Worlds time. This year we get the opportunity to stay in Spain for an extra few weeks of racing. Since 2000, the Vuelta has been the favorite training preparation for the World Championships. Last year?s World Champion, Rui Costa, was a noted exception to the rule, skipping the Vuelta in 2013. The course features a massive 3600 meters of climbing over 14 laps of racing. Even so, the course is not suited to proper climbers. The two climbs on course are comparably tame to what we saw last year in Italy. Tame as the lumps are, they will eliminate out and out sprinters. The organizers have queued up a course that is not hard enough for the climbers, yet too difficult for the sprinters. Ought to interesting then, eh? All 254.8 kilometers of this year’s race will take place on 14 laps of an 18.2 kilometer circuit. It is the first time in five years that organizers have opted to return to the classic circuit set up. We should see an early break comprised of hopefuls and the overtly religious; because really, they have no chance. Somewhere around lap nine, the favorites will come to the front for the finale. OricaGreen Edge- Er…Australia. Most countries have an odd collection of riders from all different trade teams. Australia is sending a team full of riders from the Orica Green Edge squad. Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews are the team’s designated leaders. Seemingly, Australia has a rider for every occasion. If a small group battles it out, Gerrans will surely be among the fastest finishers in the pack. Likewise, if it?s a larger bunch gallop, perhaps 20-30 riders, Matthews has a great track record against those odds. Worlds is a bit less simple than that game plan, but honestly, what could go wrong? The Spanish Armada Spain royally messed up last year. They had two riders in the winning move of four and walked away with two medals that were distinctly not gold. Collusion seems to be the Achilles heel for the Spanish. Riders often fight over leadership and end up foiling each other’s opportunity for success. In recent history, we saw Valverde fail to mark Costa last year. Then, in 2012, Valverde himself chased down Phillipe Gilbert, leaving team leader Oscar Freire to fend for himself. Valverde has been labeled the team leader; whether he’ll garner full team support is another story. The Belgians Like Australia, the Belgians bring a deep squad of mufti-talented riders. Two former World Champions lead the team in Tom Boonen (2005) and Phillipe Gilbert (2012). In the Belgian iteration of the Dream Team, Gilbert features a decent kick that could propel him out of a small group. Conversely, Tom Boonen is a historically prolific sprinter. However, neither rider set the world on fire this year. Furthermore, neither rider showed themselves to be a top favorite based on their performance at the Vuelta. It would be little surprise to see the familiar pale blue kit all over the final move, but it would be a surprise to see a Belgian on the top step of the podium come Wednesday night. Italy They have Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali lining up. However, there are some big names here, so he will not win. Unless everyone crashes out… The others That concludes our coverage of the major teams, really no surprises here. An in form Cavendish would be an interesting prospect, but the Manx Missile has opted to skip the event altogether. Peter Sagan seems to be more focused on next year’s new start with Saxo Tinkoff. Despite what his trainer claims, the Slovakian looks to be off form. In fact, Sagan has had no significant results since E3 this spring (omitting his third constitutive green jersey at the Tour). Cancellara’s name gets kicked about as well, but he can neither escape the climbers or out kick the sprinters. John Degenkolb has contracted the sniffles and is questionable for the start. And….who does that leave? Ah, Alexander Kristoff. He comes without a big team, but he’s shown to be a force in long, one-day races. Scenarios The only thing better than two opponents battling for victory is two teammates fighting for gold. This time around, we want to avoid that at all costs though. Things could get dicey for Australia if both Gerrans and Matthews survive to the final kilometers. Gerrans, while capable of a quick finish, is not as fast as Matthews. On the other side, will Matthews need to save teammates for a lead out, in essence tying Gerrans’ hands? Matthews is younger and will have other chances at the jersey; Gerrans may not. Will they be able to play nice and make this all work? We sure hope so! Talking heads have slated this course to create a finish similar to Milan San Remo. If teams attack the race, the peloton will shed the sprinters early and we will see a war of attrition. If the bunch waits too late to light the fuse, the sprinters will survive and will take their chances into the final kilometer. If you’ve noticed, we’ve focused on the fast finishers that can climb, Valverde, Gerrans, Gilbert, Matthews etc… These are the types of riders that should contend for glory come Sunday. That’s why Nacer Bouhanni has yet to be mentioned. If we were gamblers, we’d take him as most likely be the first sprinter eliminated. The Hail Mary Yet, this is Worlds, so there’s always a chance things will get crazy. Last year we saw an elite escape of four slide off the front in the closing kilometers. It is feasible for a similar situation to happen again. If it does, the smartest rider is apt to win, not the strongest. Really, these types of finishers are the most exciting. A rider running away from a small chase group with the remaining peloton chasing them for all their worth is something to behold. From the first man, to the last man, every rider is within a minute of each other. That’s drama. Picks Drama aside, this really seems like a course that suits Australia. Italy will attempt to shred the peloton with the help of teams like Great Britain and Spain. Matthews should survive the melee; he was the U23 World Champion after all. Australia will use their remaining numbers to control serious attacks late in the race. Gerrans should be permitted to follow the big names, Gilbert, Cancellara, Froome ? anyone who tries something. In the end, if that move sticks, he’ll win that sprint. If Gerrans’ group comes back to the peloton, Matthews has the goods to finish them off. Either way, Oz brings home a stripey jersey.