Maybe Britain’s David Millar was right in saying that he’d “rather race for the win in the road race than second in the time trial” at the world championships this week in Mendrisio, Switzerland.
Like Millar, most observers figured that Fabian Cancellara was a shoo-in to win the world time trial title on his home turf. And it wasn’t even a contest. Cancellara earned his third world time trial champion’s jersey, blazing through three laps on a 16.6km circuit near Mendrisio in just 57:55.
Cancellara’s time was a full 1:27 ahead of second-place finisher Gustav Larsson (Sweden) and 3:37 ahead of defending world champion Bert Grabsch of Germany.
“I don’t know if it was the best time trial of my life, but I knew that I would be very fast today,” Cancellara said. “My preparation was perfect and I had extra motivation racing in front of Swiss crowds. My legs were strong, but my head was even stronger today.”
The big Swiss previously won the world time trial title in 2006 and 2007, but skipped the event in 2008 in order to concentrate on the Olympics, where he won the gold medal in the time trial.
Zirbel sets the standard
American Tom Zirbel turned in a surprisingly strong performance on Thursday, establishing an early best time of 1:00:42. Indeed, Zirbel’s time stood as the high mark for most of the day, until the eventual bronze medalist, Germany’s Tony Martin, came through 16 seconds faster.
Racing in Europe for the first time and competing in his first world championships, the two-time U.S. runner-up time trial champion blitzed the course early, starting in the second of five “waves” of riders.
“In about two hours, I will be happy. Right now I just have a bitter taste,” Zirbel said. “I just let myself to start dreaming about a medal there, that’s a hard way to watch it. I am not going to hang my head over a fourth place, but it’s difficult to swallow.”
Martin’s time in the hot seat was short-lived as Cancellara finished just seconds later, having knocked off 2:29 from the German’s finishing time. Cancellara knew he had a comfortable margin and enjoyed the final 200 meters, freewheeling and waving his arms in victory in front of an enthusiastic Swiss crowd.
Larsson’s performance – although nearly a minute-and-a-half slower than Cancellara’s – was good enough to secure him the silver medal.
“(Cancellara’s) still from earth, but he was the best today,” said Larsson, the Olympic silver medalist. “I tried what I could, I really happy with my performance.”
One early favorite, Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, had a frustrating performance. Cancellara passed him relatively early, and adding insult to injury the man who finished fourth overall at the Tour de France suffered a mechanical on his third and final trip up the short hill marking the most difficult portion of the circuit.
Wiggins told reporters that his chain dropped and dislodged his rear brake, causing it to rub against his wheel, prompting him to change his bike on the decisive climb on the final lap just when he was still within shot of Martin and the bronze medal. Wiggins eventually crossed the line in 1:02:46, well off Cancellara’s winning ride.
Three’s a charm
Cancellara’s third career gold in the race against the clock means he equals the record set by Australia’s Michael Rogers, who won the world title three years in a row.
Ahead of his reported and audacious bid to focus most of his energies on claiming gold in the men’s road race on Sunday, Cancellara ended any doubts surrounding his intentions on Thursday.
The 28-year-old Swiss started second last of the 66-strong field and one minute ahead of Germany’s reigning champion Bert Grabsch.
Grabsch, however, never got the chance to see Cancellara’s back wheel as the Swiss flew off the ramp and disappeared over the horizon at break-neck speed.
Martin defended Germany’s “honor” to claim bronze and cap a phenomenal season for the promising young German rider.
“Last year Grabsch was better than me, today I was the one that was better,” Martin said. “This year my goal was to finish on the podium, and I achieved it. I am content.”
Crowned Olympic champion in Beijing last year but deciding not to compete last year in Varese, Italy, due to fatigue, by the first time check at 9.16km Cancellara had stamped his authority on the race.
He knocked Martin from provisional top spot by 18 seconds, and as the race continued in and around the small southern Swiss town he went on to humiliate a bunch of challengers who had started minutes before him.
At the second time check at 16.6km Cancellara held a lead of 38 seconds on Martin and 46 on Larsson.
Wiggins had been confident of a medal, but by then he had dropped to over a minute behind Cancellara.
The Swiss showed no signs of tiring on the 16.6km circuit, raced three times, and after overtaking Larsson the Swede attempted in vain to keep pace. Race officials warned Larsson that he was riding a little too close to Cancellara in efforts to minimize his losses.
“Taking more than one minute on a rider like Larsson shows a lot,” Cancellara said. “I had the advantage that I had time references because I know he is a dangerous rival. I had the perfect preparation at the Vuelta. I knew I was strong for the time trial.”
At the 25.7km mark Cancellara was 1:17 faster than Martin, and shortly afterwards he humiliated Wiggins and Sebastien Rosseler, who had started two and four minutes ahead of him respectively, by overtaking the pair.
Wiggins then suffered disaster as he neared the end of the climb on the circuit, trying to remount the dropped chain before getting off his bike and chucking it to the ground in disgust.
After Cancellara rode over the line in triumph savoring his first world title on home soil, Wiggins crossed over to finish way down in 20th place.
Senior editor Charles Pelkey and European correspondent Andrew Hood contributed to this report
- 1. Fabian Cancellara, Switzerland, 49.8km in 57:55.74 (51.58kph)
- 2. Gustav Larsson, Sweden, at 1:27.13
- 3. Tony Martin, Germany, at 2:30.18
- 4. Tom Zirbel, United States, at 2:47.12
- 5. Marco Pinotti, Italy, at 3:02.88
- 6. Janez Brajkovic, Slovenia, at 3:08.49
- 7. Koos Moerenhout, Netherlands, at 3:11.59
- 8. Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan, at 3:20.95
- 9. Ignatas Konovalovas, Lithuania, at 3:33.88
- 10. Bert Grabsch, Germany, at 3:37.39
- 11. David McCann, Ireland, at 3:40.61
- 12. Jean-Christophe Peraud, France, at 3:43.95
- 13. Lars Ytting Bak, Denmark, at 4:07.66
- 14. Dominique Cornu, Belgium, at 4:09.40
- 15. Svein Tuft, Canada, at 4:24.25
- 16. Lars Boom, Netherlands, at 4:24.85
- 17. Artem Ovechkin, Russian Federation, at 4:27.64
- 18. Christopher Froome, Great Britain, at 4:34.55
- 19. Frantisek Rabon, Czech Republic, at 4:39.67
- 20. Sebastian Lang, Germany, at 4:40.97
- 21. Bradley Wiggins, Great Britain, at 4:50.39
- 22. Serpa Perez J R, Colombia, at 4:56.25
- 23. Thomas Danielson, United States, at 5:09.45
- 24. Alex Rasmussen, Denmark, at 5:12.60
- 25. Andrey Kashechkin, Kazakhstan, at 5:16.82
- 26. Paulinho S M M, Portugal, at 5:25.86
- 27. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Norway, at 5:28.44
- 28. Jay Robert Thomson, South Africa, at 5:28.71
- 29. Eugen Wacker, Kyrgyzstan, at 5:31.07
- 30. Adam Hansen, Australia, at 5:33.54
- 31. Aleksejs Saramotins, Latvia, at 5:34.76
- 32. Garrido Mayorga M, Argentina, at 5:35.12
- 33. Bartosz Huzarski, Poland, at 5:43.65
- 34. Martin Velits, Slovakia, at 5:44.06
- 35. Gutierrez Palacios, Spain, at 5:45.07
- 36. Juan Carlos Lopez Marin, Colombia, at 5:47.35
- 37. Branislau Samoilau, Belarus, at 5:56.25
- 38. Sébastien Rosseler, Belgium, at 5:57.70
- 39. Fredrik Ericsson, Sweden, at 6:10.47
- 40. Rubens Bertogliati, Switzerland, at 6:12.32
- 41. Andriy Grivko, Ukraine, at 6:14.43
- 42. Juan Jose Cobo Acebo, Spain, at 6:19.62
- 43. Erik Hoffmann, Namibia, at 6:23.43
- 44. Matias Medici, Argentina, at 6:28.26
- 45. Raivis Belohvosciks, Latvia, at 6:29.49
- 46. Magno Prado Nazaret, Brazil, at 6:38.73
- 47. Mikhail Ignatiev, Russian Federation, at 6:43.02
- 48. Gregor Gazvoda, Slovenia, at 6:50.24
- 49. Vasil Kiryienka, Belarus, at 6:58.79
- 50. Jeremy Vennell, New Zealand, at 7:06.21
- 51. Pavol Polievka, Slovakia, at 7:23.56
- 52. Ervin Korts-Laur, Estonia, at 7:26.68
- 53. Cameron Wurf, Australia, at 7:27.52
- 54. Tiago Machado, Portugal, at 7:30.34
- 55. Rida Cador, Hungary, at 7:34.60
- 56. Jerome Coppel, France, at 7:36.57
- 57. Matti Helminen, Finland, at 7:48.12
- 58. Dmytro Grabovskyy, Ukraine, at 8:20.66
- 59. Maciej Bodnar, Poland, at 8:43.10
- 60. Jose Ragonessi, Ecuador, at 8:53.21
- 61. Jarmo Rissanen, Finland, at 9:00.12
- 62. Zoltan Madaras, Hungary, at 9:05.56
- 63. Eduard Novak, Romania, at 0:11:06.21
- 64. Gabriel Sorin Pop, Romania, at 0:12:55.11
- 65. Reginald Douglas, St. Kitts and Nevis, at 0:20:32.85
- 66. James Weekes, St. Kitts and Nevis, at 0:22:38.69