There was little surprise about the nationality of the newly-crowned world champion, but Marco Mathis was, by some distance, the least heralded of the trio of German riders who placed in the top four of the under-23 time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Doha on Monday afternoon.
The proof, in this instance, was in the contracts. Maximilian Schachmann, who repeated his silver medal from Richmond a year ago, will ride for Etixx-QuickStep in 2017. Fourth-placed Lennard Kamna, bronze in Richmond and junior world champion in Ponferrada, has already signed with Sunweb-Giant next year.
By contrast, Mathis, who has raced for Continental outfit Rad-Net Rose Team for the past four years, has no contract for next season. A rainbow jersey, however surprising, changes his negotiating hand considerably.
"I have no contract for next year, but any WorldTour team is a dream for me. I have had no talks with other teams, so we must see," Mathis said. "I'm very surprised about this victory but I'm very happy. The weather was crazy, crazy hot, but it was a nice race and nice course here in Qatar so I'm very pleased."
Mathis' race almost came undone when he narrowly avoided being side-swiped by an ambulance during his effort, and in the confusion that followed, he even briefly found himself riding in the slipstream of a leading car until a semblance of order was restored.
Speaking to reporters about the incident after the race, Mathis felt that he had gained no advantage, but seemed unaware of how perilously close he had come to a serious accident. "I took the risk and kept going, and the ambulance pulled over," he said.
At the end of yet another season beset by concerns over rider safety in the peloton, it defies belief that such a situation could arise in the UCI's flagship event, particularly in an individual time trial on closed roads.
Mathis' status as Germany's third man on Monday was confirmed by his early start time. The 22-year-old was the second rider to leave the start house, and he had the seeming misfortune of riding on the 28.9-kilometre course when the sun was at its highest. He made light of the conditions to clock an average speed of 50.799kph, and then settled in for a four-hour stint in the hot seat.
Schachmann joined Mathis in the enclosure midway through the afternoon, though both men surely anticipated that they would be overtaken by the final starters, which included riders of the calibre of pursuit world champion Filippo Ganna (Italy), reigning under-23 world time trial champion Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Denmark), and their fellow countryman Kamna.
"I expected better conditions for the last riders, because you feel that the temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees less whereas we were riding at around body temperature, so I expected it would be much, much worse for us," Schachmann admitted afterwards. "I was surprised about the finish in the end because six riders from the top ten finishers started early. I expected the opposite, to be honest."
Any disappointment Schachmann felt at being beaten into second place for the second successive year was worn lightly, as he ruffled Mathis' carefully coiffed hair in celebration once the German victory was confirmed. He was the only other rider to average more than 50kph and he made up ground on Mathis in the final kilometres, but he was still some 18 seconds short of the winning time by the finish.
"It's hard to say if it's more disappointing than last year. I didn't win, of course, but if you're going to be beaten, it's best to be beaten by a teammate, so I'm happy," Schachmann said.
Kamna was the only one of the late starters to threaten the podium places, but he fell just short of ensuring a clean sweep of the podium for Germany, coming home 42 seconds behind Mathis, but only five seconds down on bronze medallist Miles Scotson (Australia).
"I guess we Germans are a time trial nation, we're always good in this discipline. It's hard to answer, I really don't know. We came here with a really, really strong squad and we almost did the best result possible by taking all three medals," Schachmann said.
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