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Photo Credit: AFP Photo/KARIM JAAFAR
Wednesday saw the elite men take to the start ramp in Doha for the 2016 UCI World Road Race Championship Time Trial. There were a number of pre-race favourites, including 3-time winner Tony Martin, defending champion Vasil Kiryienka, Australian Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who wore the Dutch national champion’s jersey. Dennis was looking to erase memories of his Olympic time trial in Rio, where his handlebars broke, costing him a precious 30 seconds. He ended up in fifth position that day, missing out on an Olympic medal by 8 seconds. Tom Dumoulin was the Olympic silver medallist behind Fabian Cancellara, a medal which had looked to be in the bag for the Australian, who had been in second place until the incident.
For much of the World Championship TT, 22 year-old Irish rider Ryan Mullen was in the leader’s seat. Mullen was riding for the first time at elite level, and outperformed some of the World’s best time triallists with a time of 46:04 in the searing heat. “I saw all these big names coming in and they’re behind me and I’m thinking ‘ did I take a shortcut or something, have I missed part of the course?'”. Mullen eventually finished in 5th place, ahead of riders like Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who finished in 6th and 11th place respectively. The Irish cyclist remained in the leader’s hot seat for over an hour, having been 10th out of the blocks and riding at what was the hottest part of the day. “I was sitting in saunas on the turbo trainer for a week prior to coming here. I had the radiators on trying to emulate the humidity and heat”.
Another rider who undertook heat specific training was eventual winner Tony Martin, who claimed that his friends thought he was ‘crazy’ for “training in the bathroom with the heater on” to adjust to the high temperatures in Qatar. Martin’s ‘crazy’ training schedule clearly worked, as he stormed into first place an astonishing 45 seconds ahead of Vasil Kiryienka in second place. Jonathan Castroviejo of Spain completed the podium, 01:10 behind the winner.
Martin’s World Championship title was all the sweeter given that the past few years have seen the German’s grip on the time trial discipline slip somewhat. After losing 3:18 to Fabian Cancellara at the Rio Olympics, Martin decided to return to his previous position on the bike, which, although not as aerodynamic as his newly adopted style, was much more comfortable. Reverting to his previously successful position obviously felt more natural, as Martin took his first TT victory this season at the Tour of Britain in September, soon after making the decision to switch back. “The changes have been serious. I had my hands very high up and my elbows low down, but it wasn’t for me. Now, I feel much more comfortable again. One has to accept that the aerodynamics are not everything, but the comfort plays a very, very important role. If your body does not work well, then aerodynamics means nothing”. Although Martin’s newer style, which he adopted last year, was more aerodynamic, the German believes that he lost between 5 to 10% of his power due to not feeling comfortable on the bike. He conceeds that trying the new position was not necessarily wrong, but that he “just couldn’t get used to it”.
When asked about his time trial victory, Martin was ecstatic. “After three hard seasons, I am once again able to show my best”. On a par with Fabian Cancellara’s four World Championship titles, Martin exclaimed “I do not care about records. The most important thing for me is that I will be able to wear the rainbow jersey again”.
As you’ll no doubt be aware, the World Championship Road Races are underway in Doha. The courses are pan-flat due to the terrain; however, the time trials are technical due to road layouts. This weekend sees the World’s best cyclists attempt the road races, with pure sprinters provided with their best chance to secure the rainbow stripes in years. We’ve already seen the team time trials, Junior Women’s ITT and the U23 Men’s ITT; here’s a little round-up of some of the events thus far….
U23 Men’s TT
Last year, Mads Würtz Schmidt took the U23 title, and returned to the start ramp this time round in defence of his title. Alas it was not to be, as German powerhouse Marco Mathis set a blistering pace as only the second rider out of the blocks, securing victory with a time of 34:08 minutes, 18 seconds ahead of his nearest rival, compatriot Maximillian Schachmann. Miles Scotson of Australia rounded off the podium 37 seconds behind the winner, dashing hopes of a German1-2-3 with Lennard Kämna missing out on third place by 5 seconds. Last year’s winner Schmidt eventually took 21st, a full 02:02 minutes behind the victor.
Yet again vehicles found their way into the action, now a common feature of 2016 racing. As Mathis approached one of the roundabouts on the technical course, an ambulance which had been travelling ahead of him in the opposite lane started to cross into his path, a move which most certainly had the potential to knock Mathis from his bike. The rider, making a quick decision so as not to lose his rhythm and speed, managed to nip in front of the ambulance, tucking in behind an official race vehicle that had tried to communicate with the ambulance driver in an attempt to grant the rider safe passage. The incident caused Irish cyclist Ryan Mullen to question Mathis’s dominant ride, suggesting on Twitter that the German had benefited from drafting in the slipstream of the race vehicle.
Additional controversy stalked the race as Roxanne Knetemann, participating in the Women’s TTT for Rabo-Liv, described the high temperatures as “like riding in a sauna”. The UCI had already announced before the start of the Championships that the weather conditions would be continually monitored due to unseasonably high temperatures persisting across the country.
The USA’s Amber Neben rode an inspirational World Championship time trial in Doha, winning in a time of 36:37 minutes as the oldest rider in the field. Neben, who missed out on a place in the US Olympic team earlier this year, battled soaring temperatures and a technical 28.9 kilometre course to triumph over her younger rivals at the age of 41 – eight years after winning her first World Championship title in Italy.
As with the U23 Men’s TT and the Women’s TTT earlier in the week, the high temperatures were concerning. Neben explained that she’d been specifically training for such conditions. “I was in California when temperatures were up in the 90s – it was probably pretty comical to see somebody riding in a rain jacket and knee warmers when it was 95 degrees outside, but I was trying to get my body to adapt”.
Neben’s heat specific training clearly worked, as she took victory ahead of Ellen Van Dijk of the Netherlands, who claimed a podium spot, 6 seconds behind Neben. Australia’s Katrin Garfoot completed the podium line up, 8 seconds behind. Annemiek Van Vleuten, returning from her devastating crash in the Rio Olympics, was involved in yet another controversial incident, as if rogue ambulances and soaring mercury weren’t enough. Van Vleuten was coming up to a roundabout when Thailand’s Phetdarin Somrat, ahead of her on the course, did not move over to allow the Dutch rider through. Van Vleuten had to reduce speed which disturbed her rhythm and concentration, losing valuable seconds. Somrat, who had missed her allotted start time due to a mechanical, was disqualified from the race, compounding a frustrating day.
Hannah Barnes was the best British finisher in 14th place behind Anna Van Der Breggen, with Hayley Simmonds in 25th.
Team Time Trial – Elite Men
For weeks, participation in the TTT had been in doubt, as we reported last month. After the UCI agreed to provide start fees to all teams that entered, and stopped the event from being compulsory, there was enough interest from 10 of the 18 World Tour teams to make the race viable. In the end, the TTT proved to be a closely fought and exciting race, as the favourites for the title, BMC Racing, took on the young pretenders in the form of Belgian-based team Etixx-Quickstep. BMC have dominated the team time trial discipline in recent years, having won the World Championship title in back-to-back editions – 2014 and 2015. Prior to this, it was the Belgian team who were renowned TTT specialists, also having won two back-to-back World Championships in 2012 and 2013. Both Etixx-Quickstep and BMC were vying for a record-breaking third title.
The route, a 40km course undertaken in desert heat, proved to be technical despite its pan-flat profile. Etixx-Quickstep riders Tony Martin, Marcel Kittel, Julien Vermote, Yves Lampaert, Niki Terpstra and Bob Jungels rode a blistering pace, crossing the line in a time of 42:32 with an average speed of 56 kilometres per hour. The first section of the course contained technical corners and turns, and the Etixx team proved the most adept in handling these aspects, setting the fastest time at the first split. The BMC team, made up of Rohan Dennis, Stefan Kueng, Daniel Oss, Taylor Phinney, Manuel Quinziato and Joseph Rosskopf, were 4 seconds down on the Etixx boys at this point. The straighter sections helped BMC to draw level, as both teams registered a time of 27:56 at the 27km point.
Etixx lost Vermote and Lampaert as the course once again grew technical in the closing stages, meaning the team crossed the line with the minimum number of riders, the German pairing of Tony Martin and Marcel Kittel driving the pace during their turns on the front. BMC had pulled into the lead by a slim margin towards the end of the course, but Etixx-Quickstep showcased their superior horsepower under such testing conditions, fighting the extreme heat to eventually win by 11 seconds from BMC. Like the Belgian team before them, BMC dropped down to the minimum of 4 riders in what was a risky yet pre-planned move. After the race, BMC’s Taylor Phinney confirmed that the team had anticipated ending the race with “four or five riders. Everybody is deep in the pain cave by then…. strategy can only take you so far”.
Like the teams in the prior events, the riders found themselves affected by the desert heat. Etixx-Quickstep’s director, Tom Steels, explained that he’d never seen his team so depleted after a TTT, testament to both the effort that had been expended and the searing hot weather. Also riding the sweltering course, fellow World Tour team Orica-BikeExchange came in third, 37 seconds down, with Team Sky in forth, 54 seconds back.
The win was poignant for the Belgian-based boys of the Etixx-Quickstep team, as Tony Martin moves to his new team Katusha next season. “It’s a really emotional victory for me” explained Martin, “it was the last race for the team, and it’s become a family in the last five years…it’s a dream that came true…the perfect final for me, the perfect moment to leave the team with a fantastic memory”. Martin will be hoping to repeat his TTT victory when he competes in the individual time trial on Wednesday, although he has stiff competition in the form of riders like BMC’s Rohan Dennis and Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin. British hopes will lie with Tour of Britain winner Steve Cummings and Movistar rider Alex Dowsett.
Lotto-Soudal have announced that they will not be sending a team to compete in the team time trial (TTT) at next month’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar. The announcement follows August’s war of words between the governing body, the UCI and the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels, AIGCP, which looks after the interests of cycling teams worldwide.
The AIGCP released a statement last month threatening a boycott of the Doha TTT, after an ‘overwhelming majority’ of WorldTour teams voted not to participate. The dispute stems from the reintroduction of the team time trial at the World Championships in 2012, which the UCI included in the event to make the programme more appealing to fans and spectators. Whilst the individual time trial and road races are contested by national teams; financially assisted by home federations as an incentive to participate, the TTT is open only to commercial teams, and is not subject to the participation allowance which is available at all other top races.
The UCI dismissed the boycott threat, announcing that all WorldTour teams should be present. “We continue to expect excellent participation…the Road World Championships is a celebration for the whole cycling family…the UCI, a non-profit organisation, reinvests any surpluses in the development of the sport of cycling”.
The dispute with the UCI also includes issues with the expansion of the race calendar, which has seen the addition of 10 extra events, all in far-flung locations. The AIGCP has concerns over the financial pressures upon teams, given that sponsors will have already allocated budgets for future seasons, which may now be inadequate due to the expanded race schedule.
The debacle with the reduction of the WorldTour licences has also concerned the teams’ association, as has the two-year licence, previously three years, another outcome of the dispute with ASO (see Freewheeling article ‘WorldTour Woes’).
As with the licence reduction, these disputes all have the potential to negatively impact the future of the sport, as sponsors reassess their involvement with teams which will require much larger budgets in order to be competitive.