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Mendrisio: Rating the Power Teams!

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Worlds09_mediumI can't bring myself to do a mundane list of contenders; more talented people than I are typing away at such exercises everywhere, with Gavia's work at Steephill the first place to look. But I do loves me some team tactics projection, and I've never been shy about inserting facts based on what sounds good. Plus team tactics are always a bit of a curiosity at the Worlds, where trade team rivals are now supposed to work together. This is not as ludicrous as it sounds -- if Bartali could work for Coppi, then surely Sammy can lead out Alejandro. Sometimes there is real enmity, and every great rider has individual glory on his brain this week. But it's not like such "rivals" don't already know each other well, and friendships across team lines aren't exactly Capulet-Montague material. So these teams are more or less real, and worthy of a little breakdown. The following capsules are structured on the assumption that the race will unfold in predictable ways: with the top teams grinding out a high pace, slowly wearing people down, and using either last-lap attacks or a final sprint to close the deal. Ratings are on the usual 1-5 scale. W/o more ado... [in order of the official start list]:

Italy

Closer: Damiano Cunego is easily one of the top three contenders based on his ability to wind it up to the line, after six hours of climbing. Of course, so can Stefano Garzelli, Giovanni Visconti, and Pippo Pozzato, should any or all of them find themselves in a final selection. Oh, and if the race is won on a long attack, Scarponi and Bruseghin can all deliver. Rating: 5

Gregari: Luca Paolini probably sees himself in a service role. Visconti too. But after that? There's Marzio Bruseghin, the country's top stage racer for the last couple years. There's reigning World Champion Alessandro Ballan. There's Ivan Basso, possibly the star of stars. Pozzato, if he accepts the inevitability of the climbs. Tons of firepower, so if Cunego is the protected guy, Nazionale coach Franco Ballerini will have plenty of guys available to chase down attacks. Rating: 4

Tranquillo? Here's where it gets very, very tricky. Now, obviously I haven't hung out with the Squadra Azzurri lately, much less delved into the secret thoughts of Stefano Garzelli. And I will give Ballerini his due: he's had star-studded squads in the past and has had to settle for three rainbow jerseys in a row. Boo frickin hoo. But Cunego was chafing a bit after last year, when Ballan made a tactically brilliant attack and Spain refused to chase. Then there's Garzelli, like Cunego a Varesino, who wept bitterly after being left off the roster for his hometown's moment of glory. And if Pozzato is in the finale, he will likely rate his sprint ahead of Cunego's and go for it -- who knows? The nine riders come from six trade teams, and even the three Lampres are all headed in separate directions for next year. Ballerini has to hope for a hard race with a really small selection in the end if he's to have an orderly conclusion. Rating: 3

Overall Rating: 12

Spain

Closer: The Ace of Aces, Alejandro Valverde, shows up as the nominal captain and overall favorite to win. Sammy Sanchez brings the glimmer of his Olympic title, won in a sprint against Davide Rebellin. Oscar Freire is a pure sprinter who occasionally shows up at the business end of hilly races and would very much like the last km, with its gentle incline. Italy have lots of great finishers, but Spain have a nicer mix of great finishers. Rating: 5

Gregari: JJ Cobo, Joaquin Rodriguez and Juan Manuel Garate would be captains on some other teams, but with galacticos such as those above, they will likely know their place. Carlos Barredo is a classics hammerhead extraordinaire, while Daniel Moreno and Ruben Plaza are more than a little useful. Rating: 5

Tranquillo? Every indication says yes, or at least that's how it looked last year. The sight of Valverde hugging Sanchez with sincere joy at the finish in Beijing was impressive... in contrast to Cunego's mixed feelings in Varese. Better still, Spain have far fewer overlapping talents (what does Garzelli do that Cunego doesn't?), opting instead for guys who all bring something slightly different -- and truly excellent -- to the game. Valverde is the presumed beneficiary of the expected selections, but they can change tactics on a dime if there's a big pack (Freire) or a downhill attack (Samu). Only danger is the conservative attitude they raced with last year, but hopefully for them that was a lesson learned. Valverde's presence in a finale means that everyone, even Italy, have to try some longer attacks. Rating: 5

Rating: 15

Australia

Closer: Allan Davis is possibly the premiere sprinter (after Farrar), on the off-off-chance it's a bunch finish, but brushing that aside, Australia will be racing for Cadel Evans. No way does he outkick Valverde or Cunego in the last 100 meters, but he has a chance of making a late attack work. So too would guys like O'Grady or Gerrans. If I'm Spain or Italy, I am keeping a close watch on whichever Australians are around for the last lap. Rating: 2

Gregari: Powerful team of hard workers, like O'Grady, Lloyd, Rogers and Hayman. For once in his life, Evans can't feel abandoned. Rating: 4

Tranquillo? I don't see why not. Unlike Italy, Oz doesn't suffer from years of success and guys seeking a turn in Rainbow. I can't speak to the personalities involved, but even Aussies from different trade teams are probably happy to see a countryman when they spend most of their life 12,000 miles from home. Best of all, the team has a pretty obvious pecking order, depending on how the race unfolds. Not too complicated. Rating: 4

Rating: 10

Germany

Closer: An issue. There's Greipel or maybe Ciolek in a bunch gallop, but the odds of a bunch gallop aren't good, and neither of them is superior to Farrar. A more likely scenario has Tony Martin and Fabian Wegmann in a final selection. The chances of Martin coming past some of the names listed above are pretty poor. Tony might get his rainbow someday, but it's a bit soon. Wegmann is much more dangerous, but in a B-list sort of way. Rating: 3

Gregari: Nice, tough, veteran squad with guys who should know their place. It's not overly climby though, so if Wegmann is in a small selection, he won't likely have domestiques (except maybe Martin) to help. Rating: 2

Tranquillo? I dunno if I would describe anything having to do with German cycling as tranquillo, but there are no obvious conflicts. Rating: 3

Rating: 8

Russia

Closer: Ivanov or Kolobnev is the guess. Both figure to be around in the late stages, though I can't picture either of them winning out of the elite selection. If Cunego and Valverde disappear, they have a chance. Karpets is a threat on a longer attack. Rating: 3

Gregari: If Karpets is riding for his mates, he's a valuable guy at the end. Lots of diesel power in Brutt, Botcharov, etc., though none of it strikes me as game-changing. Rating: 3

Tranquillo? Honestly, I have no clue. There is little reason to expect a win out of this group; more likely they will be following expensive Italian and Spanish wheels, hoping for an opening. I don't see any reason why they should be less than cohesive; being overlooked has a way of crystalizing morale. Rating: 3

Rating: 9

Belgium

Closer: Philippe Gilbert was born for races like this. Maxime Monfort might be around at the end. If the race stays together for some reason (i.e. everyone looking at everyone else) then Boonen or Nuyens or Van Avermaet might show up, though I am betting against any of those scenarios. Gilbert is of the Sanchez-class B-list of closers: very, very good, but not likely to top Valverde. Rating: 4

Gregari: Sort of a Silence-Lotto feel to the support troops. A great bunch of guys to have with you in the Eneco Tour. Not so much more than pack fodder in the mountains. But I could be wrong; I don't know De Waele or De Greef or De Weert well enough to tell them apart. Rating: 1

Tranquillo? Like Germany and Russia, they shouldn't be burdened by great expectations, though with Gilbert in the fold I would think the atmosphere would be a bit more exciting. No reason for polemics. Rating: 4

Rating: 9

Luxembourg

Closer: Kim Kirchen and Andy Schleck. If they can work together, this is a very, very dangerous duo. Kirchen can hang with more than most in a fast finish, while Schleck has shown how dangerous he is from a longer distance out back in Liege. The Spaniards will be desperate to keep these two in check until the last km and let Valverde work them over. Rating: 4

Gregari: Er, no. They're a four-man squad and the two domestiques are unfamiliar to me. Time to follow Spanish wheels. Rating: 1

Tranquillo? TBD. Kirchen is a quiet guy on a rival American team. Schleck is the fresh young face of Lux Cycling, and his trade boss Riis won't take kindly to a Kirchen win. So at best, I suspect the two get in the finale and race for themselves, with the other helping only when their own chances are slipping away. Rating: 2

Rating: 7

Norway

Closer: Thor Hushovd is at least as good as Freire at showing up in unexpected finales, and every bit the pure sprinter when it comes to that. Edvald Boasson Hagen is an utter fricking dynamo, climbing and sprinting like a madman. Honestly, there is nothing I would put past him right now. If he and Valverde are alone in the last 200 meters, I absolutely like Eddy's chances. Kurt-Asle Arvesen might take a flier. Rating: 5

Gregari: Arvesen more likely slots in here, very nicely at that. Gabriel Rasch is the only other known quantity. Arvesen alone gives Norway some mettle. Rating: 3

Tranquillo? Quite likely. I mean, if Thor is in a sprint, he might not take kindly to the young upstart scotching his chances, but presumably he either won't be there, or he will know his body well enough to tell if he has a sprint in him. Boasson Hagen is the contender here in all other cases. I'm sure these guys are plenty familiar and comfortable enough with each other to make it work. No trade team cohesion though. Rating: 3

Rating: 11

United States

Closer: Farrar. Which is a really, really long shot, since he climbs as well as Robbie McEwen. In case of miracle... well, he would be the fastest man in Mendrisio. But still. Danielson should hang with the climbers for a while but this isn't a good course for him. Rating: 2

Gregari: There is a lot of talent on this roster, guys like McCartney, Peterson, Lewis. Not sure how they deploy, but it's not like they can't ride. Rating: 3

Tranquillo? Only for the first couple laps, after which their hopes should start to crumble. The US has become somewhat notorious for cobbling together a team from the Europe domestiques and the domestic stars, as all their bigger names beg off. It's kind of annoying. Rating: 2

Rating: 7

Britain

Closer: Geraint Thomas? David Millar? Ben Swift in a bunch sprint? Nothing too exciting. Rating: 1

Gregari: Plenty of veteran hammerheads like Hammond, as well as future hopes like Thomas and Stannard on hand to learn the ropes. Rating: 2

Tranquillo? Nothing to lose. And most of them have been roommates at some point. Rating: 3

Rating: 6

Netherlands

Closer: At first glance the captaincy would go to Gesink or Kroon, guys who have been on the business end of some hard races. Gesink is almost certain to be hanging around at the end, if he's feeling healthy again. But Boom can sprint. And he's on form. And if he's in a final gallop, I will be screaming at my computer. Rating: 3

Gregari: Hoogerland, Langeveld, Kroon and Moerenhout are very, very useful guys. My admiration for Dutch Cycling can be a tad irrational at times, but this is a strong team. Rating: 4

Tranquillo? Er, I dunno. They lack an obvious captain and pecking order, so it's hard to imagine them organizing at the front in the last lap. I suspect they will be in reactive mode, with two or three guys riding for themselves, looking for a break. But with so many Rabo Development grads, they should at least be comfortable with each other on a personal level. Rating: 3

Rating: 10

France

Closer: Voeckler and Chavanel are two of the cannier pros around. Voeckler in particular should love the parcours, which is probably more like Plouay than any other race. OK, Lombardia, then Plouay, but you get my point. Unfortunately, neither one will have much of a chance of slipping away in the last 10km or so, which is what it would require, but you can't rule it out. Fedrigo can sprint a bit, if he makes it to the end. Rating: 3

Gregari: Le Mevel, Fedrigo and Champion are all very useful. Not on the level with the bigger teams, but useful. Rating: 3

Tranquillo? Ah, sure, I guess. A lot of them have been teammates at some point. Chavanel is more of a lone wolf, but then he wins like that. Rating: 3

Rating: 9

Switzerland

Closer: Fabian Cancellara. Just when you say he can't do something (like, oh, sprint), he does it. I want to downgrade his chances, but nobody gets rich betting against him, particularly on home soil. Albasini is solid and could emerge from a larger group, though presumably they're all lining up behind Fabu. Rating: 4

Gregari: Zaugg, Bertogliati, Albasini, Rast... nice veteran group. Rating: 3

Tranquillo? You can't overestimate their motivation. Small countries with a shot to win, at home... too good to pass up. Cancellara's willpower is supernatural. Too bad Valverde's fast-twitch muscles are too. Rating: 4

Rating: 11

Others to Watch

Closer: Jakob Fuglsang, Thomas Lovkvist, Peter Velits, Roman Kreuziger, Janez Brajkovic, Matti Breschel. Not noted sprinters, just a few of the many climbing stars on hand, with a chance.

Gregari: Don't sleep on Slovenia (Bozic, Valjavec, Stangelj), Denmark (Bak, Hoj, Sorensen) or Sweden (Kessiakoff, Ljungkvist).

Tranquillo? Hey, it's easy being the underdog, until you get elbowed out of the way by a wall of Italians and Spaniards.

Rating: Good luck!