Here we are again, at the one time-trial of the year that people go out of their way to watch. But should you, this time? Well, let's see. The course is shorter than any I can remember, and flatter as well, from the Lusail complex to The Pearl Island.
There's a technical-ish start and finish, but the majority of the forty kilometre race is the arrow-straight, pan-flat section between those two tighter sections. The two time checks are at the start and end of that flat section.
So a course friendly to the usual suspects then. But the biggest wildcard ought to be the weather, with the scorching temperatures in Qatar which have caused a number of people to require treatment likely to have a detrimental effect on the performances of at least a few riders. Wind? Well, considering all the top guys are going out at around the same time, it wouldn't make much of a difference even if it weren't a cross-tail all day.
Here's your last twenty-five starters. Durbridge sets off at 7:36 in New York and 12:36 in London.
The theme of a number of these Worlds TT previews has been "who can stop Tony Martin," but is it fair to say that he has, if not come to a halt, been slowed by the rise of fellow time-trial gods such as Dennis and Dumoulin. That said, he beat those two in a fifteen kilometre outing in Bristol, so can he regain the jersey he last won in Florence three years ago? I for one don't think so. He hasn't been himself in a while - even if he did win in Britain, he had a poor outing a few weeks later in the ENECO Tour, not to mention his torrid days out in the Tour and Olympics - and although he has made a few (apparently beneficial) tweaks to his time-trialling position, I don't think he'll be quite up to the required level.
What level, you ask? The level of Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who I think are going to slug this one out. Dennis has the form — he won the time-trial in the ENECO Tour. Yes, I know it was ten kilometres and it doesn't mean a lot but there aren't a lot of data points to go on. He also will be able to deal with the weather better than most, being Australian. Dumoulin is from the decidedly less warm Netherlands, and finished thirteenth, level with Martin at twenty seconds down on Dennis in his last TT outing.
We simply don't know how good Dumoulin's form is. I would be tempted to say that he would crush anyone on almost any course on his best day, and if he has his best day tomorrow, he will. But given that he raced thirty Grand Tour stages in May and July, before his year's target of the Olympics, where Dennis was set to beat him before hitting mechanical issues, it is equally possible that his well of form may be starting to run dry.
Worlds time-trials have had surprise winners in the past — most notably last year, when Vasil Kiryienka fought off Adriano Malori and Jerome (whoo!) Coppel. The latter two have gotten repeatedly injured and retired, respectively, so won't be joining us, but Kiryienka is there to defend his title. Will he do so successfully? No, in all likelihood. While his time-trial win was a surprise last year, it came after a season where he had won a very long chrono in a Grand Tour. The event itself was also thirteen kilometres longer than this year's race, which also played to Kiryienka's strengths.
Jonathan Castroviejo is another outside pick. He won the European TT crown, finished five seconds off an Olympic medal, and was best of the rest in the Froome-dominated Vuelta time-trial. The heat could also aid the Spanish rider, and he is an outside pick for a medal. The same goes for Maciej Bodnar. The Polish champion has beaten Tony Martin this season, in De Panne, and could sneak a bronze if things went right. Taylor Phinney has a history of springing results in this event, and might post a time that could challenge the latest starters. Oh, and if you win a Giro time-trial, are you due a mention? Primoz Roglic, anyone?
To make a prediction, I'll project a podium of
- Rohan Dennis
- Tom Dumoulin
- Tony Martin
I think Dennis will just have enough to eke this one out. Dumoulin will push him all the way, but may be lacking that one per cent of form required to win the rainbow jersey.