UCI World Championships 2016 – Elite Men’s TT Round-Up

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”.

Eneco Tour – Stage 4 Review

Wow, that’s two days in a row where the Freewheeling prediction has actually been spot on!  As predicted, Stage 4 was the perfect terrain for another Sagan win, and, as predicted, the Tinkoff rider and newly crowned European Champion took the race leader’s jersey.  Sagan has won so much this season that it’s actually a rare sight to glimpse him in his Tinkoff jersey these days!

Setting out from Aalter, four riders got into an early break, building up a steady lead of four minutes.  The first appearance of Belgian pave soon put an end to their hopes however, with the lead diminishing.  The circuit was where the action was expected, and on entering this section of the race with 64km remaining, the bunch came together.  Riders were to make 2 laps of the 32km circuit, which, as well as two pave sections, also had two climbs and a smattering of uncategorised cobbles.

Tom Dumoulin made a move and a group of six riders came off the front as a result.  This shook up the peloton, who sharply shut the break down.  After that, numerous riders tried and failed to form a sustainable break.

Rohan Dennis and Edvald Boassen-Hagen found themselves in one of these unsuccessful breaks, which formed as a result of the climbs.  Dimitriy Grazdev and Andriy Grivko of Astana looked to be in with the best chance of a successful breakaway, but this too was eventually shut down with 3km of road left.

The second lap saw another push from Dumoulin, who had joined Tony Martin up the road.  With two strong riders, the break looked to be promising, but the pair were unable to join the two Astana riders ahead of them to consolidate the move, dangling like a carrot in front of the peloton and never quite managing to bridge the gap to the men up the road.  Eventually, the 8.2% gradient of Bruine Put saw the pairing sucked back into the bunch, however Trek-Segafredo rider Jasper Stuyven leapt off the front to join Grazdev and Grivko.

The sprint itself was not without drama.  Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff started the action, and Sagan and Andre Démare of FDJ fought for his slipstream, resulting in a bumping of shoulders and jostling.  Greipel meanwhile, had been set up by his Lotto-Soudal team mates to try for a sprint victory.  The German powered across the line, only missing out on the win by a whisker in a photo finish.  Neither Sagan nor Greipel was sure of the result initially, waiting for the finish line photograph to be analysed before Sagan was pronounced the victor by virtue of a bike throw.

Démare was evidently unhappy with the outcome of the sprint, which Sagan addressed after the race. “There are some riders who are not happy…I had a little problem with Démare, but that is sprinting.  If I did something bad, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I did.  I was in my line and he was very aggressive to me”.

There was drama elsewhere on the stage: his attention momentarily diverted by consuming a gel early in the race, Etixx-Quickstep’s Tom Boonen hit a pot hole and was thrown from his bike.  Boonen remounted but couldn’t continue, abandoning shortly after.  Team manager Patrick Lefevere explained that Boonen had felt ‘dazed’ after the incident, and was taken straight to hospital.  After an x-ray, Boonen was permitted to return home and rest.  At the present time, no comment has been made on whether or not this will affect his World Championship preparation.

As if that weren’t enough, an incident with a motorbike on a roundabout late in the race almost wiped out the three leading riders.  The motorbike took a wide line around the roundabout, losing control after hitting the street furniture and careering from right to left across the road, directly across the path of the three cyclists exiting the roundabout on the left, who thankfully managed to avoid being struck by mere centimetres.  The incident comes after Etixx-Quickstep’s Tony Martin praised the Eneco Tour on his Twitter page, writing “with intelligent diversions no motorbike has to pass the peleton” (sic).

For two seasons, incidents involving official race motorbikes have marred events, culminating in the tragic accident earlier this year at Ghent-Wevelgem where Antoine Démoitié sadly sustained fatal injuries after crashing and then being hit by a race motorbike.  The Eneco Tour had impressed riders by introducing diversions for race traffic at pressure points on the road; however this latest incident in a supposedly safe race underlines the need for the UCI to truly investigate ways to ensure rider safety.

Eneco Tour – Stage 2 Review

Photo: Rohan Dennis on his way to winning the TT in Bristol, Tour of Britain 2016

Tuesday’s Stage 2 time trial in Breda was won by Australian national TT champion Rohan Dennis in convincing fashion.  Dennis’ win on the 9.6km course puts him in the race leader’s jersey by 5 seconds from LottoNL-Jumbo rider Jos Van Emden, who took second place on the stage.

Pre-stage favourites Tony Martin and Tom Dumoulin were off the pace, coming in 20 seconds behind Dennis.  The short stage allowed the sprinters to finish strongly, with Sagan securing a top ten position in 8th place in a time of 11.05, and Kittel in 9th.  Movistar’s Alex Dowsett rounded out the top ten.

Dennis was pleased with his commanding performance, which bodes well for Stage 5 and the Team Time Trial.  “I took all the risks and kind of crossed my fingers every time I went through a corner…Today was as quick as I could possibly go”.  Sagan’s top ten finish saw him move up to third place in GC.  “He was the main guy that stressed me out” explained Dennis, “I was worried about him once Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin had gone through”.  Dennis’ BMC Team are now in a solid position, with Dennis confirming “we’re here to win with either myself or Greg (Van Avermaet)”.

Reigning World Time Trial champion, Vasil Kiryienka, didn’t have a great day, arriving at the start ramp 45 seconds behind his allocated time slot, meaning the clock had started without him.  Rohan Dennis therefore set off only 15 seconds behind the Sky rider, overtaking him near the finish line.  Dylan Van Baarle was also late starting.

Tomorrow the race enters Belgium, with a route of 186km from Blankenberge to Ardooie.  The sprinters will once again be hungry for a stage win on rolling roads, although there may be a chance for a breakaway if riders can organise to hold off the peloton.

Eneco Tour – Stage 1 Review

Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen won a nail-bitingly scrappy sprint in Bolsward to claim Stage 1 of the 2016 Eneco Tour in his home country.  Freewheeling had predicted a strong finish for Cofidis rider Nacer Bouhanni, who came in second, ahead of European Champion Peter Sagan.  With a flat stage to start the seven day race a bunch sprint was widely anticipated, although a five man break including riders from three Belgian teams (Bert Van Lerberghe of Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Brian Van Goethem of Roompot Oranje Peloton and Frederik Backaert of Wanty-Groupe Gobert) joined by Laurens De Vreese of Astana and Matteo Bono of Lampre-Merida looked set to upset expectations before the sprinters’ teams began reeling them in during the final few laps of the course.  By virtue of the breakaway, the combativity points were shared amongst the five leaders, with Bert Van Lerberghe leading the competition 28 points to 22 from fellow Belgian Laurens De Vreese.

Groenewegen, leading both the General Classification and the sprint competition, was delighted to outsprint the field to take the win, stating “it’s great to pull it off in the first stage…the sprint was long and hectic on a wide road.  It was hard to judge your marks”.  As the sprinters’ teams wound up for the final laps, there was a crash in the peloton with 15km to go, flooring several riders including Team Sky’s Danny van Poppel.  The nervy bunch meant that no team took overall control of the sprint.  “In the final kilometre I came through with the Oreca lead-out train and then followed Nizzolo.  I turned out to have the best jump” said Groenewegen.

Tomorrow the riders will take part in an individual time trial of almost 10km, which could see another Dutchman on the stage winner’s podium as Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin also looks for a win on home soil.  Check out the Freewheeling prediction in the Preview section!

Preview – Eneco Tour Stage 2

Photo: Etixx Quickstep’s Tony Martin warming up before winning the Tour of Britain TT – Stage 7 Bristol

Photo credit: Rich Ainsley

Stage two is a 9.6km individual time trial around Breda in the Netherlands.  The short length of the stage will mean those who may not be TT specialists aren’t stretched to breaking point, however the big guns will have the chance to show their mettle.

Freewheeling  prediction – In incredible form and seemingly capable of winning stages in every road race discipline, perhaps Sagan might make a cheeky top three appearance?  Freewheeling is looking forward to seeing what Tom Dumoulin does on this stage in particular, although Tony Martin appears to have rediscovered his TT legs at the Tour of Britain, and Van Avermaet has had a great season.  We’re going for Dumoulin; with Martin, Van Avermaet, Rohan Dennis and Geraint Thomas as strong finishers.