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”.

UCI World Championships 2016 – Tuesday Round-Up

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.

Women’s TT

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.

Preview – Eneco Tour, Final Stage

Sunday’s final stage has an interesting profile.  At a swift glance, it appears to be incredibly flat, but on closer inspection, from 90km to the finish at kilometre 198, the riders will either be ascending or descending, with no real flat in sight.

The race takes in three ascents of the infamous Muur, a cobbled climb of just over 1km at a gradient of 8.7%.  After three full ascents, the finishing line is situated half way up what would have been a fourth climb of the Muur.  Riders with experience in the Spring Classics will be well aware of what lies ahead.  Current race leader Rohan Dennis may not be as well versed.  Whether this affects his grip on that white jersey remains to be seen.

eneco-7a

Freewheeling prediction – The final day of racing is a difficult one to predict, due to the many narrative threads running throughout the race.  The riders at the sharp end of the GC are not separated by huge gaps, so someone like Tony Martin, 24 seconds back, could decide to throw caution to the wind on the last day and try a courageous attack.  Any attack here would be courageous given the terrain – those cobbles on the Muur are no small matter!  The technical nature of some of the climbing could give pause for thought to those riders with World Championship hopes, as no one wants even the most insignificant of injuries to interfere with preparations for Qatar.

On Stage 6, Sagan seemed less concerned with claiming the leader’s jersey, perhaps instead targeting stage wins.  Tony Martin of Etixx-Quickstep attempted an attack as he chased down 24 seconds.  BMC were keen to protect Dennis, but will his lack of Classics experience impact upon his tactics on the final day?  And where have Tom Dumoulin and Greg Van Avermaet been?  All these questions and narratives make for one interesting day of racing, that’s for sure!  Hedging our bets?  Maybe.  But the unpredictability is what makes this final day so special and exciting!

Eneco Tour – Stage 5 Review

Freewheeling takes three for three as our prediction was realised for the third day running!  Team time trial World champions, Team BMC, swept to victory on the 20.9k course with a time of 23:11.  Etixx-Quickstep were the second placed team, adrift by 6 seconds.  Yesterday we also predicted that LottoNL-Jumbo would put in a strong performance; another prediction that was borne out by the team’s third place in the stage, stopping the clock at 23:34.  Our third ‘one to watch’ from yesterday’s predictions was the Movistar team, who placed 4th overall.

The stage saw big changes to the GC, with Rohan Dennis reclaiming the top spot from yesterday’s stage winner, Peter Sagan.  The Tinkoff rider drops down into 4th place, separated from Dennis by 27 seconds overall.  Second place is awarded to Dennis’s team mate Taylor Phinney, by virtue of BMC’s commanding TTT performance.  Etixx-Quickstep also put in an impressive time trial despite having lost Tom Boonen to a crash in the previous stage, which has catapulted Tony Martin up the standings into third place.

Now that the battle with the UCI over the World Championship TTT has been resolved, it appears that BMC have been thinking about those Qatari gold medals.  “This shows why we’re the best in the world” exclaimed race leader Rohan Dennis shortly after his team crossed the finish line together and looking remarkably strong.  “This was a very good test for Qatar”.

Etixx-Quickstep too had looked formidable – who knows what they would have been able to achieve with a full complement of riders?

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 3 Review

Stage 3 of the Eneco Tour looked to be in the hands of a five man breakaway until the last 100m when the break wavered, lost momentum, and relinquished their opportunity to the chasing peloton.  Martin Elmiger of IAMCycling started the day 23 seconds behind race leader Rohan Dennis, and by getting into the break almost as soon as the race began, spent much of the afternoon as the virtual race leader on the road.  Elmiger was accompanied by Brit Mark McNally of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Jesper Asselman of Roompot Oranje, Yukiya Arashiro of Lampre-Merida and Stijn Steels of Topsport Vlaanderen.  At one point, the leaders were ahead by over 6 minutes.

As the leaders passed under the flamme rouge, the peloton still had their work cut out on the chase – especially given the fact that no one team was keen to commit to reeling in the five leading riders.  Frustration began to simmer in the peloton as the sprinters’ teams got edgy.  Etixx-Quickstep sent Tony Martin to the head of the bunch to chase in earnest, a role he didn’t seem exactly pleased to be asked to fulfil.

With the finish line in sight and 100m of road left, the breakaway hesitated, looking at one another and appearing to have lost all sense of race tactics.  Seizing this opportunity – the only one they’d been presented with all day, the peloton took the initiative and swept up the five leaders.

Sagan, coming from well back, managed to glide through gaps visible to no-one but the Slovak rider, as his bike handling skills saw him sail across the finish line for victory, in an unbelievable sprint which social media was quick to christen ‘the finish of the season’.  Team Sky’s Danny Van Poppel crossed in second place, with Nacer Boudhanni of Cofidis in third.

Sagan’s winning time of 4:10:36 sees him move up to second in GC, 3 seconds behind race leader Rohan Dennis, who retains the leader’s jersey going into day 4.  Alex Dowsett of Movistar is the highest placed British rider in 11th place, with Tony Martin and Tom Dumoulin in 14th and 15th place respectively, 20 seconds back as a result of losing time on Tuesday’s TT.  Dumoulin had been enjoying a rich seam of form – perhaps his heavy race calendar and numerous top 3 placings have taken their toll as the seasons draws nearer its close.

Tomorrow, Stage 4 – the only one to top 200km, takes the riders across numerous stretches of Belgian pave, with three uphill sections on the circuit, including Bruine Put at 8.2%.

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.

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.