Michael Matthews will be one of three leaders in the Australian men's elite team for the world road championships next month with Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans.
Cycling Australia is yet to select its teams for the world titles to be held at Ponferrada in Spain from September 21-28. But Australian men's road coach and selector Brad McGee said Matthews, Evans and Gerrans stand out from an 18-strong long list for his road team as protected riders for the 254.8-kilometre men's elite road race on Sunday, September 28.
"It is too far out to predict exactly how our strategy will play out, but I can tell you that Evans, Gerrans and Matthews will be our protected riders," McGee said.
McGee was speaking after Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), 23, won Monday's 188km third stage of the Vuelta a Espana from Cadiz to Arcos de la Frontera, beating Ireland's Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Spain's Jouquin Rodriguez (Katusha).
The Canberra rider also took the overall leader's red jersey from Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
McGee also welcomed the victory by Caleb Ewan, 20 and one of Australia's big hopes for the September 26 men's Under 23 world road race, in Monday's 143km second stage of the Tour de L'Avenir in France from Brioude to Saint Galmier.
"Obviously, there are some fantastic wins there, so we can celebrate that," McGee said. "But as far as the worlds are concerned, they show that both riders are on track as expected.
"And we look forward to more form building up for the championships."
McGee was happy to hear Matthews, who at the Giro d'Italia won a stage and wore the leader's pink jersey for six days, say of his ambition for the Vuelta that finishes on September 14: "[There are] a lot more stages that suit me. So we will definitely be gunning for more. This is not the end."
McGee is also confident that Evans and Gerrans are on the right trajectory to reaching peak form for the world titles.
Of Evans (BMC), 37 and who started the Vuelta off the back of wins in the last two stages of the recent Tour of Utah and placed sixth in Monday's stage, McGee said: "Cadel seems to have put his package together once again very well. He is quite aware of where he is at and what he needs to do to get his next goal."
Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), 34, the national champion and winner of this year's Tour Down Under and Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic in Belgium, is not at the Vuelta but preparing for the world title in one-day events and at high altitude camps.
"Simon is exactly the same [as Evans], but he has taken a different pathway," McGee said of Gerrans, who did not finish the Tour de France last month because of injuries sustained in his stage one crash.
McGee, meanwhile, believes that he has the greatest choice for an Australian team to pick from.
"I believe so. I had my reservations about a few riders, whether they would make themselves available," he said.
"But not only are they available … they are motivated and very structured with a specific preparation for the worlds."