Underdogs Sunweb upset Boels-Dolmans in Worlds TTT

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The 2017 UCI Road World Championships kicked off in Bergen, Norway, on Sunday with the women’s team time trial, and Team Sunweb were the first to claim titles.

Contested in trade teams instead of national teams, all eyes were on Boels-Dolmans to defend their team time trial title. The Dutch squad had been dominant in this discipline all year, handily winning the team time trial in the Giro Rosa in July before repeating their TTT win in Vårgårda, Sweden in August, which is often considered a dress rehearsal for Worlds.

The rainbow stripes, it seemed, were theirs to lose. But teams like Sunweb, Cervélo-Bigla and Canyon-SRAM had been nipping on Boels’ heels for a bit now, and the lower podium spots would be hotly contested.

Few would have predicted the upset at the hand of Team Sunweb however. But the white-and-black squad of TT-specialist Ellen van Dijk did just that, beating the defending champs by 12 seconds. Cervélo-Bigla rounded out the podium, 28 seconds down from Sunweb.

“We were happy anyway [with a podium spot], but this is incredible. We really didn’t expect this,” commented Ellen van Dijk, already a four-time team time trial world champion. “It was really, really tough and it was important to not overdo the climb and blow up the whole team … we used each other’s strengths and kept it really smooth.”

“The previous wins were special, too, but we were favourites. When you do it like this, as an underdog team, it’s incredible.”

Boels cresting a climb on the course.

How it unfolded

Mild and sunny conditions greeted riders and fans in picturesque Norway as the week-long championships got underway with the team time trials on Sunday.

Starting on the Askøy archipelago just outside Bergen, the 42.5-kilometre course started off flat and fast but featured two significant climbs, starting with a 600 metre-climb at an average of 10% going up to the breathtaking Askøy Bridge.

With a total length of 1057 metres and a free span of 850 metres, it’s the second biggest suspension bridge in Norway, and many teams would lose a few riders before reaching the end of it.

The second and more significant climb of the day came at the 30-kilometres sign. Coming into Birkelundsbakken, riders faced a 3-kilometre climb that averaged 6% but got as steep as 16%. After a short cobble section, the course arrived in Bryggen with its historical colourful houses lining the course.

Team Sunweb coming across the finish with four riders remaining.

Only nine teams contested the women’s team trial with teams like Orica-Scott and WM3 Pro Cycling noticeably absent.

Team Virtu (formerly Team VeloConcept), with world and national individual time trial champion Amber Neben in their midst, was the first to roll of the ramp. The Danish-registered team had an impressive run despite losing Neben to a mechanical along with another one of the riders. The team instead relied on TT-expert and former world champion Linda Villumsen and would set a time of 58:33.15 over the 42.5-kilometre course – good enough for a top five.

The sixth team to start, Team Sunweb were the first of the podium favourites to take to the start, nine minutes ahead of defending champions Boels-Dolmans.

But it was the German-registered Cervélo-Bigla team that set proved the team to beat early in the race, setting the fastest time at the first checkpoint. They again took the lead after the climb in Bikelundsbakken.

Cervelo-Bigla gave it their all.

But Boels, being the last team to take to the course, would stay together even to the top of the climb. A full squad of six riders reached the time check 12 seconds ahead of Cervélo-Bigla and 15 seconds faster than Sunweb. But a descent followed the climb and this is where Sunweb shined. Cervélo-Bigla was suddenly 16 seconds behind Sunweb and Boels started struggling as well, losing time and riders into the final stretch into central Bergen.

Passing FDJ-Futuroscope on the final kilometres into the finish, Sunweb stopped the clock at 55:14:63 and moved into the hotseat. Neither Canyon-SRAM nor Cervélo-Bigla were able to beat the new benchmark as they rolled in, and now all eyes were on the Boels-Dolmans squad with Women’s WorldTour winner Anna van der Breggen at the helm.

Van der Breggen was the first to turn onto the finishing straight, joined only by Karol-Ann Canuel, Chantal Blaak and Megan Guarnier. But even with the finish in sight, the clock was running out. Sunweb riders jumped out of their seats in joy, hugging and cheering as a deflated Boels-Dolmans team would have to make do with silver.

2017 Team Time Trial World Championships Top 5:

  1. Sunweb, 55:41.63
  2. Boels-Dolmans 55:54.06
  3. Cervélo-Bigla 56:09.66
  4. Canyon-SRAM Racing 56:46.42
  5. Team Virtu Cycling Women 58:33.15

Riders will now join their national selections for the individual time trial on Tuesday and road race on Sunday. We’ll have reports from the elite events here on CyclingTips. For a full programme of the 2017 UCI Road World Championships, please click here.

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