Boels Dolmans came into the women's team time trial at the World Championships as the defending champions and the overriding favourites, but it was Team Sunweb who stole the show to win gold, pushing last year's winners into second place.
While Sunweb's victorious six jubilantly celebrated their upset, the Boels squad were left wondering what might have been after leading the race at the top of the final climb. However, on the following descent and the technical run-in to the line Sunweb managed to turn a 15-second deficit into a 12-second lead.
"It's disappointing when you don't bring it home. It sucks," Boels Dolmans' Danny Stam told Cyclingnews as he stood by the team car at the finish.
"We've not yet analysed the finale. In my opinion we were fast but we just weren't fast enough. We made the race how we wanted and we came to the top of the climb where we wanted and with a good group but we lost 12 seconds in the last part and that's a bit sour."
In the first half of the race everything looked on course for a repeat Boels victory. They had no problems with the opening sections along the rolling Norwegian roads, and although they sat second at the first time check (10.5km), there was still plenty of racing still to come.
At the next check (32km) Boels were 15 seconds up on their nearest rivals, had an intact team, and began to stretch their legs as they settled into the familiar position of leading. However, between the summit of the climb and the finish the race began to unravel.
Sunweb began to claw back time and as Boels approached the final kilometre they had real fight on their hands. The 15 seconds they had over their Dutch rivals had now changed, and instead of leading they were chasing the race, sitting 0.2 seconds off Sunweb. By the time they hit the line Boels had lost one rider to a mechanical on the cobbled sector – Amy Pieters – while Christine Majerus was cut adrift too.
"Sunweb are a surprise, yes," Stam said.
"They did a really good job but if you asked people at the start if Sunweb are the favourites I don't think they would have said yes, but they did an extremely good job."
In August, Boels successfully defended their Crescent Vargarda crown, putting 12 seconds into their nearest rivals, while Sunweb finished a massive 1:23 down. Stam dismissed the suggestion of complacency within his camp but it is worth noting that his 2017 is significantly different to won that stormed to victory in Qatar 12 months ago. Elizabeth Deignan is still recovering from surgery, Evelyn Stevens has since retired and Ellen van Dijk has of course moved to Sunweb.
"I don't think so," Stam responded when asked about the possibility of complacency creeping in.
"We know how difficult it is to win a team time trial and you need to look at it day-by-day and from point-to-point. Every team time trial is different and this is new one. It was extremely difficult but we didn't come here saying we would just win this time trial.
"This is the squad that I put down and I have confidence in this squad. It's not secret that we miss Deignan. She's another strong motor but if she's not there, then she's not there and you must deal with making the squad as strong as possible.
"It's two weeks ago, so it's normal not to be in top condition that soon after having your appendix removed."
Whether or not Van Dijk – who now has four gold medals in the event – was the difference is open for speculation but Stam pointed out that the event was won by the strongest team.
"They did a good job. In the end it's about the fourth rider crossing the finish and Sunweb did that better than us."
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