Jonathan Tiernan-Locke of Endura Racing, a virtual unknown outside the UK at the start of 2012, goes into today’s world championship road race as Great Britain’s protected rider with a stellar supporting cast including Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and outgoing world champion Mark Cavendish, who admits he has no chance of defending his title in the Netherlands.
The promise that Tiernan-Locke showed early on in his career before giving up racing for three years after contracting Epstein-Barr virus – his first full season back came with Rapha-Condor-Sharp in 2010 – has been confirmed with a string of victories this year, starting with the French early season races the Tour Méditerranéen and Tour du Haut Var plus second place overall in Spain’s Vuelta a Murcia.
The rider, who comes from Devon, fractured his collarbone in the Lincoln Grand Prix in May, but went on to win July’s Tour d’Alsace and, last week, the Tour of Britain, his biggest victory to date. He is widely expected to join Team Sky for 2013.
While Cavendish started last year’s race as a strong favourite, his victory the fruit of three years’ planning by British Cycling under the codename Project Rainbow, there are no particular expectations on the team in today’s race which comes towards the end of a season when the Olympic Road Race in London was the national team’s big goal.
Tiernan-Locke, who has built his reputation on his ability of launching punchy attacks on climbs to distance rivals, believes the course should play to his strengths but is playing down his own chances.
“People talk about the Cauberg, but the finish comes 1.5 kilometres after that so it is going to be more open than just for the climbers," he insisted, quoted on BBC Sport.
"Maybe I will have a free rein but I don't think it will be a case of just everyone behind me. I am pretty unproven at this level and this distance as well."
"I can't win," Cavendish admitted. "I haven't got a chance, so I will be in a support role for the other guys in the team," he added, saying that Great Britain were "putting their money on" Tiernan-Locke.
"He's an attacking rider and it is going to be a really open race and there are so many different options and riders who can win," Cavendish went on.
"There are not many sports where you win a world title and then get to wear a jersey for a year.
"I'm here out of respect for the jersey and whether you can win or not you go and defend the jersey," he added.
Wiggins, who followed up July's Tour de France victory with a gold medal in the Olympic time trial, said: "Jon is in great form at the moment and is probably going to be our leader.
"We'll go out with a game-plan and try to implement it for Jon. Perhaps it won't be as straightforward as last year but we will have a go.
"Steve Cummings is also an outsider," added Wiggins, referring to his former Team Sky colleague, now with BMC Racing, who won the first Grand Tour stage of his career during the Vuelta earlier this month.
"He's got this great knack of popping out when it matters although he is probably more of an underdog," said Wiggins. "I certainly wouldn't discount Steve."
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.