In 2014, the World Championships were of course scheduled for Ponferrada, in Spain. As these things go, the rumours about the various race were more numerous than the riders who would race them, the most vocal of which being that the individual time-trial would not be the usual mere rolling effort or power course, but would end with a not-insignificant climb. Naturally, there was uproar, as cycling fans clamoured against the idea of anything about the formula used in the Worlds time-trial altering in the slightest. What’s that? It was a good idea which would have dramatically shaken up the event? Huh, I must be misremembering. Anyway, that’s in the past, and this year’s organisers have given us the chance to see how this format is going to work, as tomorrow’s sixty-five starters head out on a course which has no precedent, or recent precedent at least, in determining this event’s rainbow jersey.
Here it is, a course of thirty-one kilometres, much shorter than you might expect, with the twist of Mount Floyen to cap it off. This is no easy hill — it’s the hardest climb all week, at three and a half kilometres averaging a touch over nine per cent, with sections steeper in the earlier sections of the climb. Now, you can’t do that on a TT bike. Or rather, you can, but you really don’t want to. You don’t want to ride that climb on a TT bike even more than you don’t want to waste half a minute getting a bike change, he said unnecessarily convolutedly. I would predict that any serious contender for this race is going to be receiving a dubiously overenthusiastic push on a road bike at around kilometre twenty-seven, something with which you obviously don’t expect to be hit in a race like this. I might suggest that it breaks the rhythm in this event in which rhythm is so crucial enough to have quite a tangible effect, but that’s all unnecessary speculation in a race which may not come down to such fine margins as for such things to make a difference.
While not hellishly technical, there are a few tricky corners in the first part of the course, which will be fertile ground for any risk-takers on the likely-wet roads, but this does not look likely to be a dangerous course, rain or no rain.
There’s the last twenty-five starters, in Norwegian time, of course. The nature of the Worlds ITT is to send riders out in bands. Good for the cameras, bad for anyone who gets caught out in bad weather. If a shower starts at 16:45, the top time-triallists in the penultimate bad, notably Kiryienka and Küng, will have a pretty obvious advantage, just to point out the variable affecting the race.
Weather, tight turns and bike changes aside, however, this race still has a clear favourite, and that’s Tom Dumoulin. His victory in the Giro was based of course on masterful time-trialling, but he backed it up more than adequately with his climbing. Let’s face it, there’s nothing here close to the difficulty of Oropa, which Dumoulin crushed. He might well be the fastest on the flat section, but he will not have to compromise one inch on Mount Floyen. This course is so suited to his abilities as a time-triallist and an all-round bike rider that if it were just given to him and Sunweb as a present to congratulate them on a great year, it could hardly be any better for him. This looks perfectly set to augment his wardrobe even further.
If cycling has another man lacking in wardrobe space (though recent photos may say otherwise), it’s Chris Froome. Yellow, red and time-trial rainbow might not be such an impressive triple crown as that achieved by Merckx and Roche, but it is one never before achieved (with the obvious caveats of the previous calendar positioning of the Vuelta and the recent emergence of the ITT in Worlds) and one which would certainly bring some kind of prestige, not of course that that will be in Froome’s mind as he shivers on the start ramp at five o’clock tomorrow. Not either that I think Froome will achieve it. He’s a phenomenal time-triallist and a better climber, but this is just not his sort of effort. Dumoulin should put a lot of time into him.
The only other rider I consider in with a shot at winning is Rohan Dennis. The Australian won a pretty comparable TT in the Tour de Suisse, but given that the top three was filled with members of his own team that may not be the best data point to use here. I don’t think he’s the equal of Dumoulin on the flat or on the hill, so it’s for second he’ll be racing. He’s more than capable of beating Froome.
Behind these three, they’re racing for scraps. Tony Martin recognises this, and is acting against it with the time-honoured tradition of having a good old complain. Wilco Kelderman is a good outsider, but realistically can’t make up his shortages on flat ground when the road rises. Primoz Roglic and Vasil Kiryienka are more balanced, but the idea of them beating Dumoulin is more than a little incongruous. The same goes for Bob Jungels. The hill puts paid to the chances of Küng, Castroviejo, Mullen, Bodnar and Campanaerts — if the cream rises to the top, something has to sink.
So, my podium is:
- Tom Dumoulin
- Rohan Dennis
- Chris Froome
Am I wrong?