September 23 - Richmond, USA - 53.5 km
After the trade team exhibitions last weekend, it’s now time for the national teams to take over the show. The elite men’s individual time trial is very different compared to the other ITTs on the schedule. It starts outside of the Kings Dominion theme park, a bit over 30 km north of Richmond.
The first 20 km take place on wide roads with only very few corners. Looking at the profile, it may seem like there are several steep hills. This is not the case. It’s not completely flat but these kinds of rolling up- and downhill sections will set for a very high pace towards the first intermediate time check after 16 km on the bike.
There are a few tricky passages in the forest after the riders turn left onto 651 but it shouldn’t create too much trouble if the roads are dry, as the weather forecast predicts. Right after the second intermediate time check, the riders turn right in a 90° corner. Three kilometers later, another sharp turn awaits them as they get onto US 301. The following 8 km are pretty much straight-out before yet another 90° corner takes the riders onto Wilkinson Road. The third and last intermediate time check of the day follows soon after.
As the riders head towards downtown Richmond, the route becomes slightly more technical. The last 5 km include several sharp corners before the riders take on the last kilometer of the race. This is the same one as in the team time trials and in the up-coming road races. This time, however, the riders approach the climb on Governor Street from the opposite direction, making it a left-hand turn as the ascent begins.
The prime pick today has to be Tony Martin. After losing the title to Bradley Wiggins in Ponferrada last year, Martin has been extremely focused on peaking at the right time to take back the rainbow jersey. His first major goal of the season was to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, which he managed due to an impressive solo win on the pavé stage. Next up for the big German is the world championships. Etixx couldn’t beat BMC in the team time trial but Martin proved to be in excellent shape. He said his performance - despite not taking the gold medals - gave him a huge confidence boost ahead this ITT. Few - if any at all - are able to push the same gears Martin usually does on this type of courses. If he reaches his top level today, I’ll be surprised not to hear the German national anthem at the end of the day.
The only rider who may be able to beat Martin is Rohan Dennis. It was the Australian who powered BMC to win Sunday’s team time trial with a splendid performance. As a former hour record holder, Dennis has had an incredible season. He won Tour Down Under overall and was a part of the BMC team winning the TTT in Dauphiné and Tour de France, where he also wore the yellow jersey after winning the opening prologue. Last month, Dennis won the individual time trial in USA Pro Challenge before taking the overall win as well. He’s obviously in great shape at the moment. Last year, Dennis finished 5th in the World Championship time trial. I’m confident he will make the podium this time but still requires a truly spectacular performance if he is to beat Tony Martin on this course.
After winning the bronze medal last year, Tom Dumoulin is the most obvious pick for the last spot on the podium again this time. Despite crashing out of the Tour de France, Dumoulin has had a breakthrough season with his performances in the Vuelta a España. Dumoulin showed he has what it takes to fight for the overall win in a grand tour but it doesn’t mean he has lost his edge against the clock. This season, the Dutchman has won the individual time trials in Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Tour de Suisse and the Vuelta. He was a crucial part of the Giant-Alpecin squad who finished 5th in the TTT. Now, Dumoulin hopes his outstanding shape continues a little longer, so he can repeat his podium performance from Ponferrada.
At least four riders will give Dumoulin a good run for the money on the last spot on the podium. Vasil Kiryienka, Adriano Malori, Taylor Phinney and Alex Dowsett have all proven to be in great condition. Kiryienka finished 4th in the long time trial in the Vuelta - the same place he finished in the ITT in Ponferrada last year. The Belarusian is very eager to improve that performance. He won the time trial at the European Games in Baku earlier this year. On a perfect course for him, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kiryienka made the podium today, just like he did in 2012. Back then, Phinney came nail-bitingly close to beating Tony Martin. He finished just six seconds down. I doubt he will be able to get as close this time, but I’m sure he will be up there fighting for the medals. Just the fact that Phinney is already back at the highest level after his horrible crash last year is impressive. That he made the winning BMC team for TTT, that’s incredible. On American soil, there is no doubt he will be extremely motivated to do well again today. It’s a good route for him and if everything works out, he may end the day on the podium once again.
For other strong outsiders who may be able to surprise look to Stefan Küng, Jan Barta and Rasmus Quaade who I think this course suits very well. The Dane has not had a great season but in Tour of Britain he proved that he’s now back in great shape again. Last year, he crashed at the start of the time trial in Ponferrada but still managed to go extremely fast afterwards. In 2013, he finished 6th against the clock. It will be interesting to see if Quaade can follow up on the recent good Danish time trial results in Richmond.