It’s been a hot topic of discussion among cycling fans for the past year, and in less than 12 hours’ time, we’ll know the answer – can anyone stop Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara from retaining the World Time Trial title he won in Mendrisio 12 months ago?
A couple of months ago, when the Team Saxo Bank rider cruised to victory in the penultimate day’s individual time trial in the Tour de France, the odds seemed stacked in his favour, but Cancellara himself has said in recent weeks that he doesn’t believe he’s in the same form as he was 12 months ago.
Even if he’s not quite at his best, the 29-year-old is of course a formidable prospect in the race against the clock, coming third behind Peter Velits and Denis Menchov in Stage 17 of the Vuelta a fortnight ago that took place on a course just 200 metres longer than tomorrow’s 45.8 kilometre race in Geelong, and of course there is also the small matter of the rainbow stripes as an incentive, too.
It’s a jersey the Swiss powerhouse has made his own. Three times in the last four years, Cancellara has won the coveted prize, the only time he failed to do so being in 2008 when he withdrew citing fatigue, but only after he had clinched time trial Olympic gold at Beijing, adding bronze in the road race for good measure.
Three of the men who will try to stop him making it a record fourth victory tomorrow have themselves worn the rainbow jersey on the podium – Great Britain’s David Millar of Garmin-Transitions, plus Australia’s Michael Rogers and his HTC-Columbia team mate, Germany’s Bert Grabsch, teh 2008 winner.
Millar, of course, was subsequently stripped of the title he won in Hamilton, Canada in 2003 following his ban for doping, his title going to runner-up Rogers, who went on to set the fastest time the following year in Verona and defend the title successfully 12 months later in Madrid.
Both Grabsch and Millar are included in the fourth and final group of starters to negotiate what we now know to be a pretty testing course, with the German being the first of those to go at 7am UK time, and Cancellara the last, 18 minutes later.
Last year’s silver and bronze medallists, Sweden’s Gustav Larrsson and Germany’s Tony Rogers also go in that final group, as does the Australian Richie Porte, Slovenia’s Janez Brajkovic, Canada’s Svein Tuft – silver medallist in Varese two years’ ago – and Dutch rider Koos Mourenhout.
Perennial US champion David Zabriskie, meanwhile, has a silver and bronze from the event in his trophy cabinet, and would dearly love to complete his set, and he too goes out in the last group.
Some 40 minutes before Grabsch hits the road to set that final group on its way, Rogers will have rolled down the ramp to start his ride, and given the changeable weather that has figured in Geelong this week, it’s not inconceivable that the Australian – or indeed one of the 32 riders who go out before him, could spring a surprise should the weather turn nasty approaching 4pm local time.
Meanwhile, Cancellara has criticised the UCI’s decision to dispense with race radios in this week’s events as part of its gradual phasing out of the communications devices over the coming seasons.
"I think it is wrong, we are in 2010, we are in the modern times," he said, adding, “the radios are here not to get riders information that they have to breathe, to pedal, to push the pedals.”
Perhaps not, but they can help level the playing field, as Great Britain’s new World Champion Emma Pooley pointed out earlier today after her stunning ride in the women’s time trial.
“I quite like the fact that this year no radios were allowed so no one was getting intermediate time checks which meant all you could do is ride your fastest and the fastest person wins,” she said.
Cancellara, however, insists that the protection of riders should be paramount. "For me, the radios are there for safety reasons because when there is something happening, when something is coming on the road means you have to get information whether it is a crash, it is little things that are important."
He added that he wouldn’t let the absence of radios on Sunday get in the way of his attempt to win the road race which, should he also prevail in the time trial tomorrow, would be an unprecedented double – no-one has won both events in the same year, although Spain’s Abraham Olano did win them in separate championships.
"I have seen so many other races where my radio was not working and I still did amazing performances," he said.
Finally, the UCI has confirmed that after the Danish capital Copenhagen next year and Limburg in The Netherlands in 2012, the championships are heading to the Italian city of Florence in 2013.
There will be live coverage of the men’s time trial from 4am UK time tomorrow morning, coinciding with the first rider, James Weekes of St Kitts & Nevis setting off, via the BBC Red Button and live on the BBC website, with highlights on British Eurosport tomorrow afternoon at 2pm.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.