Cadel Evans has tipped Belgium’s Wout van Aert as the man to beat in Sunday’s glamour elite men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong.
Australian legend Evans has been a keen observer as an ambassador for the world champs and the Tour de France winner also won the coveted road race rainbow jersey in Switzerland in 2009.
He agreed with the assessment of Stan Sport cycling host Michael Tomalaris, who felt some of the sport’s big guns may have been foxing and using last weekend’s elite time trial as somewhat of a training exercise for Sunday’s big dance.
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Norway’s Tobias Voss was a shock winner ahead of Switzerland’s Stefan Kung while Belgium big gun Remco Evenepoel claimed bronze.
But the race’s other rock stars – Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar and Italy’s Filippo Ganna – could only muster sixth and seventh respectively.
Climbing specialist Pogacar is a two-time Tour de France champion, while Ganna had won the last two world championships time trials.
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« Yeah normally going into a competition like this you’d have a couple of lead-up races, » Evans told Wide World of Sports.
« And they weren’t available to these riders because of the travel and time zones and so on. So a couple of riders have probably opted to do that.
« Obviously Evenepoel coming third is still a great result for a training run but I think he’s also using it to get his legs going and get ready for Sunday. »
Van Aert is the bookmaker’s favourite ahead of Pogacar, Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands), Evenepoel and Julian Alaphilippe (France).
« I still think Wout van Aert is the man to beat on this course, » Evans said.
« Certainly Pogacar is going to have a big crack on the climb. It’s a hard climb but it’s not very long and it’s a long way from the finish.
« So I think it’s going to be more suited to guys like van Aert, possibly Evenepoel but more van Aert, van der Poel and someone like our own Michael Matthews or even Alberto Bettiol (Italy). »
Matthews, the 31-year-old from Canberra, is a well rounded and battle hardened rider rated sixth favourite with the bookies.
Asked what Matthews had to do to replicate his own world title heroics, Evans was succinct.
« Get over the last climb as close to the front guys as possible. Because if it comes down to a small group, that’s where he’ll have a really good chance to win from a small group.
« Let’s remember in 2010 in Australia he won the under-23s (world title) and he’s been twice second at the worlds. So he knows how to get ready for these races and knows how to deal with it.
« His road captain and right hand man will be Simon Clarke, who was my right hand guy in 2009. So it’s all looking like it’s in place for a big result. »
The Australian team did suffer a setback before the world champs when Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley tested positive for COVID-19.
His fitness for Sunday’s road race remains a major question mark.
« Having just had COVID myself I wouldn’t have too many high expectations of him unfortunately, » Evans said.
« He’ll also be looking forward to world champs in the future, him and Ben O’Connor.
« And obviously with a hard climb like this, being there in the final to follow moves of guys like Pogacar and the pure climbers, that’s what they want to do. But getting COVID, let’s get realistic about this, that could mean he’s anywhere on Sunday. »
As for Saturday’s elite women’s road race, Evans tipped Australia’s Grace Brown as a major hope.
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Brown finished second in the time trial last weekend.
« If she could just go one place better, that would make the world championships for me, » Evans said.
« Being 30, she’s just coming into her best now. That’s the norm for cycling and she’s got the form.
« She’s had a relatively quiet early/mid-season which is usually what happens to the person that wins the world championships so I’m hoping that’s going to count for her. »
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