Team Sunweb and Boels Dolmans went into the 2018 UCI Road World Championships as the outright favourites to win the title in the team time trial on Sunday, but as Canyon-SRAM stormed to a surprise victory, the two powerhouse Dutch teams were left to ponder what went wrong.
“It’s a little bit funny how sometimes surprises can work out to your advantage in an event like this,” said Coryn Rivera, who formed part of Sunweb’s squad. “That was Sunweb last year, we were the surprise winners - this year it’s Canyon-SRAM.”
Boels Dolmans won the world title in Doha in 2016 and have primarily been the team to beat in the discipline until last year's World Championships in Bergen where Sunweb crossed the finish line with the fastest time and won the title.
Sunweb lined up as the defending champions, prepared to face the longer distance, as this Worlds route was 54.5km from Otztal to Innsbruck. Many of the participating teams also brought their most powerful riders who could do well across the mostly flat circuit.
Canyon-SRAM’s team of Alena Amialiusik, Elena Cecchini, Lisa Klein, Trixi Worrak and sisters Alice and Hannah Barnes started their race just ahead of Sunweb and Boels. They finished the race with all six riders in a winning time of 1:01:46, just over 21 seconds faster than runner-up Boels Dolmans and 28 seconds faster than third-placed team Sunweb.
“It made a big difference that we had six riders finishing the team time trial,” Worrak told Cyclingnews. “Our plan was to have as many riders finish as possible. It helps keep the speed high, and generally makes a big, overall difference.”
It was Canyon-SRAM’s fifth world title in the discipline, having secured titles under their previous sponsors: Specialized-lululemon (2012-2014) and Velocio-SRAM (2015). Despite their collection of titles, this victory came as a surprise because they haven’t won a team time trial this season.
In fact, throughout the 2018 Women’s WorldTour, it has been Sunweb and Boels Dolmans who have clashed, racing neck-to-neck in nearly every team time trial event. Sunweb won at the Giro Rosa, Ladies Tour of Norway and Madrid Challenge, while Boels Dolmans won at the Healthy Ageing Tour and PostNord Vargarda West Sweden.
Boels Dolmans’ rolled to the starting ramp with Anna van der Breggen, Chantal Blaak, Christine Majerus, Amy Pieters, Karol Ann Canuel and Amalie Dideriksen, in what was regarded as a tough team to beat.
“We trained a lot for the team time trial during the last few weeks, and it was really nice to do this race with the team,” Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews. “It went smoothly today, and we trained hard, but I think Canyon-SRAM had a great day.
“I don’t know what they did differently, but our tactic was to try and stay as long as possible with six riders and to use each other's strengths in the right places. No, we didn’t win, but that means we should have gone faster – it’s the simple solution – I think we did well as a team.”
Both Sunweb and Boels Dolmans lost two riders, only finishing with four, but Van der Breggen didn’t think that played a significant factor in the outcome of the race.
“It didn’t make too much of a difference to our performance today,” she said. “If you lose a rider in the beginning, yes, it would have made a difference, but we lost ours at the very end and after many pulls. I don't think that makes the difference in the end.”
Sunweb started the race as the defending champions, hoping to secure a second world title with a team that included Rivera along with Ellen Van Dijk, Leah Kirchmann, Pernille Mathiesen, Lucinda Brand and Liane Lippert. They had a slower start, but Rivera said they were pacing their efforts given the long distance of the race.
“I honestly can’t say off the top of my head that we did anything wrong,” Rivera said. “I think we were behind on the first time split, and that’s time that has already been lost. Maybe if we could have minimized that early loss a bit better, it would have been closer.
“It’s hard to say, though, because if we went out harder, we might have been hanging on for dear life in the end or we would have exploded. Our pacing was a little bit off, but honestly, Canyon-SRAM just did better than we did. It’s that simple.”
This year marks the end of the trade team time trial at the World Championships as the UCI announced this summer that they would replace it with a national team version next year - making Canyon-SRAM the final champions.