Defending world champion Cadel Evans would like to believe a fellow Australian will succeed him as world road race cycling champion on Sunday.
But the former two-time Tour de France runner-up, who made history by winning Australia’s first rainbow jersey in the elite men’s race last year, admits the hosts face a fight over what could be an epic 262.7km of racing.
For the first time ever the men’s event, usually held on a closed circuit, will start and finish in different places, beginning in Melbourne and ending in Geelong.
With 87km between the two locations, it opens up possibilities for early attacks. Once in Geelong, the 180-strong peloton have to tackle a 15.9km circuit, which features two challenging climbs, a total of 11 times.
Although not a course for pure climbers, it is difficult enough to have shattered the dreams of the specialist sprinters who made a long and hopeful trip to Australia.
After he rode over the course, British sprint king Mark Cavendish admitted he would have to “revise” his ambitions.
Stage race specialist Evans believes the likes of Spain, Belgium and Italy, who all have strong teams based around non-sprinters, will crank up the pace and ultimately create a race of attrition.
“Obviously Britain would like to have Cavendish at the finish, but when a team like Italy or Belgium come without a sprinter versus the British team, you have two of the strongest teams who want a different outcome to the race, and I think normally they’ll go in the direction of the stronger teams who control the race,” Evans said.
“I think what Cavendish has to overcome is that a lot of people don’t ride at the finish with him.”
Although on form, despite having only recently recovered from a broken elbow suffered at the Tour de France, Evans has so far played down his chances.
Instead, most of the talk has been focused on Belgian Philippe Gilbert and Italian Filippo Pozzato, who are both well-suited to the Geelong circuit and come into the event with recent stage wins on the Tour of Spain.
“(Both) are (in) the strongest teams with the best captains, they’re going into racing the guys to beat,” added Evans.
Although not Australia’s official team leader, Evans could end up playing a key support role for a teammate like local hope Simon Gerrans or the versatile Matthew Goss.
“I think we’re pretty well placed, we’ve got a good variety of riders, and some really good experience on the team and a lot of guys who I’ve raced the worlds with before who have always delivered and given their all for the effort for the team, so we’re up there.”
A key part of the race will be the climbs. The Mount Pleasant climb features three sections interspersed with flatter parts leading to a summit called The Ridge.
A fast descent then leads to a chicane where the riders will almost come to a standstill before tackling a shorter but steeper ramp whose crest is 6.2km from the finish line.
For the first time in a world championships race race radios, which allow riders to communicate with their team cars and vice-versa, will be forbidden.
But while Evans admits local knowledge can help, he says team tactics will play a much bigger role in the outcome of the race.
“I’ve done a few laps of it (the circuit), living close by in the summer, but I think it’s going to depend a lot on the weather conditions and how the bigger teams really race, not only on the initial laps but also on the way out from Melbourne,” added the Australian.
“It also depends on how everyone else races on the day.”