Still a season of racing to go, but French national coach already has thoughts on who will contest the finale

There’s a whole season of cycling to go between now and the 2012 road world championships in the province of Limburg in the Netherlands in mid-September, but predictions are already being made about who might be Mark Cavendish’s successor in the rainbow jersey, with the latest to voice his opinion being French team coach, Laurent Jalabert.

The 43-year-old, who finished second to Italy’s Gianni Bugno in the world championship road race at Benidorm in 1992, won the rainbow jersey in the time trial at San Sebastian five years later.

In recent days, Jalabert has been undertaking a recce of the course and believes that a memorable race could be in prospect, adding that  “the wind is going to be a determining factor in this.”

Unlike last year in Copenhagen, where the Great Britain team fought hard to ensure that the race came down to a bunch sprint, thereby putting Cavendish in a position from which he could find a way through the traffic to win, Jalabert says that this year’s circuit in Limburg is tough enough to ensure that selections will be made.

The “unpredictable climb” of the Cauberg, which also features in the Amstel Gold Race, should provide the defining moments of the race, says Jalabert. Those with ambitions of pulling on the rainbow jersey have two options, he adds.

“One, you go full throttle from the foot of the hill all the way till the finish line, or two you pull away at the top of the Cauberg and don’t look behind till you pass the line.”

It’s an important distinction. The Amstel Gold Race, won in 2010 and again last year by Philippe Gilbert, finishes on top of the Cauberg; September’s finish line, however, is a kilometre further on, which Jalabert believes will give the Belgian’s rivals a chance to come back at him if he’s used his explosive power to get away on the climb.

Jalabert believes a select group of favourites will emerge in the closing kilometres of the race to hit the Cauberg together, including Gilbert, his BMC team mate and 2010 world champion Thor Hushovd, another Norwegian, Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky, former world number one Alejandro Valverde, returned from a two-year doping ban, and three-time world champion Oscar Freire, riding his last season.

The two Spaniards both impressed at last week’s Santos Tour Down Under with Freire, now at Katusha, the only rider to break André Greipel’s monopoly of the sprint stages, while Valverde won the hilltop finish on Stage 5 and tied on time with Simon Gerrans at the top of the overall standings, the Australian winning the race on his average stage finish position during the race.

Not mentioned by Jalabert are any of his own charges, although the course should suit both Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler, and you’d expect both to be in contention at some point.

Other riders who have highlighted September’s race as one of their goals for 2012 include current Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, former Amstel Gold winner Frank Schleck, 2009 world champion and 2011 Tour de France victor Cadel Evans, while among the home riders, Robert Gesink, Wout Poels and Rob Ruijgh all have ambitions of giving what should be huge crowds something to cheer.

The biggest cheer of all, however, for a home victory would probably go to Marianne Vos, women’s road world champion in 2006 a the age of just 19, but second in each of the five years since then, an incredible record.

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.