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Elite Men's ITT: Battle Royale!

Doug Pensinger Getty

Seriously. Holy shit:

14:42:00 LARSSON Gustav 21 SWE19800920 SWE

14:43:30 BARTA Jan 20 CZE19841207 CZE

14:45:00 TERPSTRA Niki 19 NED19840518 NED

14:46:30 JUNGELS Bob 18 LUX19920922 LUX

14:48:00 SERGENT Jesse 17 NZL19880708 NZL

14:49:30 DE GENDT Thomas 16 BEL19861106 BEL

14:51:00 WESTRA Lieuwe 15 NED19820911 NED

14:52:30 DOWSETT Alex 14 GBR19881003 GBR

14:54:00 QUAADE Rasmus Christian 13 DEN19900107 DEN

14:55:30 KWIATKOWSKI Michal 12 POL19900602 POL

14:57:00 TALANSKY Andrew 11 USA19881123 USA

14:58:30 KIRYIENKA Vasil 10 BLR19810628 BLR

15:00:00 PINOTTI Marco 9 ITA19760225 ITA

15:01:30 CASTROVIEJO NICOLAS Jonathan 8 ESP19870427 ESP

15:03:00 CHAVANEL Sylvain 7 FRA19790630 FRA

15:04:30 PORTE Richie 6 AUS19850130 AUS

15:06:00 MALORI Adriano 5 ITA19880128 ITA

15:07:30 PHINNEY Taylor 4 USA19900627 USA

15:09:00 WIGGINS Bradley 3 GBR19800428 GBR

15:10:30 CANCELLARA Fabian 2 SUI19810318 SUI

15:12:00 MARTIN Tony 1 GER19850423 GER

That's the relevant portion of tomorrow's startlist. I used former silver medalist Gustav Larsson to define the outer limits of relevance. You're welcome.

It occurred to me that this has to be one of the most anticipated Men's Elite ITTs ever, right? Let's do this process-of-elimination style.

The Olden Days

  • The race was started as an organized UCI worlds event in 1994. Earlier, the Grand Prix des Nations functioned as the de facto time trial world championships, until the UCI got its tentacles business in order. If some of those editions were hotter than this one -- say, some of the early 80s fights or better still the Hinault-Moser smackdowns in the late 70s -- well, I commend you to the study of history. As far as the UCI WCs go, 1994 is the beginning.
  • And you can start by throwing out everything from 1994-2005. With all due respect to Mick Rogers, I'm not sure any of the winners in that period can be taken seriously. Time trials aren't especially nuanced, so if your hematocrit went high enough, you were in line for the win. Yes, I'm looking at you Santi Botero.
  • The Fabian Cancellara Era began in earnest in 2006, and while I'm not declaring a line in the sand regarding preparation at that magical moment, I'm willing to put that topic aside and start considering the race itself. Cancellara was the newly-crowned champion of Paris-Roubaix and a few other exploits, mostly against the watch. It was a bit of a shock to see him disembowel the competition by a minute or more that September in Salzburg, but it was also close to a home win, as well as the start of the Legend of Tony Spartacus.
  • Cancellara reeled off four wins in five years, with the only exception being lost to disinterest. Only Laszlo Bodrogi got within a minute of the Swiss Bear, and only just. Drama was sorely lacking, and frankly the only thing I remember about those years was how unbelievable Cancellara was at cornering in Geelong.
  • Boredom then begat the Tony Martin Era, now in its third year. Cancellara showed up at the 2011 Worlds aiming for the road race and lost the ITT by more than a minute. The next year he was hurt and missed the race while trying to grow a new collarbone. So while Martin's victories were earned, they weren't terribly surprising.

That leaves now. Cancellara is once again downplaying his ambitions for the crono in favor of the road race, as he focuses on his legacy. So maybe his participation won't amount to much. But it has to be better than two years ago, right?

The Big Three Four

Cancellara needs little introduction, but I just gave you one anyway. You might also like to know that he kept an appointment with destiny two weeks ago, showing Martin the back of his hand at the Vuelta ITT. That was a mere 38km and a tad hillier than tomorrow's board-flat run up the Arno River (through Pistoia, the famed birthplace of my commuter bike). Those 37 seconds seemed to tell a story, but then again, neither combatant had much to gain from showing his cards. So it's a data point of questionable import. Aren't they all?

Martin, for his part, also appears to be on scintillating form (etymology: scintillare = to shine). That loss to Cancellara represents one of his only meaningful defeats in the Rainbow Jersey. Through two full seasons Martin has fifteen victories in the stripes. He's seen five uphill cronos and four prologues elude him, and he's missed out on a few team time trials, for which he almost certainly wasn't to blame. Only an early-season loss to Bradley Wiggins in 2012 at Algarve, and a more stinging loss to Sir Pottymouth in the Olympic Games, marred his record before last fortnight. A dominant performace in the TTT Sunday is probably a better indicator of where things stand. So too was the first crono at this year's Tour, the sole flattish one, a glittering affaire to Mont-Saint-Michel which was comparable in prestige to tomorrow. Martin won that by 12 seconds over Chris Froome (not racing tomorrow) and killed the rest of the field.

Wiggins, meanwhile, has the potential to completely upset matters. Never before has he thoroughly staked his claim on the rainbow jersey, inserting himself between Martin and Cancellara only in 2011, and then coming off an exhausting Vuelta following the demise of his collarbone at the Tour. Most years he's a Tour guy, and Tour guys nowadays are winding down their offseason in September. But having liberated himself from that prison, Wiggins is now -- for the first time -- free to go all-in at the Worlds. His form shouldn't be an issue either. As strange as this year has been, defying all his best-laid plans, Wiggo is nonetheless coming off a crono stage and overall win at the Tour of Britain, as well as a less-recent but more-relevant thrashing of Cancellara in the Tour de Pologne time trial, a 37km affair where he beat Cancellara by 56 seconds and Taylor Phinney by 1.14. Sure, that probably says less about where those guys were and more about Wiggins, but if nothing else we know the guy has been strong since August.

Phinney is the interloper, but the record says he's the defending silver medalist too, and only just. Martin's stripes were only five seconds away from being on the young American's shoulders instead this year, and while a win is a win, it certainly gave Phinney fans something to chew on. The Arno route is perfect for Phinney, nice and flat, with none of those troubling inclines to punish him for being 6'5". It's also more or less his home area, to the point where the other day he was lamenting a shift in the wind direction from its usual course. Yep, he knows the route. Form, on the other hand, is a question. Let's face it, the kid's fantastic but he's still just a kid by championship cycling standards, and I'm not sure he's reached the phase of his career where his body will hold up across a long season as well as those of Cancellara and Wiggins and Martin, all hardened by many tough years of racing. So when I see that he finished fifth in the ENECO ITT a month ago, I have to wonder what that means. Only marginally relevant, and certainly a lot of form can come in a month. He might be good enough to win. But more so than the others, I can't claim to have any idea.

Best of the Rest

Another characteristic of worlds crono fields is lack of depth, but I wouldn't say that this time around. Yes, there are always strong guys, but tomorrow there are several names down the list whom you could picture winning. Lieuwe Westra? OK, he's a longshot. Andrew Talansky? If this course had hills, his name would be much further up this post. Sylvain Chavanel? Outside shot. He won that ENECO crono, but was seventh in a more comparable event to Mont-St-Michel. Svein Tuft? More of a big fish in smaller ponds, but he's capable [Ed] exhausted and not racing. Michal Kwiatkowski? Wild card. Not sure how he lost to Bodnar for his national shirt, because he was top 7 in both Tour events. [And can we take a moment to marvel at how many Quick Steppers there are on this list?] Crazy Thomas De Gendt? Third at Mont-St-Michel... respect. But he's been adrift since. Can't blame anyone at Vacansoleil for feeling that way. Richie Porte? Hmmm... two wins against the watch, and numerous high places (4th at Mt-St-Michel). Kind of a killer, when not giving himself to the ambitions of another. Will the sight of Wiggins put him into helper mode? Hope not, because I can totally see him in the medals here.

OK, I'll say:

  1. Wiggins
  2. Cancellara
  3. Martin
  4. Porte
  5. Phinney

Who ya got?