21/09 - Ponferrada - 57.10 km

On Sunday, the World Championships kick off with the team time trials in Ponferrada, Spain. Since the discipline got back onto the program in 2012, we have had two great races for the gold medals. This year, we can expect another very close fight.

The route
Compared to last year’s course in Florence, this one is much more demanding, especially the second part. It starts out relatively easy, though. The first 15 km only include a couple of tricky corners. It’s slightly downhill, which will benefit the teams with big engines. From Villamartín de la Abadía, there are a couple of steep uphill sections towards the first intermediate checkpoint. A few kilometers after the time check, the riders take on Alto Pieros (700 meters of 8 %). It’s crucial not to go too fast on the hills in order to keep the team together for the second part of the course. After a very fast descent of 1.5 km, the road constantly goes up and down towards the second intermediate checkpoint in Camponaraya.

Heading towards Carracedo del Monasterio, it’s slightly downhill. There are barely any corners, which will set for a very high pace. As the teams start going back towards Ponferrada, the road kicks up once again. It’s not very steep but this long drag uphill will take a lot of energy. Shortly after the last intermediate checkpoint, the gradients get steeper. The following two kilometers have an average gradient of around 4 %.

With a bit less than 3 km left to go, the teams turn right to take on a very fast descent of about 800 meters. There are no less than three roundabouts to overcome before the riders pass la flamme rouge and then turn right onto Avenida de Asturias in a sharp 90° corner. From here, the final 600 meters are straight-out towards the finishing line.

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The favorites
After having won in both 2012 and 2013, naturally, Omega Pharma QuickStep is set as the top favorite again this year. However, personally, I think it will be very hard for OPQS to win another set of gold medals. Without Sylvain Chavanel, Peter Velits and Kristoff Vandewalle, the Belgian team is missing three of their best riders against the clock. To replace them, OPQS has picked out Tom Boonen (part of the winning team in 2012) and the two youngsters Pieter Serry and Julien Vermote. With the likes of Tony Martin, Michal Kwiatkowski and Niki Terpstra, of course, OPQS is one of the favorites but, to me, they are not the top favorite this year.

Instead, I see GreenEdge as the main favorite for the gold medals. The Australian team has always put a lot of focus into the team time trials. They finished third in 2012 and second in 2013. I expect them to continue the tendency and take the last step up the podium this year. Five of the six riders were a part of the team who finished second last year. The only rider missing is Daryl Impey. Damien Howson, the current U23 ITT world champion, is replacing the South African. Not exactly a weakening of the team. GreenEdge won the TTT in the Tour de France last year and in the Giro d’Italia this year. The riders know each other very well and they are used to doing these team time trials together. A very important factor in this discipline. They may not be as strong as OPQS on the hills but I think their homogeneous team will be the winning factor today.

If anyone is to beat OPQS and GreenEdge, it’s probably Trek. The American team is a very strong contender this year. Four of their riders were a part of the team who finished 5th last year. Kristoff Vandewalle is one of the new guys and his presence will benefit the team greatly. Together with Fabian Cancellara, Markel Irizar and Jesse Sergent, Trek should, at least, be able to make it onto the podium this year. On a good day, they might even surprise and win this race. In the Vuelta a España, they were one of the favorites for the opening team time trial. Unfortunately, the whole team crashed in training, which obviously held them back. Today, they have an excellent opportunity to take revenge and show their true potential.

The outsiders
Even though Team Sky brings a very good team, I think it will be difficult for them to win the gold medals. On paper, the team looks very strong with the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Dario Cataldo, Vasil Kiryienka and Geraint Thomas. With so many excellent time trialists, Team Sky should be able to win this TTT. However, lately, they have had some problems in this discipline. Unless they have managed to work out the kinks, I doubt we will see Team Sky on top of the podium on Sunday afternoon.

After their strong performances at the World Championships within the last two years, BMC needs to be mentioned amongst the top candidates as well. With Peter Velits, Manuel Quinziato, Rohan Dennis and Tejay van Garderen as their main engines, I’m confident the American team will do well today. However, they are missing a very important piece of the puzzle in Taylor Phinney who was a part of the teams finishing 2nd in 2012 and 4th in 2013. Rohan Dennis is a strong replacement but the young Australian needs to bring his A-game if BMC is to finish on the podium this year.

All the five mentioned teams have what it takes to medal in this race. I’m sure this team time trial will come down to a matter of very few seconds once again. Teams like Movistar, Astana and Tinkoff-Saxo are usually good against the clock. However, I doubt we will get to see any of them on the podium. Naturally, Movistar is extra motivated on home soil but it has been a while since they performed well in a long TTT like this one. 

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.