Twenty-two years and one pale imposter later, the team time trial has returned to the Big Time. Sunday the UCI will use the cronosquadre to kick off the 2012 World Championships in Limburg province, a/k/a Greater Maastricht.
VeloNews' Gregor Brown has an excellent explainer here, including the oddities that go with celebrating a trade team -- likely of mixed nationalities -- amidst a national team event. Personally I think the decision not to award rainbow jerseys is bunk (they'll get some logo on their regular kits instead). The image of nine rainbow-clad machine-men bearing down on the camera moto during whichever grand tour hosts the next big TTT is too delicious not to behold. But hey, who am I to question the UCI's decision-making acumen? Wait...
Anyway, let's skip over the rules and go straight to the handicapping, shall we?
First, let's do this on the basis of 2012 results only. Team rosters have changed since 2011 and beyond, and me personally, I can't often point to the guy in the TTT who's doing the most work, so absent particular info (like Dave Zabriskie is really strong) we'll give everyone who finished with his team credit. But in 2012 we've had a good number of data points:
- Qatar (1. Garmin; 2. Omega Pharma; 3. Sky)
- Tirreno (1. Orica; 2. R-N-T; 3. Garmin)
- Coppi e Bartali (NetApp!)
- Trentino (1. BMC; 2. Astana; 3. Colnago)
- Giro d'Italia (1. Garmin; 2. Katusha; 3. Astana)
- Eneco (1. Orica; 2. Omega Pharma; 3. Katusha)
- Utah (1. Garmin, 2. Rabobank, 3. RNT)
- Vuelta a Espana (1. Movistar; 2. Omega Pharma; 3. Rabobank)
That's seven reasonably important races, and I threw in Coppi e Bartali simply to point out that NetApp could do pretty well, which would be very cool. One HUUUUGE caveat though... the Giro was the longest TTT of the year at 32km, and Utah was the only other one over 20km. In other words, these results are from sprint-style TTTs, mostly. Well, Sunday's is 53km, a completely different ball of wax. So handicapping properly is not easy, and will get clearer as we know who the riders are. OK, here's my ranking heading in:
Looking Back: Three wins and a third place make them the undisputed heavyweight champs for 2012 -- exactly none of which will mean anything if they don't defend their supremacy Sunday. Still, Garmin did well with a variety of guys. In Qatar it was Dekker, Farrar, Bauer, Hunter, JVS and Comrade. In Utah it was Team America: VandeVelde, Zabriskie, Farrar, Danielson. In the Giro it was Comrade, Hunter, Farrar, VandeVelde, Hesjedal and Rosseler. Bottom line? Garmin have several ways to put together an excellent crono squad.
Looking Ahead: In the VN piece Vaughters sandbagged about guys being tired. Not that he's lying, and it's always good to lower expectations from "you'd better win". But lots of guys are tired right now. It's September. If they aren't, it's because they were preserved in glass for the worlds or they aren't strong enough for their team to have been starting them. My point is, even a tired Garmin should be considered a favorite, probably THE favorite.
The question is, who gets the call? My guess is Bauer, Navardauskas, Dekker, Millar, Rosseler and Van Summeren. Cycling Fever has Talansky, Martin and Maaskant also under consideration. Pretty strong team there.
2. Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Looking Back: Debatable between them and Orica GreenEdge for the second spot, but I'll give OPQS the edge on consistency, with three second placings, versus Orica's two wins. Seriously though, that's a pick-em.
Llike Garmin, they placed high with a variety of guys. Boonen and Steegmans were on the Qatar and ENECO teams, while Terpstra was on the Vuelta and ENECO teams. That's a pretty nice record... without deploying the Panzerwagen (Tony Martin) or the Praying... Levantis (Levi Leipheimer).
Looking Ahead: Panzerwagen is in, and it's a pretty good bet that he's honed his form to a fine level. Boonen, Chava, Terpstra and Velits are all excellent selections. Vandewalle was on the nearly-winning Vuelta team. I don't think they'll have trouble stretching the effort out to 50k.
3. Orica GreenEdge
Looking Back: Two wins, which as I said could put them level with or ahead of OPQS if you like. Tuft and Langeveld have been the two mainstays, as well as Keukeleire, Durbridge, Goss and others.
Looking Ahead: This is where I put them behind OPQS for sure. Durbridge, Tuft and Langeveld are in, which is great, but they don't have a wild card like Tony Martin to play. Mouris, Bewley and Cam Meyer are the other three. Certainly in with a chance.
Looking Back: Pretty consistently top five in the shorter events. Boom, Kelderman, Van Winden, Gesink... kind of a different lineup every time. Boom has as much to do with their results as anyone. But we have zero data as to how this translates to a longer course, since they barely staffed the Giro.
Looking Ahead: As the home team, by most accounts, they'll be motivated... but it's been a long time since that dynamic worked in their favor. Anywho, the lineup is Boom, Gesink, Kelderman, Clement, Flens and LuLu Sanchez. Boom, Clement and Kelderman have all been strong at the longer distances. Flens is decent there, and presumably Sanchez is there because of the Spanish ITT title he won, as opposed to his recent performances.
Looking Back: If there were a Tour de France TTT they would have won by about six minutes. Luckily there wasn't and we were able to enjoy a tight, suspenseful race. [cough] They were quite strong at the Vuelta, so their dearth of results in TTTs is perhaps a bit misleading.
Looking Ahead: On the other hand, being strong in the Vuelta usually translates into being tired the week after the Vuelta. Froome is clearly on his last legs. Still, I could see them putting together a tough, tough squad. With guys like Flecha, Porte, Rogers, Stannard, the long lost Geraint Thomas and Eddy Boss available, I'd seriously consider dropping Froome from the unit if he's not feeling refreshed right now.
Looking Back: Winners in Trentino, BMC were just OK in the Giro despite a strong team on hand. Their next best result was the Vuelta, where they were fourth -- or tied for second -- without Taylor Phinney. But that was 16km. Anyway, they have had plenty of guys in on the discipline, which isn't surprising considering the talent they have lying around.
Looking Ahead: I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them get a medal. Tempering expectations a bit, but the lineup will choose from Phinney, Pinotti, Ballan, Bookwalter, van Garderen, Gilbert, Schar, Quinziato and Morabito. The first five seem likely to me.
Looking Back: Always pretty decent, Bruyneel teams are typically loaded with cronomen, and this year is no exception. Their best team was the one with Cancellara on it, and frankly their more recent efforts have been disappointing. Even more disappointing is the fact that they weren't in Utah in greater force, where we could have gauged them better.
Looking Ahead: I'm seeing nine names still listed. Me, I like Irizar, Gallopin, Klodi, Roulston, Voigt and Sergeant or Zubeldia. Also, if I keep going I might talk myself into moving them down. I'll stop.
Looking Back: Coming off a win at the Vuelta, with Castroviejo, Valverde, Moreno, Intxausti and Quintana in charge. But that's their only result of the year. On a very short, home course.
Looking Ahead: I can see Castroviejo, Gutierrez, Karpets and Rui Costa being reasonably good. But the talent drop-off from the first seven teams is evident, and frankly I wouldn't be shocked to see them fade.
Looking Back: Second in the Giro, by all of five seconds, gives them some cred. [Astana too -- third in Verona.] They were consistently pretty good, which begs the question why I have them ranked behind Movistar. I... don't know.
Looking Ahead: Their lineup is set: Brutt, Menchov, Ignatyev, Kuschinsky, Smukulis and Vicioso.
Looking Back: Not much to speak of. I really should have Astana here.
Looking Ahead: ...Except, check out this lineup: De Gendt, Westra, Larsson, Marczynsky, plus Marcato and Keizer, the latter having been quite good in the 45km Dutch nats ITT. Sleeper!
Photo © Fotoreporter Sirotti