The elite men's team time trial at the Bergen Road World Championships is expected to be a battle between some of the biggest teams in the WorldTour, with Team Sky tipped as favourites for a first ever victory thanks to their powerful line-up that includes Vuelta a España winner Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and former individual time trial champion Vasil Kiryienka.
Team Sky, BMC, Quick-Step Floors, Orica-Scott, LottoNL-Jumbo and Team Sunweb stand out on the start list of 17 teams that will race the 42.5km course from the island of Ravnanger to central Bergen. Such is the strength of the big six teams that many of their WorldTour rivals have opted to miss the team time trial.
Marco Pinotti is again the brains behind BMC's bid for the prestigious world title. The multiple Italian national time trial champion has always applied a scientific approach to time trials and BMC have won a medal in five of the six editions of the trade team time trial format that was introduced in 2012.
Team Sky has only ever won a bronze medal, in Florence in 2013, but Pinotti is wary of their combined strength this year. Team Sky has selected Froome, Thomas and Kiryienka plus Gianni Moscon and Michal Kwiatkowski – both current national time trial champions in Italy and Poland – as well as Owain Doull, who won a gold medal on the track at the Rio Olympic Games.
"If Team Sky don't win, they've got to be angry. On paper their line-up is the strongest team, it's monstrous," Pinotti said in admiration.
"They've got Froome and Moscon, who finished the Vuelta on form, plus the other guys. I know Thomas is coming back from injury but who wouldn't want him in their line-up?"
Pinotti spoke in praise of Team Sky but without fear. BMC can count on Rohan Dennis, Silvan Dilier, Stefan Küng, Daniel Oss, Australian road race champion Miles Scotson and Tejay van Garderen. The American was a late call up and replaced Manuel Quinziato after the Italian opted not to race one last time in his career due to the sheer difficulty of the Bergen course.
Pinotti knows that it is the combined strength of the six riders that makes the difference in team time trials.
He travelled to Bergen to study the TTT course earlier this year and has followed the riders' training and build-up to the world championships. He has calculated the effect of the rolling road along the coast in the opening 20 kilometres, has worked out how the riders must tackle the 1.4-kilometre climb of Birkelundsbakken after 30 kilometres, and the need for focus and lucidity in the final twisting roads in Bergen, which include a sector of city-centre cobbles.
Riders faced a headwind on much of the course during training on Saturday but the wind direction is expected to change and become a tail wind for the race on Sunday afternoon.
"This course means this year's race is wide open, it's not just BMC versus Quick-Step Floors," Pinotti predicted.
"I think that Team Sunweb, Team Sky and LottoNL-Jumbo will be fighting for the medals. The climb makes it harder then previous editions of the team time trial but it's still a fast course and the average speed will be well over 50kmh. You can power over much of the rolling road but it'll be vital to balance your pace. You also need something left for the final kilometres when cornering at speed as a team can mean gaining or losing precious seconds."
Only BMC and Quick-Step Floors have ever won the world title. Pinotti refuses to talk about BMC's chances of equalling Quick-Step Floors' third title for superstitious reasons. But he is quietly confident they will again challenge for a medal of some colour.
He picks Team Sunweb as an outside bet.
"If I were a bookmaker and trying to win as much as possible, I'd go for Sunweb," he said.
"They rode well in the Vuelta TTT and stopped two riders during the Vuelta [Sam Oomen and Lennard Kamna] to rest up for this event. Tom Dumoulin didn't ride the Vuelta and prepared especially for the time trials. They're the big outsiders."
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