FLORENCE - The battle for cycling's prestigious rainbow jersey could be overshadowed at the world road championships this week by a duel between the men bidding to lead the sport into a new, doping-free era.
A little over a year after the Lance Armstrong affair left cycling in tatters, incumbent International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid's bid for a third mandate faces a stiff challenge.
McQuaid and the UCI have been in the firing line since Armstrong was handed a lifetime ban from the sport, in August 2012, after being charged with using illicit, performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.
McQuaid succeeded Dutchman Hein Verbruggen in 2005 and although he is credited with boosting the sport's fight against doping, the Irishman has fallen out of favour with the sport's stakeholders in recent months.
British cycling federation president Brian Cookson has emerged to challenge him and, after months of nasty politicking by both parties, the Englishman is expected to be voted the UCI's next man in charge on Friday.
Before then, men and women from the junior to elite categories will compete in road races and time trials with the first elite event the men's time trial on Wednesday.
Germany's Tony Martin has won the past two editions and, after helping his professional team Omega-Pharma to the team title on Sunday, is confident of making it a hat-trick on the same 57.9 km course from Montecatini Terme to Florence.
"I'm pretty optimistic for Wednesday's race now. This win is good for my morale," said Martin. "I've got the experience to do well and want to do well."