Ahead of the UCI Road World Championships elite men’s race on Sunday, team manager Rod Ellingworth was keen to play down expectation surrounding a title bid for Chris Froome, insisting that the race was part of a much bigger project, one which began with ‘Project Rainbow’, the codename coined for Cavendish’s Copenhagen title bid in 2011.
Above: Elite men's road manager Rod Ellingworth (left) with British Cycling Head Coach Shane Sutton.
Ellingworth was the mastermind behind a plan which saw Cavendish claim a title that had eluded a British rider since Tom Simpson pulled on the rainbow bands in San Sebastian in 1965. Yet with Froome’s Tour de France victory fresh in people’s minds, the rider’s designation as team leader has sparked hopes of another title bid in 2013.
The Team: Chris Froome, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Steve Cummings, Luke Rowe, Josh Edmondson.
At a press call in the team hotel a few days before the 270-kilometre elite men’s race, Ellingworth introduced the world’s cycling press to the as yet unnamed successor to ‘Project Rainbow,’ a mission with a far longer shelf life.
Road to Rio
“It’s a continuation of what we’ve been doing really,” said Ellingworth. “I think we’ve established our position a little bit. We won the worlds and now it’s about continuing.
“For me this is about developing the next group really and I think Chris (Froome) coming in as a leader... I think there we can say look, we don’t just have the best sprinter in the world, I think we’ve got some of the best climbers in the world.”
Ellingworth was candid about the fact that Froome and the team as a whole, despite its abundant collective talent, isn’t a proven, sure-fire package in one day races.
“Cav can win one day races, the others aren’t proven particularly in one day races,” admitted Ellingworth. “That’s the progression really, which is really interesting and that’s what we’re excited about.
“The race is going to be hard for him (Chris) to win. Is this climb long enough for Chris? I don’t know really. But this is where we’ve got to pick off year-by-year really. I think next year is going to be a hard course again so as a team I think the main thing is that each one of them gets off the bike and think that they’ve performed to their best. I think that’s most important of all really.
"The guys will feel proud to be in the jersey. We’ve won the worlds before. We’re going to go in and fight for it and show that we’re world class."
“If they can do that and the race falls our way one year or you get the right course, if you keep racing in that mentality the guys will feel proud to be in the jersey. We’ve won the worlds before. We’re going to go in and fight for it and show that we’re world class.”
Cavendish the talisman
Following his success at the Tour of Britain, Mark Cavendish spoke of his excitement ahead of supporting Froome, prompting some to ponder the contribution that the sprinter could make on the punishing 11 ascents of the Fiesole hill.
“I think some people would have questioned Mark’s selection,” said Ellingworth. “But he’s on home turf, near enough – his second home – he’s ex-world champion. He brings so much to the party in the lead-up.”
Ellingworth’s preparation, like every other national team managers, has been compromised by the log-jam of racing that is the international calendar in September. However, Ellingworth explained how worlds planning ticks along in the background in tandem with the riders’ trade team commitments.
“They’re coming together on Friday,” said Ellingworth, confident in the knowledge that the momentum of Copenhagen 2011 is still propelling his collective along.
“Project Rainbow was about was building the momentum. Now it’s just keeping on top of the momentum which we do by just regular communication. They know that I’m leading the project so if any of them have got a problem or they’re thinking about selection, what the course is like, four or five months out, they’ve got a point of contact.
“The majority of the group are all pros – they see each other regularly – they keep the ball rolling so the time we have to come together is less than we had to before.
“We’ve set our values; we know what we’re trying to do. We know the standards we’re trying to race at. A lot of that is already set.”
Long term goal
Ellingworth’s remarkably laid back approach hinted that although he was four days out from a world title bid, he and his team have a much longer term goal in mind – the road race at Rio 2016.
"Every time we get together as a national team we’ve got to grasp it and use it as either ‘this is the big one’ or progression.
"I sort of see this as an opportunity for Chris but also as a progression."
“It’s year on year,” said Ellingworth. “I think it’s hard to come together, maybe once a year as a national team really with this sort of group. So every time you’ve got to make the most of it and always think about the future.
“Every time we get together as a national team we’ve got to grasp it and use it as either ‘this is the big one’ or progression. I sort of see this as an opportunity for Chris but also as a progression.
“Even when we were going for the win with Cav (in 2011) we were thinking about the Olympics. There’s always the next step isn’t there? That’s the way I see it in my mind.
“Having a team that’s fourth in the world rankings with two Tour de France winners in it, we’ve got to go and win this bike race.”
But back to the matter in hand, Ellingworth assessed Chris Froome’s chances in Florence. The climbing on the course will be meat and drink to Froome; however the nature of the racing is totally different to the mountain top Grand Tour stages which have been Froome’s springboard to general classification honours in his short but spectacular career.
“Chris is certainly going to be competitive. He’ll be in the mix for sure if everything goes his way,” said Ellingworth. “The worlds is always a bit of an unusual race but that’s what makes it so exciting isn’t it?
“He’d have to win it on his own. He’d have to break them one by one.
"Chris is certainly going to be competitive. He’ll be in the mix for sure if everything goes his way."
“A lot of people are saying that this race will come down to people on their own or a very small group but how often does that happen? You think of Mendrisio (Switzerland) in 2009. In the last half an hour there were still forty or so riders. I think that climb was as hard as this. It was a tough circuit.
“It depends who he’s against – you never know. It’s 270-kilometres. Anything can happen after that.”
Away from Froome’s chances, Ellingworth spoke about the emerging climbing talent of Josh Edmondson, the youngest rider to make the team selection and a key part of Ellingworth’s long term ambitions.
“Josh is a real unknown,” admitted the team manager. “It is a roll of the dice with Josh but certainly we’ll try to protect him for as long as we can. Once you get over 220km it starts becoming a different sort of race.
“His spot here is a real ‘let’s just throw him in and see what we get’. He’s an exciting young bike rider, he’s well up for it.
“If he does a good job, even up to 220-230-kilometres, which I think he’s capable of, if he gets his fuelling right, that for me will be a win.”
The elite men’s road race team comprises Chris Froome, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Steve Cummings, Luke Rowe and Josh Edmondson. The race takes place on Sunday 29 September beginning at 9am BST.