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Worlds Elite Men's ITT: Out With the Old, In With the New (and Old)

Can Tony Martin be stopped? Maybe, but it's up to the younger generation

Nice wheels!
Nice wheels!
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

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Tomorrow's elite men's race for rainbow (crono style) should be the time trial of the year. Why? Because of the total lack of competition for that distinction... and the excellent competition for the victory. Regarding the latter, it was the Year of Not Time Trialling Too Much. There was one during the Tour, but it was short and a mere token meant to influence the GC as little as possible. There was a long one at the Giro, and it effectively killed the race. Contador put three and four minutes into the Aru/Landa Astana duo, whom he eventually beat in Milan by 1:53 and 3:05. I guess you could see that as awesome, given that it meant the whole race, but really it made things a lot less fun. Finally, there was a very nervy ITT in the Vuelta, which would hold the title of Best Crono for 2015, if not for tomorrow's throwdown. I'm sure I'm overlooking some other stout competitions, but let's face it, you have to have an awful lot on the line to surpass the importance of the Worlds.

Elite Men's ITT Course

The first thing you need to know is that this race is perfectly non-circuitous. World championships are almost always about the circuits. Not this event.

Men's ITT full

Here's a closeup of the finish area. The PdC house is somewhere on this map!

Men's ITT close up

And of course the obligatory profile.

Men's ITT profile

I can assure you those vertical surfaces are limestone cliffs. The 90% inclines will be a new Worlds record. Should liven things up.

The thing about point to point races is that wind can matter a lot more than it does in a circuit where the sum total of wind effects is zero. In this case the forecast calls for northeast winds of 8mph. That's a low enough number and the remaining weather details for Wednesday are unspectacular enough for me to not worry about the one bad outcome: varying conditions that favor people at one start time over people at another, and wind up influencing the outcome. I'm happy to have winds influence the outcome, as long as everyone gets it the same.

The Competitors: One Clear Favorite

So the threshold question is, will Tony Martin be stopped? Before Bradley Wiggins rode a fantastic race and beat Martin by 26 seconds in Ponferrada last year, nobody had taken the Rainbow Jersey off his shoulders since he first put it on four years earlier. Before Wiggins, the last guy Martin lost to was Fabian Cancellara, in his prime. The last time Martin didn't win a medal was the Bush Administration.

Let's take a look at where Martin is at first. His time trialling season got off to a quiet start as he won a crono in Portugal but got beat twice in Paris-Nice (albeit the second on the Col d'Eze and the first a prologue), and got smoked on another climbers' route in the Pais Vasco. All of this was a prelude to summer, however, and he reinforced this point with some attacking at the Dauphine and a near-win in the Tour's opening ITT. We all know what happened then -- the stage win, the yellow jersey, the crash, the broken bones and dreams -- but Martin was back up and running by mid-August. He won the Tour du Poitou Charentes by taking third in the time trial, and then made it to Plouay and North America... where he took three DNFs in a row. He wrapped up his racing prep with second in the TTT.

The Main Challenger

His main competition is sure to be the man who beat him in both France and on Sunday (with his BMC team), Rohan Dennis. Dennis taking five seconds out of Martin in a 13km event doesn't mean a ton, but Dennis winning every time he touched his crono bike after July 1 does. He was flying in Colorado, doing well enough on the climbs to make his ITT win a GC-clincher. He was part of both Tour de France TT event wins, the opening individual and the team event later. And while there's only so much you can say about one of the winning team members from Sunday, he did win.

Head to head, Martin used to routinely best Dennis but that simply isn't the case anymore. But all seven qualifying events from this year are either team events or really short courses. The last time the two faced off at distance was Ponferrada, and Martin finished 31 seconds up, even after Dennis' team had won the TTT. So if this were a year ago, none of Dennis' results would knock Martin off the favorites' pedestal. But it's not, and Martin had an injury break in July. So we don't quite know how fully recovered his form is.

And the Rest

With Wiggins out and Fabian Cancellara at home, it's up to the new generation of cronomen. Well some of them anyway. And some familiar names.

Tom Dumoulin comes in as the next potential favorite... but with some concerns. First and foremost, his start was in doubt because of a butt injury. He'll be there but it's hard to know how it will limit him. Unless the answer is "not at all," he has very little chance to win. Then there's the Vuelta hangover, a long and difficult effort. The flipside is that Dumoulin was brilliant for three weeks. So I will keep him as a potential favorite.

A who-the-hell-knows who we can't wait any longer to discuss is Taylor Phinney. The American was also part of BMC's winning effort, and we know he's recovered some of his form after more than a year of healing from a horrible crash. But this length of a TT seems like a tall order for someone who missed so much time, so recently. Phinney is one of the more emotional guys out there, and that sort of focus and intensity can be a good thing if properly harnessed. In the few short years we've had him at the elite level we've all learned not to count him out of much. So he's got a chance. I'll be surprised if he wins... but not completely.

Standard favorites from the "guys who are usually strong in this event" include Adriano Malori of Italy, Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus, Spain's Jonathan Castroviejo (and maybe LuLu Sanchez), Alex Dowsett of Britain, Poland's Maceij Bodnar, and Stefan Keung of Switzerland. Nelson Santos Oliveira? Rigoberto Uran? Matti Brandle? Jan Barta? You get the point.

My Pick

I think Dennis, this is the confirmation he has earned over the past few years. I confess to being (respectfully) bored by the idea of Martin winning again, so maybe this is a shaky pick, but the door is open to a new king of the cronos.

Who ya got?