Ah, the worlds TTT. What would we do without you? For me, the answer to that question is “watch slightly less cycling in September, with life going on mostly unchanged.” But I still love you, worlds TTT, partially because of your sheer pointlessness. The team time-trial was invented by Henri Desgrange purely for the purpose of making riders suffer, tactical racing or entertainment be damned, and somehow it has survived to the present day, where every other Grand Tour we end up watching the same three or four teams scrape marginal victories for their GC leaders, while some poor French climber loses minutes.
Having played a part in the Olympics and Worlds at various times in the twentieth century, the TTT was added to the Worlds title card in 2012, but with the World Championships staple of national teams scrapped, and trade teams added in its place. The gripping Valkenburg race (Quickstep beat BMC by a matter of three seconds on a punishing course) was a hit, as was the even closer event in Florence, and the race has survived to the present day.
It’s not the worst of spectacles, I have to admit. Giving six riders fifty kilometres to ride elbows-out, against the clock and each other can’t ever be seen as completely turgid, not to mention the fact that the race is a sponsor’s dream — which sponsor doesn’t want to be able to claim that theirs is the fastest team on the planet? So far, only BMC and various iterations of Quickstep have been able to do so, but this race has always tended to closeness, with a highest winning margin of just thirty-six seconds, so the rainbow seal (not an aquatic mammal) never really seems out of reach for teams even outside of the bare five to have graced the podium.
This year’s course is more comparable to the 2012 race than any other, with rolling terrain almost throughout serving as the main feature of the race. It’s not particularly long, considering that its forty-two kilometres are well short of the fifty-seven ridden in 2013, but the amount of climbing on the course will make it one of the hardest races of its kind in this event’s short history.
The sternest test on the route is the 1.4 kilometre Birkelundsbakken climb eleven kilometres from home, hitting twelve per cent near the top. On a TT rig, in team formation, that is a mountain. Matt White, the Orica DS, has admitted it could send any team into complete disarray. This climb really opens up the race — unlike in Doha last year it is no longer a simple power effort, but more about conservation of energy and maintaining unity in each team’s six.
Quick-Step, BMC, Orica. These have been the giants of the TTT scene in the last five years, but this race might show a changing of the guard, or at least a slight alteration. How many TTT championships did Tony Martin drive Quickstep to? He won’t be repeating that, which will dent Quick-Step Floors chances of victory dramatically. This will open the door for a few teams who stand a chance of standing on their first Worlds TTT podium, namely LottoNL-Jumbo and Sunweb. LottoNL haven’t looked like the world’s greatest team since their post-Rabobank sponsorship problems began in 2013, but they’ve built up a squad of nifty time-triallists. Lars Boom is on sparkling form, as he showed in the Tour of Britain, where he was the only man able to beat his own team-mate Victor Campanaerts in a ten mile race against the watch, not to mention the presence of Jos Van Emden in fifth and Primoz Roglic in twelfth. This fearsome foursome are joined by the able Stef Clement and Gijs Van Hoecke. Fifth last year, an underdog performance from the men in yellow wouldn’t go amiss.
The kings of underdog performances this year were indeed Sunweb, who leave the Bergen startramp equipped with Lennard Kämna, Michael Matthews, Sam Oomen, Søren Kragh Andersen, Wilco Kelderman and probably the world’s best time-triallist Tom Dumoulin. Said best time-triallist will hardly be carrying the team, however — Kämna has held rainbow stripes in the underage ranks, while the rest of the team have placed highly in tests this season. The climbing ability of Oomen, Kelderman and Dumoulin himself will no doubt be invaluable on this rolling course.
Now we come to the trio who have been at the forefront of this event for the last few years. Orica-Scott are probably the weakest unit of them, but being called “probably the weakest” often works for them. The Australian contingent of Luke Durbridge, Damian Howson, Alexander Edmondson and Michael Hepburn are joined by Svein Tuft and Daryl Impey. There are no world-beaters here when it comes to the noble art of the tri-bar, but Orica’s way is to have a well-balanced side defy the odds.
Last year’s champions Quickstep have certainly balanced their team with the departure of Tony Martin, but that’s about the only positive one can take from that particular occurrence. Bob Jungels is the most highly-regarded tester in their six, with Niki Terpstra, Yves Lampaert, Philippe Gilbert, Jack Bauer and Julien Vermote to accompany him. The tendency to big rouleurs in this outfit makes me doubt that they can defend their title.
They may just relinquish it to its previous incumbent in BMC, who bring a loaded lineup in Tejay van Garderen, Rohan Dennis, Stefan Küng, Silvan Dillier, Miles Scotson and Daniel Oss to Norway. Able ascenders abound in this sextet, along with plenty of wattage. They’re guaranteed a podium finish, and I’d point you in their direction for the win if not for...
Team Sky. They kept their hold on July before conquering Spain’s early autumn. Chris Froome has come to aid their victory here, with Michał Kwiatkowski, Gianni Moscon, Geraint Thomas, Owain Doull and Vasil Kiryienka. This versatile squad of watt-producers looks perfectly suited both for the course and for the winners podium; they’re going to add yet another trophy to Sky’s ever-growing cabinet.