana. Physically he's probably just fine; psychologically may be another story. Rating: 3
Suitability: Oh, there's little he can't do on a course like this. Rating: 4
Total: 9.5 I can't think of an unhappier prospect than a Gusev win right now.

Mikhael Ignatiev, Russia

Excellence: He was the reigning U-23 Silver Medalist until yesterday. Otherwise, his time trial resume is a bit brief. He might be great, but it's hard to tell just yet. Rating: 1.5 
Fitness: Just completed his second grand tour, with no results. Rating: 2
Suitability: Well, last year's U23 course was a tad shorter. But Ignatiev should know the Italian roads pretty well. Rating: 3
Total: 6.5 Not sure why the UCI gave him the #7 dossard. Someday this might make more sense. Wait, did I just say "UCI" and "make sense" in a sentence?

José Iván Gutiérrez, Spain

Excellence: Funny, I have this impression of him as an unstoppable chrono force, but his results aren't really eye-popping, particularly in 2008. Rating: 3 
Fitness: Should be in solid form: Caisse d'Epargne left him off the Vuelta team, so he won the Benelux overall and took it pretty easy in September. Rating: 4
Suitability: Like Millar, a warhorse. But he hasn't had his best results at this distance. Rating: 3
Total: 10 OTOH, he's Spanish, and we all know what that means these days.

Gustav Larsson, Sweden

Excellence: The gold standard, at least when Cancellara isn't around. Actually, he doesn't have the longest list of palmares, but to my eyes he's really coming into his own. Rating: 5 
Fitness: Possible problem: he looked pretty beat in the D-Tour, after a glorious Olympic performance. But he skipped the Tour and the Vuelta, and gave a half-hearted effort to the Tour of Poland, so he might be recovered. Rating: 3.5
Suitability: If anything, it's too flat. His 8th in the Giro (Pesaro) ITT wasn't anything major. Rating: 4
Total: 12.5 #2 dossard =  truly serious contender.

Levi Leipheimer, US

Excellence: Head of the class. It's hard to top three grand tour ITT wins in just over a year, though if he'd been invited to the Tour this year, he may well have done so. Rating: 5 
Fitness: I suppose there's a potential danger that his massive third-week peak at the Vuelta won't hold. He's no spring chicken, and he just contested all three weeks of the race. I'll guess, however, that he's got one last massive effort in those legs. Rating: 4
Suitability: If Ciudad Real wasn't too flat for him, I don't see why this will be either. Rating: 4.5
Total: 13.5 The heavy favorite. Nuf ced.

Dave Zabriskie, US

Excellence: Way up there. A former Worlds silver medalist behind Cancellara. He's also the US champ, which in this discipline is nothing to sneeze at. Rating: 4 
Fitness: After enduring some horrible luck, Zabriskie is finally all back together again. Fifth in Branson isn't a great result for him, but he's at his best in one-off events. Rating: 4
Suitability: He's a fixture at the worlds and contested the Olympics. He's also another battle-scarred vet where grand tour distances are concerned. His last trip to Italy ended poorly, but regardless, if the one incline of note doesn't stop him from contending, nothing else will. Rating: 4
Total: 12 Call me biased... but I really hope he wins.