The Worlds Team Time Trial Explained

This Sunday sees a new event in the UCI World Championships, the team time trial. It’s new and relatively unknown and also very different from the usual team time trials we might see in a stage race.

Here’s a quick explainer of what is involved and why there’s no rainbow jersey for the winners.

The worlds this year are in Limburg, in the southern part of the Netherlands, the hilly part known to cycling fans because of the Amstel Gold Race. Indeed the Cauberg climb used for the finish of the Amstel is central to the events this month too. The duration of the worlds is extended because this weekend sees the team time trial introduced ahead of the normal programme of events, with time trials and road races.

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. In total we will see:

  • 18 UCI WorldTour teams
  • 10 from the UCI Europe Tour
  • Five each from the Asia and America Tours
  • 1 from Africa and 1 from Oceania

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 it will be painful to watch them get blown away by the big-budget pro teams.

Team Size
There are six riders per team, meaning a smaller size when compared to, say, nine for next 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 is taken on the fourth rider.

A smaller team means a different kind of race. A large squad can carry a few weak riders in the slipstream but down to six riders and there’s little room to hide. 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. I salute the TV commentators who will have to explain this again and again next year.

Quite what the “distinctive logo” will be remains to be seen, presumably a play on the rainbow stripes trademarked by the UCI.

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 made an ideal recruiting tool 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 it’s because it was a failure. 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 and the event vanished, only to resurface as part of the worlds.

We will see how this works out. Even if more racing is good, the precedent is not great. As race promoter, the UCI gains extra TV revenue from increased broadcast hours but we’ll see on Sunday if this is a good event or not.

The Course

The women’s race is from 11.00 – 12.30 over a 34.2 km from the Sittard and Geleen conurbation to Valkenburg with the Cauberg climb at the end. It’s a technical course that twists and turns and if the course runs from north to south, there are sections in various directions meaning teams will need to change formation according to the wind direction. Pacing is vital over the climbs, more so once over the top where too much effort could split the team.

The men’s race is from 1.30-4.40pm with a 53.2km course, still from Sittard and Geleen to Valkenburg but with more climbing added and is lengthy for six riders. It has a some longer straights than the women’s race which will allow for high speed riding but it still has a suburban vibe, a bit like the Olympics.

58 thoughts on “The Worlds Team Time Trial Explained”

  1. It’s a mistake to have commercial teams in the Worlds. If it was a national teams TT, the chances of success would be much bigger. I still don’t understand why the 100km 4-men TT was scrapped from the Olympics, it was a superb, really dramatic event.

  2. Yet again the UCI are not sticking up for women’s cycling. Why are the women not racing 53.2km like the men? Maybe the UCI are concerned that the women might sweat or look too masculine or something.

    Both events should be a good spectacle though without the passengers sometimes present in the TTTs in Grand Tours as everyone will be picked specifically for this event and not for climbing mountains or something later on in the stage race.

    • Most women’s time trials are not 50 km in length. It would almost be cruel to make them ride their longest time trial at Worlds. Having parity at this point would require the other women’s events to provide a comparable length event to let the competitors become accustomed to the event. It would be like having a TTT of 100 km. Not fair.

  3. I don’t see the point of Worlds TTT, it just appears to be a way to earn more money. We already have something like Duo Normand. One could have tinkered and make it Six Normand or something.

  4. Will be interesting to see which teams take this seriously.
    Two thoughts:
    1) There will presumably some guys (and gals) in trade teams who have not made their national team. Is there any rule against this?
    2) Reckon the UCI is using this event as part of the case for a TTT in the Olympics (where IMO it WOULD be seen as prestigous).

  5. Not sure about this one. I’m not opposed in principle, but I think the premise worked much better when you would have national teams riding it, especially when they were amateur. The trade team thing doesn’t fit with how the worlds works either. Unless it’s part of a plan to bring trade teams into the individual road race via the back door – I wouldn’t put anything past Shiny Heini and Pat ‘Pat McQuaid’ McQuaid.

    • It’s an odd event, I suppose that’s why I wanted to look into it more. Writing the piece above – like many items on here – is a way to find out more.

      I think these are fine in a stage race and provide nice TV images and some drama for a day but as a standalone event I’m not sure how it will work. It’s more racing which is good but I’m not sure how exciting it will be. We will have 40 teams in the men’s race but the result is going to come from one of only four or five teams. Plus the idea that the team wears a special logo all next year when its possible the winning six riders and even the coaching staff quit the team is odd.

      • I wonder what the cost is, for the teams? Maybe if you’re a small team with little chance of winning then you take pride in the invitation, but only send the riders, a DS, a mechanic, and box the bikes and wheels up. There are still many other costs and it seems like a non-trivial amount of money that could likely be better spent elsewhere. I assume there’s no national federations helping, it there any financial help from the UCI in the form of profit sharing or the like (that’s hard to believe). Are there UCI points on the table here in the TTT?

  6. This seems a bizarre idea.

    I can imagine Jonathan Vaughters will like it a lot.

    I think for the protour teams to take it seriously, there must be world tour points on offer for the successful teams.

  7. This seems pretty pointless. I don’t like TTTs in stage races so you can imagine how I feel about a stand-alone one at the Worlds.

    I wonder if former winners of the TTT will all get to wear rainbows on their sleeves? Unlikely that that would happen, hope it doesn’t.

  8. Tip: Go to Google image search and drag an image to the search field. Very useful service 🙂
    on topic: Joop Zoetemelk won gold at 1968 Olympics on 100km TTT

  9. On the positive side, it adds excitement to the Worlds event, which I desperately wish I could make this year. The team time trial is beautiful to watch when you can see them for a good length of time, which made the event in the Tour of Utah at Miller Motorsports Park fun to spectate, because you could see the entire course from the grandstands. I wonder if the teams foot the expense bill, and if they feel it’s worth it from that respect, as there are no points, though if they wear the normal kit it’s air-time for their sponsors. Nice piece, thanks for doing this.

  10. This would be great with a 6-man strong national team, where the 6 winners, and the 6 winners only, got a “special logo” on their pro team jersey. Not sure how interested the pro teams would be if there are no points in reward. And I still think only the 6 winners should get the “special logo” to keep, even if they move teams.

    Can’t stop thinking of a superman s as the badge of honour, but then only Jens Voigt could be a worthy winner. And that might be a bit unfair for the 5 others. Jens with 6 x superman s on his jersey 🙂

  11. I understand a lot of the above criticism, but for me TTT events are a joy to watch. Regardless of the improvements that could be made to how the event is held, I am very happy to see this discipline back on the calendar at Worlds.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Visually, it is the most compelling of the cycling disciplines. Let us see more TTT, in any format, be it odd or visionary. I will be tuned in.

  12. To make it more interesting, they should run the event on a four lane motorway and have four teams start side-by-side, 4x style. Watching individual teams is boring. Watching teams compete in real time would be more interesting.

  13. It is not that odd of an idea when you look at the big picture. The UCI have loved the TTT for a long time, before the Eindhoven event, there was one that was part of the old World Cup. Obviously the Eindhoven event didn’t work, but now there is a bigger audience that will be there already, and the UCI is trying one more time.

  14. It’s an interesting concept and should be tried out. Cycling is good in that respect – the calendar changes from time to time. More parity with men’s and women’s events is required though. Has anyone actually asked the women what they want?

    Glad it’s not 100km, that was just a ridiculous distance!

    Great photo at top of the article, I’m guessing ’84 Olympics? A little after that the Italians won the worlds TTT but the riders wore a belt which was secured with a wire to their stem. The theory being that they could push against it when turning their huge gear. The concept was subsequently banned! Tried to find photo but no luck…

  15. I would also say that with a TTT, individual TTs, and RRs for u23, juniors, women and elite men, the road worlds are becoming something of a monster. It is going to start to limit the number of cities/countries that are willing to host them.

    Take the UK for instance. Giving over one city or region for a whole week would go down like a lead balloon. I’d eat my hat if the worlds are ever run here with the present number of races.

  16. No INRNG No INRNG !!! … um, reference the photo 😉
    I doubt they will be riding a single front chainring in this years TTT (unlike the photo) up the Cauberg, and those Adidas shoes on the 3rd rider ?? I so so so so wanted a pair of those back then …
    Thankyou for answering the many questions going thru my head, Mr INRNG … could you please also solicit comment from JV ?? He doesn’t respond to mere mortals :-)$
    I for one loved the 4 man 100km TTT … long and FLAT and fast, a more pure test of human endurance, strength and teamwork in cycling I cannot imagine.

  17. Hate to bring this up!

    What happens if one of the riders on the winning team is caught doping?

    Does everyone have to give up there TTT patch next year?

  18. Ah memories. The 100km was actually incredibly boring. 4 teams up and down a motorway and it was usually over in the first 30km. Maybe it was apocraphyl but one of the criteria for the selection of the Australian team in the 70s and 80s was whether the riders had vomited on their bikes in the race. If they hadn’t, they didnt have the ticker to be selected. Didn’t help. Eastern Europeans dominated and you suspect there was PEDs at work

  19. I think it’s an interesting exercise and should be fun to watch, mainly because of the point-to-point, technical course — more fun than Eindhoven because there’s more at stake.
    I can’t say I’m a fan of the UCI logo thing, though.
    Some interesting comments about national team vs. pro team discussions above. The national team format worked OK for the old amateur version, but there was always a huge discrepancy between the big cycling countries that could afford to have their TTT riders race and train together all year, compared to the smaller countries that cobbled together a team at the last minute.
    No system’s perfect, but I wonder if this is the UCI testing the water to see if the worlds road race could switch to pro teams instead of national teams …
    Anyway, it’ll take a couple of editions to see if the extra costs to the organizers are worth it.
    Looks like Omega Pharma-Quickstep are taking it pretty seriously:

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