World Team Time Trial Preview

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.

Team Size
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.

The distinctive logo

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.
The Course

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:

  • Specialized-lululemon
  • Rabo-Liv Giant
  • Orica-AIS

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

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.

37 thoughts on “World Team Time Trial Preview”

  1. This event should be dropped from the World Championships or run by Country, not by Pro Team. The Pro Teams have all year to battle it out, so Worlds has always been a welcome change to this with the nations competition.

    • The main reason for holding the event is to expand the World Champs and get more TV money for the UCI. The UCI wants the race and the only way to host it is to let the Pro Teams compete otherwise they wouldn’t want to release their riders.

      Also, what kind of prize would a national TTT give? A little emblem on the jersey of an assortment of riders across half a dozen different teams? What meaning would that hold to the sport to have your TTT champions spread across the peloton and potentially competing against each other?

      I don’t think it’s a particularly bad thing to hold the race but I agree that it doesn’t really add anything to the World Champs other than to extend them and make the UCI a little bit more money.

  2. If the winners wear the special logo from 1st Jan to 31st Dec does that mean OPQS could get beaten on Sunday but continue to wear the champions logo?

    • Can’t see such an event doing anything for gender equality.

      Flat TTs are the event where the gap in absolute power outputs between the elite men and elite women would be most obvious; the best women TTers in the world would struggle to hang on the wheels of the best men if it was windy, let alone contribute any work.

  3. The “1 January till 31 December” bit is somewhat disturbing.
    I’d have guessed it’s rather from the TTT WC day to the day before the TTT WC the following year ?

    • It could be to save the incoming and outgoing TTT champions the cost – and the logistics – of having to change the complete wardrobe of jerseys of every single rider in their squad at little or no notice. It’s much easier to change one rider’s jerseys as happens for the individual champions.

  4. I watched some of the warm up rides this morning through the center of Firenze, an impressive finishing circuit through the world heritage site.

    I think the TTT is a good thing, but I would prefer a country based competition. The argument that the pro’s don’t have time to practice as a country I think is weak. Most pro’s know how to ride a TTT and with a few days preperation a country team could be ready.

    A bit like the track team pursuit, the event would then favour nations with a team of good, even ability riders that have prepared well. Or in the case of Germany they just need five riders that can hang onto Tony Martin for 60km!

    • Since the time is taken on the fourth rider, Germany just needs 3 riders (or 4 in case of accidents) that can hang onto Tony. The other two can drop off whenever they Fancy.

  5. What happens if one of the riders on the winning team TTT is found to have used illegal performance enhancing drugs, lets say next week in the WC road race?

    Do they DQ the whole team, and all lose the “patch”?

  6. 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.

    So if you are the world ITT champ, you wear your rainbow jersey in the ITT in the Tour or the Vuelta, but in a TTT you wear your ordinary team skinsuit like the rest of your team ?

    But what about National TT champs – is Dowsett, say, (or Rowsell in the womens’) allowed to wear the UK TT champs jersey in both ITT’s & TTT’s ?

  7. Hi inrng,

    I know you often talk about making the TV coverage of time trails better; have you seen any of the America’s Cup sailing this year? The TV coverage, with live overlays of GPS information, is excellent and has made a sport that was once often incomprehensible on TV very watchable. I think cycling could learn a few tricks.

    • Hi, several people have been saying this and it looks like an avenue worth exploring for the sport. There’s no purer test than a time trial… but there’s rarely anything exciting to watch in a time trial apart from the time checks. Knowing the time, speed and more in real time all around the course could be a new way to watch this.

  8. The America’s Cup has provided cycling with a glimpse of what future broadcasts will look like once ASO/UCI/RCS decide to move in to the 21st century. If it can make yachting exciting…

    Real-time, superimposed telemetry along with environmental overlays such as wind & current flows and live “dirty air” graphics (which would be perfect to illustrate drafting benefits) show cycling what is possible. This technology would be great not only for road races but also for TTs with all sort of ghost bikes & real-time speed/power comparisons possible.

    • Note it’s not for the race owners to produce the TV images but the host broadcasters in France, Italy etc. They have thought about on-bike cams but these have been banned by the UCI and a working group has taken two years to allow a trial experiment the other day in the World Ports Classic. Otherwise France Télévisions and RAI are conservative broadcasters with production styles that seem dated for all sports, eg football or tennis, and innovation comes slowly.

      • -“They have thought about on-bike cams but these have been banned by the UCI”

        Do we know what the reasoning behind this ban is? It seems like something that would add to the TV appeal of an event. Obviously all the riders would have to have a camera so nobody gets an unfair (dis)advantage. (Plus it would be great on downhill mountain biking, which is a sort of fancy TT.)

        • The main thing was races selling the broadcast rights to a TV channel but teams were filming the race from the inside and this footage is not part of the package paid for and were deemed to be unapproved images.

          • I can see the logic behind that, but it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to come up with an agreement where the broadcaster provides the equipment for on-bike filming and then owns the copyright on the footage. It seems a bit like they’ve introduced a rule without fully thinking through its impact.

          • F1 do it that way. Each car has the housing as part of the spec of the car and the host broadcaster either places a live camera or a dummy in the housing based on who they want to film. I.e. leading contenders, local favourites etc.

            If F1, the most comercially complex sport going, can manage this then it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the UCI (although it helps that a lot of the TV production for F1 is done in house)

            It would be a much better use of their resources than putting stickers onto wheels.

      • Was that experiment footage live? What technologies are they using to transfer the feed?

        If it’s based on 3G network, the package (camera + transmission) could be quite light. However, it would be difficult to get a stable image as signal strength fluctuates and the stuff would be quite battery hungry.

        The HTC experiment in the 2010 Tour was only transmitting GPS and other performance datas. So the amount of data transmission is minimal compared to if you are actually trying to send live feed. Also, if the whole peloton got these cameras on board, even if the network can stand the data flow, it would be a hell for the editor to sort through all the feeds.

      • Aha, that makes more sense. I assume those host broadcasters are state-owned companies, not exactly known for their take-up of cutting edge new technologies or new business practices.

        I wont be holding my breath for better coverage of the Tour anytime soon then.

  9. 2 years ago onboard cameras were used in the Copenhagen 6 days on select riders. The organiser thought it a great idea and so did the website providing the cameras for streaming.
    As an experiment it was great for experience but for the viewer it made for some really really boring pictures.
    You will need the possibility to work on zoom, focus and aperture and perhaps the shutter speed (if that even has any meaning with modern digicamcorders) otherwise everything just blurs past the lens.
    And if not blur the image of risers in front of the camera was just a wheel, legs moving and his behind. No real sense of feeling, expression, speed, tactics, immediate attacks, relays – basically just boring images.
    It might seem like a great idea but I don’t think the technique and hardware are ready for it yet.

  10. Beyond the on bike stuff, why not superimpose over the images for the ‘primetime’ show? Load the follow vehicles with wind gauges or whatever, download it and superimpose the on road conditions if doing it live isn’t quite practical. Show the wind and the draft when the race blows open into echelons. Superimpose the TT’s thru fun sections like you see in ski racing…lots could be done even without on bike gear…but then you might lose some of the tradition of Phil & Paul chatting about castles and historic pastures.

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