Preparation was key for Etixx-QuickStep as they rode to a record third team time trial world title in Qatar on Sunday. Adapting to the heat has been the biggest challenge for most of the teams at this year's World Championships, with the temperatures closing in on 40 degrees at times.
Boels Dolmans revealed after their race-winning effort that they had spent time in a sauna in the build-up to the competition. There were no saunas for Etixx-QuickStep, but the team made sure to arrive well in advance of the event to give themselves time to practice in the desert.
"They came in on Tuesday, and we did a training camp [in Belgium] before we got here," sporting director Tom Steels told Cyclingnews before stepping on the podium with his team. "It's not only heat. If you have to ride with six riders that are really strong, then you know that with every relay you make the time of recovery is really short.
"The first days we were here were a complete disaster, they lost 20 per cent of their capacity. We saw them improving day by day and general repetition yesterday was ok and today they felt good, everybody was able to go full gas from the beginning until the end, and that's also what you have to do to win this."
The team time trial course was trickier than at first glance and bookending the straight, flat roads were two very technical sections that proved decisive in the result. It was in the sweeping corners of, the artificial island, the Pearl, where Etixx-QuickStep eked out most of their time difference on BMC, who finished second. Steels said that the squad had practiced the course so much that they could have done it without a race vehicle to show them the way. "They knew it by heart, they could have even done it without a car and they went super-fast," he said.
"We did a lot of simulations of the course, the roundabouts, the corners, the relays and that gained us a little bit of time here. We didn't have to invest time into the technique any more that was done so it was all about just giving hitting all of the markers."
BMC has been dominant in the team time trial discipline in recent years, winning the Worlds over the past two seasons and claiming stages at the Tour de France, the Eneco Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Criterium du Dauphine and more.
However, the second place behind BMC at the Eneco Tour gave Etixx-QuickStep a sense that the tide might be about to turn. They went out hard and had three seconds on BMC at the first time check but lost almost all of that by the second. It was almost back to honours even with 13.6-kilometres remaining and they had to dig deep to distance the American squad once again.
Steels - who has directed Etixx-QuickStep at all of the four previous team time trial World Championships - including their victories in 2012 and 2013, said the team had put everything into regaining that top step of the podium. It wasn't easy in the Qatari heat and, the exhaustion was etched on their faces as completed the course with the minimum four riders after dropping Yves Lampaert and Julien Vermote. Steels said afterwards that he had never seen his riders so completely spent at the end of a time trial.
"Even Tony was dead so you know that they gave absolutely everything," he said. "We were only six seconds off at the Eneco Tour and with a full squad, so we knew that we had a chance. Then we invested a lot in adapting to the heat but also in knowing the course.
"They fought until the end and they were able to make a gap on the Pearl, which wasn't easy and even the strongest riders were light at the end. In the last kilometre, Marcel did a long pull to bring them in but I've never seen any of them as dead as they were after the finish."