Julian Alaphilippe, who has travelled to Australia to chase a third straight world title despite dislocating a shoulder in August, said on Wednesday he was approaching his race with mixed emotions.
The French rider, who suffered his second bad crash of the year on the Vuelta on August 31, said he was unsure about his fitness and also ambivalent about whether he needed to win the road race title on Sunday to keep wearing the world champion's rainbow jersey in races for a third year.
"I'm coming in with a lot of motivation, pretty relaxed," he said at the pre-race press conference in Wollongong.
"I'm not in the best condition, that's for sure. The last time I was in a race, I got injured. One more time, almost one too many. I'm certainly not 100 per cent. I'm not going to be rotten either, but I'm not going to come in with the same certainty as in previous years."
"I'm kind of torn between two feelings lately," he said.
"On the one hand I say to myself: I can't wait for next year so that I don't have to wear the jersey anymore and I can, in quotes, become a normal rider again, less recognised, less sought-after, more relaxed. But on the other hand, this jersey is such a dream, something so huge that I can't let it go just like that, of course not!"
"So whatever happens, whether I have the jersey for a third time or I don't have it anymore, next week I will be very happy."
"I'd be really happy to relive what I've experienced the last two years. And I think I'd be even happier if it's one of my colleagues who wins."
He said he felt no pressure "because I know how the last few weeks have gone for me".
- 'Here with my buddies' -
Teams often play a game of bluff over their tactics, but Alaphilippe said he would he happy to act as a domestique for a France squad that also includes Romain Bardet, Christophe Laporte, Valentin Madouas, Quentin Pacher, Florian Senechal, Pavel Sivakov, Remi Cavagna and Benoit Cosnefroy.
"There are riders in the French team who have performed better than me in the last few weeks and for whom the course is also very good," he said. "I will be very happy to give my best for them."
Bardet told the press conference he liked the course.
"I didn't expect the circuit to be so hard, it's going to be a race for strong men," Bardet said.
In April, Alaphilippe ended up in hospital with multiple fractures after a heavy crash in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic. He did not recover in time to race the Tour de France in July.
He said the falls had left mental scars.
"I don't hide the fact that at times, when the race is going fast, when I'm close to a crash, I'm maybe a little more afraid than before. Because I don't want to suffer another one. I had too many this year. I'm still a little marked by Liege, of course."
"It has been a complicated year. Several times I wanted to put the bike in the garage and wait for 2023. But it was also a year of resilience. I came back every time," he said. "Here I am, here with my buddies and enjoying every second, every mile."