This Sunday sees the UCI World Championships start with the team time trial. If a team time trial isn’t new, the format is still a novelty at the worlds after it was introduced last year.
Here’s a quick explainer of what is involved, why there’s no rainbow jersey for the winners and how it’s very different from the team time trials we might see in a stage race. Plus a quick look at the contenders for Sunday in the men’s and women’s races.
The worlds this year are in Florence, in the central region of Tuscany in Italy. Or the city Firenze in the region of Toscana in Italian. Tuscany is one of the main regions for cycling in Italy with a long list of champions (Bartali, Cipollini, Bettini et al).
Pro Team Time Trial
Unlike the time trial and road races which have national teams, the team time trial is for pro trade teams, for example Garmin-Sharp and Vacansoleil-DCM. The 18 UCI WorldTour teams are obliged to ride and then the following squads are invited:
- 20 from the UCI Europe Tour
- Five each from the Asia and America Tours
- One from Africa and one from Oceania
- 20 Womens’ teams
Each team qualifies for invitation based on their position in the various UCI rankings as of 15 August. But these are invitations and some have not travelled.
As we often see in a stage race there are big gaps between the top teams and the others but here the differences will be huge. It is nice to see teams coming from all around the world but they have no chance against the established World Tour teams.
There are six riders per team, meaning a smaller size when compared to, say, nine for last July’s team time trial in Nice for the Tour de France. Also the time taken is usually on the fifth rider but for the worlds, with the smaller teams, the time will be taken on the fourth rider.
A smaller team means a different kind of race. In a stage race a large squad can carry a few weak riders – for example climbers who will shine elsewhere – in the slipstream but go down to six riders and there’s little room to hide and of course here the aim is to pick the strongest six rather than carry anyone for the sprints or mountains. It remains a technical drill where practice and perfection count for a lot but with six riders it will come down to the individual power of the riders much more than the collective power.
No Rainbow Jersey
There’s no rainbow jersey. Instead the team gets “the distinctive logo” for the following year and this is not for the six riders on the day, it is shared with the whole team. Here’s the UCI rulebook:
The world champion team of the UCI Team Time Trial shall wear the distinctive logo on their jerseys in all road events from 1 January until 31 December in the year following the World Championship event. The world champion in the individual time trial is not authorised to wear the world champion’s jersey during team trial events.
The world champion team of the UCI Team Time Trial shall wear the distinctive logo on their jerseys in all road events from 1 January until 31 December in the year following the World Championship event.
So teams will get a special logo for their jersey and this will be worn in all events the following year, not just time trials but ordinary road races and everyone racing in the team jersey. If a rider leaves the team then they don’t get anything for next year. Indeed theoretically it’s possible for the six riders who win the title on Sunday to leave the team over the winter but the squad will wear the logo the following year. It’s a complicated notion that has had loyal readers regularly posing the question.
Team time trials go back to the 1920s when the Tour de France was a team time trial with teams starting separately from each other with the aim to complete the stage as fast as they could but this was dropped by 1929 after the race was dominated by a handful of strong teams. Since then individual stages have seen a team time trial.
There used to be a four man time trial in the Worlds and Olympics from the 1960s until the early 1990s (pictured above). It had the reputation as one of the most painful sports events in the world. It was an ideal recruitment ground for pro teams as any rider capable of pulling for 100km made fine domestiques and lead out riders.
The UCI has long tried to push the team time trial as a stand-alone race. When the UCI Pro Tour was created in 2005 a special team trial round was added to the calendar. The brainchild of then UCI President Hein Verbruggen, it was held in the Dutch city of Eindhoven and if you’d forgotten about it or never heard of it then don’t worry, it was a failure and quickly forgotten. Lacking the strategic importance within a stage race, the event was dull and few teams took it seriously. As soon as Eindhoven’s contract ended, the UCI said it would hold the event elsewhere but could not find a willing municipality. The event vanished, only to resurface as part of the worlds.
As race promoter, the UCI gains extra TV revenue from increased broadcast hours but the jury is out whether it’s a success or not.
There’s talk of gender parity in the UCI but the opening event shows a shorter course for women. The women’s race starts at 10.00 and is held over a 42.8km km from Pistoia to Firenze. Pistoia is Europe’s horticultural hub with thousands upon thousands of trees and bushes growing in rows, ready for sale to gardens, office parks and municipalities across Europe. The course is as flat as the profile suggests with a bridge over a small drainage channel as high as it gets. This is flat and with few corners along the way until the finish, a route to suit teams able to cruise at a high speed where powerful riders can take long turns. The road has been freshly surfaced to make it even faster.
The men’s race is from 2.00pm with a 57.2km course starting in the spa town of Montecatini Terme to pass by Pistoia and then pick up the road to Firenze used early by the women’s squads. Again this is a flat course with few bends, it’s all about power. It’s a contrast to Stage 2 of the Giro this year where riders had to climb well and take risks on the corners, power was primordial but all the other skills mattered a lot. The same with last year’s worlds in Valkenburg, the course was hilly and teams needed to marshal their forces over the sharp climbs. Sunday’s route does away with a lot of this.
The most technical part is the shared arrival in Florence where the route heads straight into the city centre and passing several landmarks there are some tight corners and a railway bridge to finish by the Nelson Mandela Forum in the city’s sports complex.
The Contenders: teams have until 4.00pm on Saturday to announce their six riders but most squads have announced their riders although the roster can change. For the men’s race I see four prime picks:
- Defending champions Omega Pharma-Quickstep come with Tony Martin, Sylvain Chavanel, Michał Kwiatkowski, Niki Terpstra, Kristof Vandewalle and Peter Velits. Tony Martin is worth two men but accompanied by Chavanel, Kwiatkowski and Terpstra they’re very suited to this long course. If you watched the GP Wallonie during the week you’d have seen Kwiatkowski and Chavanel at the front end of the race whilst Terpstra was showing his form in the recent GP Québec
- BMC Racing have Taylor Phinney on the roads of his adopted home in Italy and is joined by compatriot Tejay van Garderen. They have Manuel Quinziato, valuable rouleur Stephen Cummings who’s had a quiet year, big Daniel Oss and even bigger Michael Schär
- Orica-Greenedge are powered by Luke Durbridge and Svein Tuft and joined by Daryl Impey, Brett Lancaster, Jens Mouris and Michael Hepburn. The team’s DNA is in the track pursuit and they’ll be tested over the long distance
- Radioshack-Leopard are the other choice with Fabian Cancellara.
Others to watch include Saxo-Tinkoff with Nicolas Roche, Michael Rogers backed by useful riders like Daniele Bennati and Manuele Boaro. Movistar are often underrated for this discipline but Rui Costa, Castroviejo, Herrada, Amador, Ruben Plaza and ex-track rider Teruel are fast, although they’d benefit from a hillier route. Belkin don’t have their strongest team on paper but still have some quick riders. Meanwhile Team Sky have yet to announce their six riders, you can imagine a strong team with Chris Froome, Vasil Kiriyenka but they’ll miss Bradley Wiggins and Ian Stannard who are busy in Britain. Finally Astana don’t field Vincenzo Nibali but Kangert, Grivko, Brajkovic and Fuglsang give them an outside chance at the podium.
For the women’s race it looks like there are three main teams:
- Rabo-Liv Giant
We saw the same order of results in the women’s Open de Suède Vårgårda team time trial a month ago. I’d like to write more but as of Friday evening there’s no startlist on the race website nor over at the ever useful ProCyclingStats.com
Weather: sunny and warm but with a 20km/h breeze blowing from the north-east which could spice things up a bit.
TV: the broadcasting rights have been sold to various channels so you need to look up what is local to you. The men’s race should be live from 2.20pm Euro time onwards.