Sunday kicks off the UCI World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, and as unfamiliar as that last bit might be, the rest of the event is as familiar as it gets around here. Pardon me, I think I'm going into background mode...
A Wee Bit of Background on the TTT and its Place at Worlds
First, the schedule... seems like it wasn't all that long ago that the UCI was tinkering with the lineup of events from year to year. The current array of events dates back only to 2012, when the TTT returned from an 18-year hiatus, as a trade team event. This ended (for now) a merry-go-round of format changes:
- In 1994, there were ITTs, TTTs and road races for men and women, plus an amateur road race. Before then there were no ITT world championships, just team events, as the Grand Prix des Nations served as the international individual time trial championship, more or less.
- From 1997-2004, the championships featured ten events, two each for junior men, junior women, U23 men, and Elite men and women. This format came back in 2011 as well.
- From 2005-2010 the championships were down to a mere six events, ITTs and RRs for U23 men, elite men and elite women, reviving the slimmed down format from 1996. In 1995 there were only five events, elite men and women RRs and ITTs, plus an amateur road race.
- Only from 2012 onward do we have a high of 12 events, ITTs and RRs for the five categories of the '97-'04 years plus TTTs for elite men and women.
Now for the fourth straight year we have a full Sunday-to-Sunday schedule, with every day featuring some racing except for Thursday. Sure, the six hour time difference will make this feel very different for lots of audiences, but right now things look pretty stable, format-wise.
Also, gone are the threats to the TTT in particular that shelved it for so long -- namely, that it's not a competition anyone can take on at their best. Until 2012 the TTT event, or the debate over whether to have one, contemplated national teams, since everything else at Worlds is organized this way. From the national federation coaches' perspective, having a trade team event is undoubtedly pretty weird and presents its share of conflicts. But the alternatives are to not have one at all (boo!) or to have national teams who have zero opportunity to practice contest it. Not what you want for a discipline that relies heavily on coordinated precision. Hence the trade teams, and some sort of tacit agreement by the grand tours to include TTTs in their lineup. Since the demise of the Eindhoven TTT, even one-week stage races like Romandie and Tirreno-Adriatico have added TTTs. A total of nine TTTs were contested by top teams in 2015 alone. Now, the event isn't merely cool, it's relevant to the cycling season and draws teams that have actually tested out their skill a few times already.
But it's still an oddball event, and so far the medals each year have gone to [insert]-Quick Step, Orica-GreenEdge and one more, between BMC and Sky. Boring, right? Wrong.
- In 2012, Omega Pharma-Quick Step took the first trade team-based rainbow jersey with a win over BMC by a mere 3.23 seconds, a devastatingly close two-man race pitting two deep teams against each other.
- In 2013 OPQS won again, this time by 81 hundredths of a second over Orica-GreenEdge. Team Sky, led by Tour de France winner Chris Froome, came a reasonably close third at 22.55 seconds back.
- Last year BMC dethroned the Belgian squad, who sagged to third behind repeat-silver medalists Orica, a full 31 seconds behind the Americans. Less interesting? Maybe, but there were six teams within a minute of each other at the top of the results sheet, suggesting that the field was finally starting to deepen.
Basically you have an event that has delivered a great spectacle, and which is maturing to the point where things are only going to get more fun. OK, on to this year's version.
The Top Ten Teams
Lineup: Pick six from Rohan Dennis, Silvan Dillier, Philippe Gilbert, Stefan Keung, Daniel Oss, Taylor Phinney, Manuel Quinziato, Greg Van Avermaet, and Peter Velits. Dennis, Dillier, Oss, Quinziato and Velits all rode on the 2014 TTT squad.
Results This Year: Won everything that matters to them, from the most recent and very strange Vuelta a España boardwalk event to the Tour de France showcase, as well as the Dauphiné TTT. Sixth in Romandie and seventh in the Giro d'Italia, suggesting that they focused their work for the summer races.
Prognosis: The favorites, hands down. For starters, they won last year by a decent margin. Now, everyone from that effort returns except Tejay van Garderen -- a big loss, except that Taylor Phinney is back. Yes, it's been a long road and without BMC's proprietary training data I can't assure you Phinney is ready to drive this already-top-ranked machine, but between what we saw in Utah and Colorado, plus Phinney's incredible drive, makes me think he'll be a feature, not a bug. If he's selected; he's actually one of four potential replacements, with Gilbert, Keung and GVA.
Dennis has had an incredible year, winning the GC in Colorado and the Tour de France Opening Day ITT. Quinziato is always there, and Oss has two appearances in the Worlds TTT lineup as well. There simply is no evidence that they've slipped from 2014, when they were crowned world champs.
2. Etixx-Quick Step
Lineup: Tom Boonen, Yves Lampaert, Tony Martin, Niki Terpstra, Michal Kwiatkowski, Rigoberto Uran. Only Uran and Lampaert are newcomers here.
Results This Year: Fourth on three occasions, seventh at the Tour, fifth at the Vuelta.
Prognosis: Recent results don't quite capture the posture of the two-time champions, who have the single biggest engine on hand in Martin, and who feature a deep, well-tested lineup with the possible exception of Lampaert, an odd fill-in for either Serry or Vermote. Uran is also new to the Worlds team but has been racing TTTs on several occasions, and should fit in fine.
But to top BMC on American soil the Belgians (ahem) will need something special, and it's pretty hard right now to know where Tony Martin is. After crashing out of the Tour, he reappeared at Poitou-Charentes and won the overall, albeit over a field devoid of major stage racers. He's since DNF'd in three classics. But the TTT isn't the same sort of effort as a classic, not by a long shot, and Martin has undoubtedly been laser-focused on Richmond, so to hell with finishing Montreal. Martin can probably blast out a tempo for however many intervals he'll be asked to do over the one-hour-plus event. Maybe in that short, odd effort he can be something truly special. Normally he'd be the elephant in the room for all three elite events (as a helper in the road race), and it'd be premature to doubt him just yet.
Lineup: Pick six from Michael Albasini, Sam Bewley, Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn, Damien Howson, Daylt Impey, Michael Matthews, Jens Mouris and Svein Tuft.
Results This Year: Won at the Giro; second in Romandie; last(!) at the Tour de France; third in the Vuelta, second in Alberta.
Prognosis: Bret Lancaster is the only name removed from the last two Worlds squads, making this a very familiar and very strong group. Bewley rode in 2012 so perhaps he gets the nod again. More cohesion than star power, but plenty of power, period.
Lineup: Six from Andrey Amador, Winner Anacona, Jonathan Castroviejo, Alex Dowsett, Benat Intxausti, Jon Izaguirre, Adriano Malori, Rory Sutherland and Jasha Sutterlin. Holdovers from 2014 include Amador, Dowsett, Izaguirre, Malori and Sutterlin. Castroviejo was on the 2013 squad.
Results This Year: 10th in Romandie, 5th in the Giro; third in the Dauphiné; third at the Tour; third in Burgos.
Prognosis: Pretty steady uptick in performance as the weather got warm. The Tour squad, of course, included Movi's grand tour guys, who won't be getting in the way here.
Lineup: Six from Sven Erik Bystrom, Sergey Chernetsky, Pavel Kochetkov, Vyatcheslav Kusnetsov, Sergei Lagutin, Alexander Porsev, Gatis Smukulis, Angel Vicioso, and Ilnur Zakarin. Only Kusnetsov and Smukulis were in Ponferrada last year.
Results This Year: Third in Romandie, 10th in the Giro, 14th in the Dauphiné, won in Austria, hopeless in France (with a totally different team), fourth in the Vuelta a Burgos, and third (with a familiar lineup) in Alberta.
Prognosis: Nearly total lack of flashy names is a good thing, as long as you aren't unilaterally disarming. My excitement is starting to wane a bit, as far as victory goes, but Smukulis, Zakarin and Kusnetsov are all regulars and expected to drive the others to power. Bystrom has ridden this formation before. Possible podium challenge at best.
Lineup: Six from: Lars Boom, Daniil Fominykh, Andriy Grivko, Dmitry Gruzdev, Tanel Kangert, Alexey Lutsenko, Luis Leon Sanchez, Rein Taaramae.
Results This Year: Won Burgos. Third in the Giro. Second in the Dauphiné, but nothing much beyond that. Fominykh, Grivko, Kangert and Lutsenko are the holdovers, with maybe LuLu and Taaramae.
Prognosis: They'll make a showing. Astana have been defying prognostications all year.
7. Team Sky
Lineup: Six of: Vasil Kiryienka, Leopold Konig, Danny Pate, Salvatore Puccio, Nico Roche, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Elia Viviani.
Results This Year: Second in Settimana C&B, won Romandie, second at Le Tour, 20th at the Vuelta.
Prognosis: Solid lineup, but the withdrawal of Thomas doesn't leave them much time to put together a winning combination from who's left, and the lack of Bradley Wiggins is painful too. Plus no Froome. This is sadly a team looking for some good luck in putting it all together.
Lineup: Pick six: Rick Flens, Robert Gesink, Wilco Kelderman, Tom Leezer, Paul Martens, Maarten Tjallingii, Jos van Emden, Sep Vanmarcke, Maarten Wynants.
Results This Year: 13th at the Giro, 10th at the Dauphiné, 9th at the Tour, 4th at the Vuelta
Prognosis: I'm not exactly sure what to make of their chances, but however they line up LottoNL will have veteran depth across the board. Quiet respectability looms.
Lineup: Six of Daniele Bennati, Manuele Boaro, Maciej Bodnar, Christopher Juul-Jensen, Michael Rogers, Peter Sagan, Michael Valgren.
Results This Year: All over the map: second at the Giro, fourth at the Tour, second at the Vuelta. The first two results included Alberto Contador, who isn't here.
Prognosis: Contador on this team would elevate them from sleeper status, but that's not too terrible in and of itself. No doubt they can put out a strong team with a mix of youth and experience. Only Roche is missing from the 2014 team that finished a handy fifth, only 46" back. And that spot could go to Sagan or Bodnar, either of whom you'd have some comfort with.
Lineup: Lasse Norman Hansen, Ben King, Kristian Koren, Sebastian Langeveld, Alan Marangoni, Moreno Moser, Ramunas Navardauskas, Kristoffer Skjerping, Dylan van Baarle.
Results This Year: Ninth in Romandie, 7th in the Giro, sixth in Austria, 12th at the Tour.
Prognosis: Langeveld, Navardauskas and van Baarle form a good nucleus, but the team has struggled to reformulate itself in this discipline this year. It's anyone's guess where they'll be, though there is material to work with. Koren and Marangoni raced in Ponferrada for Cannondale. That leaves only one more spot to fill.