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Leah Kirchmann: Sunny Sunweb Sunday

Nobody predicted that the sun would shine for the World Championships in rainy Bergen. However, on Sunweb Sunday, the sun shone brightly and there were even some double rainbows. What does this mean?

I am of course referring to Team Sunweb's double World Championship team time trial victory, where everyone was taken by surprise when both the men's and women's teams emerged victorious. For a team that truly values the collective over the individual, this total team victory could not be more fitting.

The TTT is both a beautiful and demanding discipline in cycling. It is beautiful in that it takes a perfect team effort to ride a fast race. You are only as strong as the weakest link, so you must figure out how to collectively use each other's strengths to ride well as a team. The race is also special because the entire team is celebrated on the podium, while the individual is celebrated in most other road cycling events.

The TTT is a demanding discipline requiring mental and physical sharpness. The margin for error is very small, so the pressure heading into a race is immense. Everyone is riding inches apart at maximum effort in the aero position, hands far from the brakes, trusting the wheel of the teammate in front of them. One mistake can undo months of training and preparation. I experienced this the hard way in 2015 when my team suffered a devastating crash the day before the world championship race in Richmond. Never wanting to repeat that unfortunate experience again, I focused on all of the things I could control to have a strong and safe race with the team in Bergen.

Our team went into worlds thinking a medal was possible if we executed a good race, but none of us predicted winning. We had a few decent TTT results during the season - 3rd in the Giro TTT, 3rd in the Healthy Ageing tour, and 4th in Sweden, the last indicator of the true contenders for worlds. Sweden was not the best performance for the team, but the race offered us some valuable lessons in our final preparations.

In the end, we didn't just have a great ride in Bergen, we rode the perfect race. We were fast and steady throughout the entire 42.5 km course. Nobody had a bad day on the bike, and we were all capable of using our individual strengths to power the team in the most productive way possible.

Technically speaking, the race could not have gone better. We heard over the radio at one point that all the split times were within 10 seconds with the other teams. Knowing this was certainly motivating, but we kept focused on riding our own best race without letting other teams dictate our strategy. Our pacing was so good we won the race in the final 10 kilometers with enough power left for us to sprint the final meters to the finish line.

The minutes sitting in the hot seat and waiting for the last teams to arrive were agonizing, I could barely watch. All the time gaps with the final teams were so close that nothing was guaranteed. Finally when the time counted to zero as the final team and defending champions Boels-Dolmans rounded the last corner we realized that we were world champions!

Later that day, the men made it a historic day by winning their race in the same dramatic fashion. Both our teams were considered underdogs heading into the race, and then we both emerged as world champions!

It is not a coincidence that the stars aligned for both teams last Sunday. The teams prepared in exactly the same way, shared the same resources and inspired each other along the way.

From the start of the season, the team prepared by collaborating and sharing knowledge between programs. Everything immediately leading up to the race was the same. We flew to Bergen as one team, shared the bus, followed the same training schedule, and ate meals together. The soigneurs, mechanics and coaches worked together. Both directors followed both races, sharing their knowledge and expertise along the way. We followed the same pacing plan in the race.

If you look to how the races played out, it is not a coincidence that both teams won in the same way, and by almost the same margin (8 seconds for the men, 12 seconds for the women). We were both behind at the split at the top of the climb, but then used our strengths to win back time on the descent and through the technical finale, hitting the final sections still going strong.

An often-overlooked value of multiple programs within a team structure is the added source of inspiration. I have been inspired by the Team Sunweb U23 and WorldTour men's teams this season as they excel in cycling's biggest events. I know for a fact that the men also draw inspiration from the success of the women's program, especially in the case of the worlds TTT.

Some staff from Team Canada were watching the women's race with the Sunweb men at the hotel lobby the morning of our race. Their comment to me afterwards was that the Sunweb guys went quiet and the attitude of the entire team instantly changed the moment they saw us win. Suddenly the bar was set very high for them. They had prepared the same way as us, so there was a real possibility that they too, could be world champions. And then they were.

This day was a perfect example of what the future of cycling could look like. On this day both races received the same live coverage, we raced the same distance for equal prize money, and fans were treated to equally entertaining races. I dream of the day where more teams will run parallel professional men's and women's World Tour programs, and where races treat all the events as equally important and entertaining.

I am still smiling thinking back to that historic double rainbow, sunny Sunweb Sunday in Norway. I don't know how the team is going to top this season, but I can't wait to see what 2018 will bring. 

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Growing up in Winnipeg, Canada it was always my dream to race in Europe. Two years ago, my dream came true. In this, and future posts, I will be giving you insight into my experiences racing in the European peloton with Team Sunweb.