New Zealand riders are hopeful of playing more than a bit-part role in the weekend's elite road races at the world championships in the Netherlands.
BikeNZ goes in with a new-look young team for tomorrow's women's race over 145kms while on Monday (NZT) the proven pair of Julian Dean and Hayden Roulston will be joined by fellow World Tour professional Jesse Sergent in the 261km race.
Calling the tactics will be Rotorua's Craig Geater, who swaps his usual role as chief mechanic to many of the sporting stars to that of director sportif.
In his role as head mechanic for several Pro Tour teams over a decade, Geater has sat with many of the top brains in the sport for 10 Tours de France and more than 20 Grand Tours, and will offer real hands-on knowledge for the team this week.
The women's team will be anchored by time trial medallist Linda Villumsen, who will be supported by a trio of talented young Auckland riders, Emily Collins, Emma Crum and Kate Chilcott.
Crum, 23, has been riding with success for the French-based UCI team ASPTT Dijon-BCF, building on her stage win in the Tour of New Zealand in the summer.
Collins and Chilcott, both 21, have raced in the US this year for the Vanderkitten-Focus pro team where they notched up a number of podium performances with Collins also enjoying success in Europe recently. She won the best young rider category in finishing fifth overall in the Lotto Decca tour in Belgium.
"Linda is for sure our team leader," Geater said. "She finished third up this climb in the world cup race here this year, so she can get up the climb.
"She is a bit concerned she does not have the explosive pace of the big sprinters so if she can hang in there or even if we can get her up the road a little bit beforehand and get her over the top with a gap, then you never know.
"They all seem pretty handy climbers, and a couple are quite quick. I think we can go in and be part of the race, not just another number.
"Emily Collins has been showing so really strong form in big races here and might just surprise a few."
The elite men's race includes an initial 100kms loop around the Limberg region before 10 laps of the Valkenburg circuit, used for the 1998 world championships and a stage in the 2006 Tour de France.
With seven climbs in the initial 100kms, Geater said that there is the danger a break could go clear.
"Four of the climbs are not really anything and one is up a cobbled section. But it is not the standard ride from a point out to the circuit and start the race. It could well lead to a significant break.
"The UCI are a little bit worried a group could go up the road too far and lap the field which will then eliminate those who are lapped."
Geater believes the course favours the strength sprinter, capable of managing the 10 climbs of the 1.2km stretch of Cauberg Hill, and then use their sprinting legs over the final 1.5km to the finish.
"The hard guys who can still sprint will be favoured, the likes of Oscar Freire, Valverde or Jalbert.
"The gameplan will be to go in with both Julian and Hayden on equal terms and when we get to the 200km mark we will see which one is doing the better on the day.
"Julian came out of the Vuelta pretty good, although without the racing legs because he has missed so much this year. He is still super motivated though and a great rider.
"Hayden is in good form and, while he is a big rider, he has done well on hilly circuits."
Sergent will play the support role, with the trio needing to feed off other bigger teams and unable to chase down breaks or dictate the terms.
Meanwhile, young professionals Josh Atkins (Christchurch), Tom Scully (Southland) and James Oram (North harbour) will compete in the 177km under-23 men's race tomorrow.