A changing of the guard in Vårgårda: Rabo Liv wins team time trial World Cup

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As Rabo-Liv climbed atop the podium in Vårgårda on Friday, it marked the end of an era. For the last three years, Velocio-SRAM (racing previously as Specialized-lululemon) dominated the team time trial. Between 2012 and 2014, Velocio-SRAM won the Vårgårda team time trial and followed up the World Cup win with team time trial gold at the Road World Championships. In 2014, so dominant was the Velocio-SRAM squad that it beat out second-placed Rabo-Liv by an astounding 1:21.

But today, the reigning world champions were forced to settle for second place as Rabo-Liv took out the eighth round of the UCI Women Road World Cup. Lucinda Brand, Thalita de Jong, Shara Gillow, Kasia Niewiadoma, Moniek Tenniglo and Anna van der Breggen powered over the 42.5-kilometre course, ultimately stopping the clock at 52:51. Velocio-SRAM came in 26 seconds later. Boels-Dolmans, just three seconds slower than Velocio-SRAM, rounded out the podium.

“That was the fastest team time trial I have ever ridden,” Australian Shara Gillow told Ella CyclingTips as she waited for the podium presentations. “I’ve ridden with the likes of Judith Arndt when she time trial world champ and even then, it wasn’t this fast. It was an amazing ride by the team. I think we surprised ourselves a lot.”

Largely non-technical, the course featured two brief but highly technical sections through towns. These sections had several sharp corners in quick succession. Aside from these two key points out on course, the main obstacles were a few small hills and a narrowing of roads.

The first intermediate time check came at 16.4 kilometres and offered an early hint of a potential changing of guards. Velocio-SRAM was the first of the top five teams to hit the checkpoint. Race radio called out their time – 18:45. Bigla was the next through with a time of 18:57. Wiggle powered through the checkpoint next with a time of 19:14. They were quickly followed by Boels-Dolmans at 18:46. Then Rabo-Liv matched Boels-Dolmans with an 18:46 of their own. With only one second separating the top three teams, the race reached edge-of-your-seat excitement levels.

By the second intermediate checkpoint, 32 kilometres into the race, Rabo-Liv took the lead, stopping the clock at 38:49. They had gained 10 seconds on Boels-Dolmans, and Velocio-SRAM had slipped to third place at 39:06. Bigla was only 10 seconds behind Velocio-SRAM. Ten kilometres remained between the second intermediate check and the finish.

Rabo-Liv had been the last team to start the team time trial and would be the final team to finish. The six-rider squad had lost two out on the road, so Lucinda Brand led four teammates across the line. Rider number four determined the team’s time, stopping the clock at 52:51. Between the second intermediate time check and the finish, Rabo-Liv had found another nine seconds to put into Velocio-SRAM. It was the first time Rabo-Liv had beat Velocio-SRAM in the team time trial in Vårgårda, and they had done it by 26 seconds.

“We were really smooth today,” Lucinda Brand told Ella CyclingTips following the podium presentation. “We’ve been training specifically for the team time trial. We were together all week, not always on the time trial bike, but riding together. We have several new riders in this squad. Not everyone is so experienced in the discipline. I never expected to win with this team. I’m really proud of the whole team – what they did and how they improved. It’s always amazing to win a team time trial, and it doesn’t happen so often for me, so this is very special.”

“We were shouting and screaming at the end,” added Gillow. “We were so ecstatic not just because we won but because of how we won. We were so fast and so smooth.”

Despite the win, both Brand and Gillow noted that there is still room for Rabo-Liv to improve ahead of the team time trial at the Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia next month.

“We can still improve a lot actually,” Brand said. “We were smooth but at the corners there were small details that can be better. We’ll discuss it maybe tomorrow, and we can work on it until Richmond.”

“The team will be a changing a bit before Worlds,” Brand added. “Roxane [Knetemann] is still at home with a broken arm. She’s competing next week again. If everything is right, she’ll be in the team for Richmond.”

With two rounds of World Cup racing still to come, Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) remains in the overall series leader’s jersey with a 35 points lead over Anna van der Breggen. Armitstead won the World Cup title last year, and while she insisted repeating the feat wasn’t an objective this year, she’s since changed her tune. World Cup racing continues on Sunday with the Vårgårda road race and concludes one week later with round ten in Plouay, France.

Bonus: This video from Wiggle Honda gives a bit of insight into the preparation, practice and pressure that goes along with the team time trial discipline.

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