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The 2015 UCI Road World Championships opened on Sunday morning with the women’s team time trial in Richmond, Virginia, USA. The only team to win the team time trial since the discipline returned to the World Championships four years ago, Velocio-SRAM secured their fourth straight title with a time of 47:35.72 over 38.6 kilometres. The last team to finish, Velocio-SRAM displaced Boels-Dolmans from the virtual top step of the podium by a mere six seconds. Rabo Liv rounded out the podium 56 seconds off the winning team.
“We had a strategy,” Karol-Ann Canuel (Velocio-SRAM) told Ella CyclingTips. “We had seen the course. We knew exactly what we wanted to do, and we did what we wanted to do. We focussed on ourselves and our race – not on the times we were ahead or the times back. We didn’t concentrate on anyone but ourselves so that we can do what we needed to do, and I think that’s what worked for us.”
“The crowds were amazing,” said Evie Stevens (Boels-Dolmans), who would ultimately be the only American to medal on home soil in the women’s team time trial. “Our bikes were fast. We went deeper than we’ve ever gone and it’s never been this close in a World Championship. Every other year they [Velocio-SRAM] have won by a minute, and today we limited them to six seconds.”
For the last three years, Velocio-SRAM’s win in the team time trial had seemed almost inevitable. The German-registred squad, racing previously as Specialized-lululemon, has been such a dominant force in the collective race against the clock that until last month no team had proven capable of mounting a serious challenge against them. Which was why it was such a surprise when Rabo Liv not only challenged but beat Velocio-SRAM at its own game and climbed to the top step of the podium in the team time trial at the Vårgårda World Cup. When Boels-Dolmans came within three seconds of doing the same, it was clear that the team time trial at the World Championships would be hotly contested for the first time.
“We knew that our opponents had been getting stronger and stronger,” said reigning individual time trial champion Lisa Brennauer (Velocio-SRAM). “We knew we would have to fight to the finish to win this race.”
Boels-Dolmans was the first of the three favourites to take to the start house. Although they lost Christine Majerus to an unfortunate puncture in the opening kilometres, the five remaining riders handily set a new standard at the first intermediate split. Rabo Liv hit the first checkpoint 22 seconds slower than Boels-Dolmans. Velocio-SRAM, the final team to start, bested Boels-Dolmans’ time by nine seconds at the first split.
And it was game on.
With a hillier and more technical second half of the course, Rabo Liv continued to lose time and riders. Boels-Dolmans, on the other hand, began to close the gap. At the third intermediate time check, Boels-Dolmans would stop the clock three seconds ahead of Velocio-SRAM despite being down to only four riders.
Lizzie Armitstead, Evie Stevens, Chantal Blaak and Ellen van Dijk crossed the finish line with a time of 47:42.38 and headed to the hot seat. The quartet would eventually be joined by Kasia Pawlowska as they waited with eyes firmly fixed to the television for Velocio-SRAM to finish.
“I’ve never been in a hot seat,” Armitstead told Ella. “It was nerve-wrecking, difficult. You’ve got one person saying look at the GPS and another saying the GPS can’t be trusted. It’s jumping around from three seconds behind to eight seconds ahead all in one second. I would say it’s the first time I really felt so strongly part of this team.”
Rabo Liv lacked the cohesiveness that delivered the win in Sweden and could only muster third place on Sunday. The team’s disappointment was apparent during the podium ceremony as tears flowed down some of the riders’ faces.
“We were really emotional,” said Roxane Knetemann (Rabo Liv). “We worked really hard for this. Personally, I broke my arm at the last stage of the Giro this year. I broke my upper arm in two places, and I thought my season was finished. But now I am here. The girls did great in Sweden and we have worked so hard for this, and you are in a foreign country but you see your flag when you’re up on the podium, and we are a very close group so that’s where the tears came from.”
“I couldn’t keep it dry either,” Lucinda Brand added. “I tried to keep it together, but there was Roxane and I couldn’t keep it dry.”
In the end, the last team to start was the only team that could knock Boels-Dolmans out of the hot seat. Velocio-SRAM’s Alena Amialiusik, Lisa Brennauer, Karol-Ann Canuel, Barbara Guarischi, Mieke Kroeger and Trixi Worrack team time trialled to victory. It was a fitting end for the team that is coming to a close with the end of the season and the only proper send-off for Velocio-SRAM team owner Kristy Scrymgeour.
“It was such a close race,” Scrymgeour to Ella CyclingTips. “It was really amazing the way they brought it home knowing they were coming from behind.”
“It hasn’t been the easiest year, but the girls and the staff have done an amazing job,” Scrymgeour added. “Personally, this is a little sad. It’s sad to finish this and finish off women’s racing, but it’s nice to end on a good note. All things considered, I’m happy.”