The team time trials gave us a good look as to what's ahead at the UCI road World Championships this week
It’s very hot in Doha
The thermometers were pushing above 35 degrees Celsius in the Doha area and it certainly affected some of the riders. Some argue that it’s no warmer than the start of the Vuelta a España this year, but I’m sure many would agree that the dry heat of the Qatar desert is slightly different from the heat of Galicia.
The women had the worst of the heat in their team time trial, with several teams losing riders who went too hard too early in the conditions. Worryingly, though, there were many riders who almost rode themselves off their bikes in the sweltering conditions.
In fact, Anouska Koster of Rabo-Liv seemed to faint on her bike at one point, lost control and crashed hard into the barriers at the side of the road.
It looked slightly cooler for the men’s race later in the afternoon, but riders were still pouring bottles of water over themselves to cool down at the end and were looking generally shattered by their efforts.
Etixx-Quick Step save their best for the World Championships
Etixx-Quick Step are quite a strange entity in the team time trial world – they’ve won three world titles, but rarely show off this dominance during the biggest races in the regular season.
Since winning their last World Championships title in 2013, Etixx have won three team time trials, at Tirreno-Adriatico (2014), the Czech Tour (2015) and Tour de San Luis (2016) – just one of them a WorldTour event.
The Belgian team have a wealth of time trial talent at their disposal, but in recent seasons it has been Orica-BikeExchange who have dominated the TTTs in the Grand Tours, winning consecutive opening stages at the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and 2015, as well as the Tour de France TTT in 2013.
Such has been their dominance in the sprint stages in recent years, Etixx rarely seem to take their best time triallists to the Grand Tours that have a TTT. Indeed, the team finished seventh on stage nine of the 2015 Tour with a team set up to deliver Mark Cavendish to stage wins.
But there’s no doubting their prowess at the World Championships, once again igniting their rivalry against the clock with BMC, who just couldn’t find any way to go faster than the Belgians.
Canyon-SRAM are beatable
The men’s race has only had two different winners in the last five years, but before Sunday there had only been one winning team of the women’s TTT.
Canyon-SRAM is technically a new team for 2016, but it’s pretty much the same squad as the Velocio-SRAM team that dissolved at the end of the 2015 season – the team that won each Worlds TTT since 2012 in their various incarnations.
But Boels-Dolmans had shown their progression in the discipline this season, winning three of the four TTTs on the women’s circuit this season and going into the Worlds as favourites in many people’s books.
The Dutch team, with Britain’s Lizzie Deignan on board, dominated the 40km course on Sunday, managing the searing heat and crosswinds of the desert well to beat Canyon-SRAM by a full 48 seconds.
The wind could have an effect on the road races
The first half of the team time trials took place around the Lusail Sports Complex on the outskirts of the city – not quite in the middle of the desert, but it exhibited similar conditions.
Not only was it incredibly hot, there were also strong winds for the riders to deal with. Again, the women seemed to suffer the worst of the conditions, with one or two of the teams losing a rider early doors after they couldn’t get back on having lost contact in the winds.
Several times we saw a rider pull off the front after a hard turn and slip straight out of the back of the train. Sometimes the riders shouted to their colleagues to slow down while they caught up, and sometimes they just couldn’t get back to the group.
With the men’s road race scheduled to include 150km through the desert before heading to the finishing circuit there is ample opportunity for the peloton to split. Once the split occurs, it would be hard for the dropped riders to salvage their hopes of winning.
British women got some silverware
Britain had riders on all three steps of the podium in the women’s TTT, something that no other nation could boast.
Lizzie Deignan took gold with Boels-Dolmans, Hannah Barnes claimed silver with Canyon-SRAM and Ciara Horne took bronze in her first race with Cervélo-Bigla.
Horne’s was perhaps the most surprising, but possibly sealed by the troubles Rabo-Liv had getting four riders across the line.
Horne was in Rio as part of the victorious women’s team pursuit in Rio but didn’t actually take to the track in competition. She signed with Cervélo-Bigla at the start of September and went straight into the TTT squad.
She suffered the same fate as several riders who had been training for the Olympics all season – going from training for a 4km effort to racing a 40km TTT resulted in her dropping off before the end, but her team continued her good work from the start to finish third.