One of the long-standing traditions of the Belgian kermesses is betting at
the races. At every small and large kermesse, bookmakers place bets with
the fans for their favorite rider. I thought it would be interesting to see how
the Belgian bookmakers were picking the riders for Sunday's Men's Road Race.
The first picks are which Belgian rider will do best at Zolder. My emotional
favorite, along with many fans, is Johan Museeuw (DFF) who will be going off at
2 to 1 odds and seems to be the bookies' favorite also. If Johan were to win it
would really cap a great year and an incredible career.
The second choice amongst Belgian riders is Peter van Petegem (Lotto) at 3/1
odds. Young Tom Boonen (USPS), who has shown he has the power to surprise in a
one-day race, is favored next in the roundup. With depth of talent perhaps only
met by the Italian team, many of the remaining picks cannot be overlooked on any
day: Tom Steels with an explosive sprint, Mark Wauters (RAB), Jo Plankaert (COF),
and Ludvic Capelle (A2R) all have the power to surprise given the opportunity.
The Belgian team has the power to support Museeuw into a break for the win.
Moving on to the bookies' picks from all riders present to challenge for the
road race the obvious favorite is Super Mario Cipollini (ACQ), heavily favoured
at 4.5 to 1. The element most considered may be the strength of the Italian
team, but only the race will show if the Italian contingent will race in full
support of Signor Cipollini or use any advantage gained in a break to master the
field for a victory. To win, Cipo must be present in the break of the day and be
escorted to the line; of course one must admit that in this scenario Mario is
the current king. Given a united Italian team Cipo may well rule, but then the
Italians as a team are known to express their individual desire. (See Fabio's
Surprisingly, the odds makers have only two riders near Mario, with the
nearest rider placed at 7/1 odds - Robbie Mc Ewen (LOT) and Johan Museeuw
(DFF) at 7.5. Paolo Bettini (MAP) and Eric Zabel (TEL) at 10/1 at the start. Mc
Ewen chosen as second favorite, seems to get a better nod than his mate from
down under, Stuart O'Grady, who cannot be so easily dismissed in my opinion on
the Zolder course.
Oscar Friere (MAP), the current wearer of the Worlds jersey, follows with
12/1 odds; this may be a reflection of a team unsuited to the course but surely
this was the case last year when he won. Laurent Jalabert (CST), next chosen by
the bookies, is always capable of a surprise as he has proven so many times in
the Classics and Grand Tours.
The roster of pros placed at 20/1 odds is a who's who of continental racing
any of which can "on any given Sunday" challenge the best:
Tom Steels (MAP), Tom Boonen (USPS), Jean Kirsipuu (A2R), Roman Vainstiens (DFF),
Alessandro Petacchi (FAS), Danilo Di Luca (SAE), and Gianluca Bertolami (TAC)
all of who are frequent occupants of the podium.
Danilo Di Luca: Saeco earlier announced did not ride Paris Tours to prepare
for the worlds, no doubt will be finely tuned for the performance of his life.
The roster of names with odds higher than this has some surprises. David
Millar (COF) at 30/1, who placed fifth in the ITT, can not so easily be
dismissed though the course does not favor him if it comes to a group sprint.
Mr. Millar has shown even being run over by a team car in the Vuelta and injured
does not stop this man of iron and his ITT result shows he is fit to ride,
although it would be a miracle if he won.
Others in this odds group include: Mark Wauters (RAB), Richard Virenque (DFF),
Jacky Durand (FDJ), Igor Astarloa (SAE), Stuart O'Grady(CA), Baden Cooke and
Bradley McGee (both FDJ), Fred Rodriguez (DFF), Markus Zberg (RAB), and Thor
Among these Fred Rodriquez has shown he can arrive at the front in one day
Classics, the only question is can he win. Stuart O'Grady can deliver in a
sprint finish, Igor Astarloa may be the sensation of the year, and young Thor
Hushovd has proved he can put the hammer down to win. Virenque, well, what can
you say about Richard - on a good day the peloton may not catch him in one
of his brave attacks.
Beyond this on the Bookies lists are some riders starting at 50-100/1 odds
with some surprising names:
Santiago Botero (KEL) fresh off his win of the Worlds ITT, may be inspired for
the road race. Joseba Beloki (ONC) certainly could be considered. Beat Zberg (RAB),
Serguei Ivanov (FAS), Jans Koerts (DFF), Alex Vinokourov (TEL), Danielle
Nardello (MAP), Arvis Piziks (CST) Jens Voight (CA) and Danilo Hondo (TEL) are
all strong riders who will be in the mix. Forgive me if I have not mentioned
your favorite rider in this part of the list, there are many more who should be
The bookies have ignored the climbers like Oscar Sevilla sending him off with
150/1 odds. But then one must admit, how are the climbers to win a worlds when
you have courses that so favor the fast bunch and the sprint finish? One might
say they are pre-eliminated by the course selection.
This reminds me of my own idea for a Worlds competition. You may like it, or
you may wish to damn me on the message board; I am certainly open for comment.
I would rather see a three or four day stage race which would award separate
medals for each discipline - ITT, TTT, Kermesse (criterium or flat stage
such as Zolder) and a Mountain stage which would test the climbers. This would
in fact give us not only the overall Champion of the World but also the World
Champion and team of each discipline.
The winner of the Road Race this year will be nothing more than the champion
of flat roads in my view. Not that this will be an easy task, nor one not worthy
of admiration; but if the course were changed the selection by the course and
the odds and chances would truly give us a road champion.
Weather - Could it be the deciding element?
That said, the last thing which must be taken into account is the Weather in
Zolder on Sunday. Rain is predicted! This changes everything, tilting the odds
to Museeuw and those hardy Classics riders familiar with wet roads and bitter
cold. The temp in Belgium has been 60 F/18 C with rain it could become
significantly colder. This may be another year the gods fail to shine on Italy
and Cipo by changing the conditions of the contest.
A final note: It seems our good friend Gordon McCauley is listed on the book,
to the best of my knowledge Gordy is in New Zealand tearing up the roads
training for the National Championship. Once again the ever popular Gordy is
obviously missed in his absence.
Several names which are favorite riders of mine on USA teams are ignored by
the bookies odds charts. To mention just a few: Chris Horner (Prime Alliance), a
rider of class looking to make an impression, and Canadian Charles Dionne of
7up/Nutrafig, who rode well in the San Francisco Grand Prix against stiff Euro
competition and showed themselves well on a course that is a grueler compared to
Zolders flats. Go Boys! I am certain there are others, perhaps some of your own,
not mentioned, who can bend wind and rain to their advantage and make fools of
As one of my boyhood heroes and cycling legend Rik Van Looy said in Anita van
"It is the riders who make the race. Therefore this World Championship can be
a difficult one. For sure when the wind will blow and the asphalt is as sucking
as I remember of the race there in 1969. I do not think it will be a massive
sprint. There are too many candidates for the rainbow jersey who stand no chance
unless they eliminate the sprinters. I think we will see one breakaway after the
other, and we perhaps will see Johan Museeuw win one of his finest."
I think Rik said it all. It will be a race to see! With two of our
journalists, Celine Tytgadt and Anita van Crey, and photographer Jeff Tse on the
ground in Zolder, I am sure we will be bringing you the coverage this event