Packed field at World Championships

September, 27, 2010
09/27/10
6:26
PM ET

It's fitting that a wildly tumultuous cycling season would come to a close with a wide-open World Championships. The men's, women's and under-23 races will roll out this week in Melbourne and Geelong, Australia -- the first time the championships have been held in that country and only the fourth time in the last 20 years the event has taken place outside Europe.

The U.S. will field a strong young team that has a legitimate shot at the elite road race, a 163-mile jaunt that starts with a dogleg from Melbourne to the port city of Geelong and wheels around 11 laps of a roughly 10-mile long circuit there. Breakaways should go early and, if wind buffets the course as expected, a lead group could stay out all the way. The course is backloaded with hills and thought to be suited more to classics riders than sprinters.

Garmin-Transitions' Tyler Farrar and HTC-Columbia's Tejay Van Garderen will be the protected U.S. riders, with veteran Christian Vande Velde serving as road captain, according to BMC Racing assistant director Mike Sayers, who will guide the team. It's a departure for the Americans to have a manager from a trade team as opposed to the national federation, but Sayers hopes his familiarity with the top international contenders will pay dividends -- although he admits personal dynamics could get tricky if he finds himself having to strategize against defending champion and BMC leader Cadel Evans of Australia.

Other pre-race favorites include Belgium's Philippe Gilbert, Spain's Oscar Freire and Italy's Filippo Pozzato. As for the 28.4-mile time trial, it should be Fabian Cancellara's race to lose, although the three-time champion from Switzerland could be challenged by Germany's Tony Martin.

Twenty-year-old U.S. phenom Taylor Phinney, who signed with BMC last week, will stick to the U23 events, a wise choice given the many years ahead that he has to compete with his elders.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.

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