Four riders in search of three podium places. No, it’s not a Pirandello play, it’s the world championships and Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara, Bradley Wiggins and Taylor Phinney are all aiming for the rainbow jersey.
It’s always a fine test but Wednesday’s race promises one of the best contests in years with several big names stating this is a major goal, all whilst a cast of outsiders are waiting to take their chance too.
The same as the men’s team time trial course, it’s 57.9km from the spa town of Montecatini Terme to Firenze. The course is flat and fast with exposed sections and long roads to make the Romans proud only broken by a few bridges for elevation. If anything aiming for the motorbike in front matters, a chance to scoop the maximum draft possible before the race comes into Firenze with a few corners.
What can stop Tony Martin? A puncture, an off-day? He won the worlds in 2011 and 2012 and if he’s technically proficient for a varied course, his main strength is pure power, the ability to turn a huge gear at high speed. The bookmakers have him as the first choice with his odds near even. He’s the riding machine, nicknamed Der Panzerwagen for his ability to crush the competition. He’ll be deploying a 58T chainring today although note this is all about technical efficiency because using, say, 53×11 means the chain runs at a slight diagonal angle and therefore costs watts, use 58×12 and the chain is less bent; also the act of curling the chain over a smaller chainring is again a tiny extra energy cost.
Bradley Wiggins will find the course to his liking. Some were wowing at his skills in the Tour of Britain but look again at the video and you can see the Sojasun ride he passed gain ground on him in the corners and for all the relief at the win, it was only a 2.1 stage race against modest opponents. Now there will be no wet roads, yet alone pesky corners but a rainbow jersey and a gold medal awaits if he can beat the world’s best. Plus Wiggins has been training specifically for the effort and distance, telling L’Equipe he’s been training for 65 minute efforts and that he’s in the form of his life for the time trial. He’s got the better of Tony Martin in the Olympics but that was with the German’s cracked wrist. Still if I had to pick between Martin and Wiggins, maybe I’d go for the latter and Wiggo offers more value to those betting.
Fabian Cancellara used to be the king of time trials but he’s been deposed by Martin in recent years. Yet he’s abdicated the throne by choice too, after all once you’ve won the title four times plus won Olympic gold you look for new goals. He’s reputedly been losing weight to he can win the road race this Sunday. I don’t know what his weight is but visibly he is looking very lean. A lack of brute power might cost him but he got the better of Tony Martin in the Vuelta’s time trial recently – finally breaking a run of losses against Martin that had lasted since 2010 – although this was on a hilly course where his reported leaner build was a greater advantage. When everything is going right he’s superb technically but this course doesn’t give him the chance to put those skills to work.
Taylor Phinney is probably the fourth of the main contenders. He’s local as he’s adopted Tuscany as his European home in the season and the course is a popular motorpacing route. But local knowledge doesn’t count for much on a course like this as it avoids the hills and twisting secondary roads; plus he’s probably not embedded enough to get roared on by the locals. But he’s been knocking on the door for some time and this race has been a major goal. A medal prospect more than a world champion.
Now for the outsiders, I think they’d all sign now for the bronze medal. The four above are strong so this could be a race for what some Europeans call the “chocolate medal” for fourth place, a reference to those fake coins and medallions containing chocolate inside. But this is sport and surprises are welcome.
Richie Porte has had a very long season, riding shotgun with Chris Froome for much of the year, go back to his win in Paris-Nice but he’s an expert in the time trials and comes fresh from a strong ride in the team time trial. Sylvain Chavanel is very strong and looked good in the recent GP de Wallonie and the course suits his forceful style although he seems better at shorter efforts when he has to go into the red rather than a steady pacing effort. OPQS team mate Michał Kwiatkowski is here to learn and I think we could see more of him in the road race instead.
Alex Dowsett now rates alongside other big contenders after his Giro stage win but he’s been ill of late and wasn’t riding as well as he wanted in the Tour of Britain, even if he’s better it’s hard to imagine him recovering lost time but then who predicted he’d beat Wiggins in the Giro? Talking of unpredictable results, Vasil Kiriyenka‘s third place last year means he can’t be overlooked. Adriano Malori won the Tour of Bavaria earlier this year thanks to his TT skills but the powerhouse from Parma has not been inform of late, perhaps Italians should watch Marco Pinotti. He was on course for a result last year before he crashed out, this could be his valedictory ride.
Finally a shout to Syria’s Nasir Jaser, because if Wiggins and Martin are the talk of the town, the field contains a Coubertinian range of riders from Andorra to Eritrea and you’ll find the full startsheet online as a PDF.
Weather: mild and sunny with temperatures around the 25°C mark. There will be a breeze blowing from the west-southwest at 15-20km/h but it could gust to 27km/h in the afternoon. It means a three quarters tailwind for much of the way.
TV: racing begins soon after 1.00pm Euro time with Tony Martin last off at 3.12pm and the finish expected for an hour later. Check your host broadcaster, see the UCI channel on Youtube or cyclingfans.com will serve up a pirate feed.