Aussie contenders confident entering cycling world road race

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Richmond (United States) (AFP) - Australians Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans have taken very different paths to Sunday's men's road race at the World Road Cycling Championships, but both are threats to capture the title.

Matthews won the points crown at Paris-Nice and a stage, took third at Milan-San Remo, won two Giro d'Italia stages and the 24-year-old from Canberra had three notable sprint successes in major races.

"Through the year with the races I've done, the big races, was great preparation," said Matthews. "Had a really good buildup after the Tour de France. I come here with really good confidence and form."

Gerrans, last year's world road race runner-up to Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski, has been nagged by injuries and crashes this season but has found top form when it matters most after using the Vuelta a Espana to work his way into prime shape.

"I have been working toward the world championship for quite some time," he said. "History shows when I'm in condition, I'm crashing or close to the mark. I should do something on Sunday."

Gerrans, 35, broke his collarbone in January while training. He fractured his elbow in a crash at Italy's Strade Bianche in his first race back, then crashed out in Liege-Bastogne-Liege without serious harm.

A crash on a rainy 12th stage forced him out of the Giro d'Italia before he was involved in a high-speed crash in the third stage of the Tour de France and pulled out with a broken wrist.

His return in Spain was workmanlike, helping other riders while he rebuilt his form, and he has been tabbed as a darkhorse under the radar in a star-filled field.

"It plays into my hands," Gerrans said.

Rain is in Sunday's forecast, which should make the narrow cobblestones of Libby Hill even more tricky to scale.

"We've done recon of the course but not in the rain," Matthews said. "It's hard to tell how slippery it will be with the rain and what tire pressure to use.

"Positioning is going to be key going into the climbs. Just trying to get into the course and the cobbles."

Gerrans knows the 261.4km layout will grind some riders down well before the end.

- "War of attrition" -

"It's a long day," he said. "It moves into a war of attrition. The key part is going to be over the final laps."

Rain will simply make a tricky situation even more unpredictable, Matthews said.

"I don't think anyone enjoys riding in the rain," he said. "I don't think you can put a target on a certain few riders. It could go in any direction. We'll try to get through the best we can.

"I back myself really well. I've had good preparation coming into this race. I have good confidence in myself.

Matthews, who likes a calming sushi meal two nights before a race, is happy to see the race outside Europe since Melbourne-Geelong hosted in 2010.

"It reminds me of the worlds we had in Melbourne," he said. "Racing outside of Europe is always interesting. We've had people cheering for us riding around and the race hasn't even started yet."