These are the riders I see as having a stab at crossing the line first in Ponferrada.
I take in consideration that there's no long run in to the circuit, it should be a selective race from the off. Also some riders have not shown great form in the last few weeks, while others like Sagan can perform all of a sudden. Saying that, the Slovak still has to win a big race.
I don't see anyone from team GB to have a proper chance and I hope I'm wrong as cycling in UK needs morale boosting. Kennaugh and Thomas are good and at least Kennaugh is on good form but I can't see them beating the favourites at their own game.
The course is similar to Florence's in terms of dynamics but the hills are not as hard, therefore it will be fast and furious. I reckon a group of about 15 will be contesting the sprint with Cancellara finally putting the stripes on his back. The weather will play a major part as usual; the final descent to the finish line is technical and if wet it could slim down the number of riders with the ambition to wear the coveted stripes.
Australia: Gerrans, Matthews
Gerrans is on fine form and the course suits him all too well. He can power climb and sprint explosively. Matthews has been good on this type of terrain but the distance could be his undoing.
Belgium: Van Avermaet, Boonen
GVA is firing on all cylinders and is ready for a big win on the back of his team winning the TTT gold. Boonen has not shown full potential this season but the race could unfold in his favour if GVA is not there when it counts.
The Frenchman could surprise with a final attack and seal a great season for the French contingent.
Germany: T.Martin, Degenkolb
Martin will be pacemaker so unless he launches a long attack and it sticks, his chances are limited. Degenkolb will need to work extra hard on the many climbs during the course but if he's in the final selection he could be one the best sprinters left...if he makes it, as he hasn't been well of late.
He's not 100% and the final descent might not play in his favour but he could be on a three/four man breakaway with a chance at attacking on the last few corners.
Italy: Nibali, Colbrelli
If the weather is not clement, Nibs has no rivals, especially with the climb/technical descent combo. He doesn't seem to be all that keen on the course, but on the day he might get the necessary spirit fired up for a win. Colbrelli is my surprise pick. Putting the national colours on his back has boosted his confidence and could be a wild card in a final bunch sprint.
He has shown before he can ride hard long courses. Like at Sanremo, he can go over decent gradients and sprint with the best. The run in to the line could suit his canning positioning and timing.
Kwiatkowski only has his tactical sense to worry about, as he tends to leave things a bit late. The form is there and the course suits him fine.
The biggest unknown in the peloton. Like on many classics before he's tipped as the man to beat but sometimes fades in long distances. Moreover, he doesn't have the support of a big team. Great on the descent and one of the top sprinters, he could finally find his big win. Leaving the Vuelta in a poor form did not bode well, or maybe he didn't have the motivation.
Spain: Rodriguez, Valverde
The Spanish duo have each other as main rivals. That said, the Spanish team has the home advantage and in Valverde a clear favourite for Ponferrada. He knows the course well, as he rode it for the National Championships and he's ready after a powerful display at the Vuelta. Rodriguez is not as tick tock as his rival, ahem, teammate, but he's a fighter and will give hell to the rest of the peloton.
What to say about Fabian...his decision not to ride the ITT speaks volumes about his commitment to the road race. He wants the stripes probably more than anyone else and it would be the final crowning to an unique career. Could attack in the last climb and leave the rest to sweat it out in the descent to the line.