VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) — Scores of protagonists are hoping one hour of pain will equal redemption. Wednesday’s elite men’s time trial world championship presents a chance for many of the favorites to erase a season of close calls, frustration and near misses.
From Tony Martin, coming off an injury-plagued season, to Alberto Contador, back from his controversial clenbuterol ban, and Taylor Phinney, who was oh-so-close to Olympic glory this summer, tomorrow’s 46.3km race against the clock is a chance for redemption.
That’s certainly the case for Germany’s defending world champion Martin, who has suffered a litany of bad luck, including punctures, a collision with a car while training, a broken hand at the Tour de France and even having a dog crossing his path during an early season TT showdown with Bradley Wiggins at the Volta ao Algarve.
“I have had a lot of bad luck. It was a lot of up and downs — it was hard to keep the morale high,” Martin told VeloNews. “After some bad luck, I have come back. Now I am optimistic I can come back one more time for the worlds.”
Despite a rough season, the 27-year-old German rode most of the Vuelta a España to prepare for the worlds and lines up as the five-star favorite to win his second straight rainbow jersey against the 58-rider field.
Two of Martin’s biggest rivals and the two men he beat last year in Denmark are missing. Swiss Fabian Cancellara is recovering from shoulder surgery while British Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins pulled the plug on the TT after a long and demanding season, though he will start the road race Sunday. Also skipping the TT will be Wiggins’ British teammate Chris Froome, bronze medalist at the London Olympics.
Martin, who confirmed that he would undergo surgery next month after the Tour of Beijing to realign bones in his right hand that he broke at the Tour de France prologue, said their collective absence would take the shine off what he hopes will be another gold medal.
“I would like to ride against Wiggins to make up for what happened in London,” Martin said, referring to Wiggins’ gold-medal Olympic ride in August. “I would prefer that the best are here, but I will take pride in winning again. The only one I am worried about is Contador. I am confident I can win again.”
Martin said he’s ridden the hilly, narrow TT course seven times and has spent months studying a course video.
That’s the opposite for Contador, who had his first glimpse of the course Tuesday.
The recently crowned Vuelta champion lines up tomorrow intent on scoring his first rainbow jersey. A solid time trialist, Contador should have a strong ride on the Valkenburg course that features three rated climbs over the route from Heerlen to Valkenburg.
Second in the Vuelta time trial behind Fredrik Kessiakoff (Sweden), Contador is no slouch against the clock. He missed an Olympic medal by eight seconds to Levi Leipheimer in 2008 on a similarly climb-heavy course, and Contador will be looking to use his Vuelta-winning form to good use.
“There are a lot of hills and that’s good for me, because you have to change rhythm and switch out of the big ring, something that will benefit me against the specialists,” Contador said Tuesday. “It appears quite windy and when the route goes uphill, it’s better for me, but it’s a good course for riders with a lot of power, like Martin.”
Contador said he’s recovered well from winning the Vuelta last weekend in Madrid, but says he’s not sure how the legs will respond once he’s on course. He drove the course Monday night and rode it in its entirety Tuesday morning.
Contador will start second-to-last, with Phinney starting two minutes in front of him and Martin two minutes behind. That means he will have real-time time splits to his most dangerous rivals.
“You always start with the intention of winning, but Martin is the big favorite,” Contador said. “I think it will be a very tight race and the differences will be limited. You really have to stay focused on yourself. There are a lot of riders who can fight for a medal. Many are speaking about Wiggins and Cancellara not being here, but there’s others, such as Martin, Kessiakoff, Phinney, (Tejay) van Garderen and (Sebastian) Chavanel. I will be among those fighting for the podium.”
For Phinney, fourth in both the TT and road race at the London Olympics, a worlds podium would put the icing on the cake of a long and successful season.
The pink jersey and a win at the Giro d’Italia coupled with a TT win at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado bookended his Olympic experience. A worlds podium would confirm him as one of the most consistent time trialists in the world.
“I’m really motivated for this time trial. It’s a hilly time trial but they’re all hills that are really short, which is something I’m good at,” Phinney told VeloNews last week. “An Olympic year is a very good opportunity for a time trialist like myself to go to the world championships and pop a result. As you see, guys like Wiggins and Cancellara are not contesting it at all. That’s the next big goal for me.”
Joining Phinney on the American squad will be Tejay van Garderen, hot off fifth place at the Tour de France and back to the worlds with a shot at making the podium, a result that would only confirm his steady progression in his third pro season.
Others could pop for a podium spot, including Martin’s German teammate Bert Grabsch. Fourth last year and the world champion in 2008, the veteran German should not be counted out. Other outsiders include Kessiakoff, Marco Pinotti (Italy), Chavanel (France), Svein Tuft (Canada) and Lieuwe Westra (Netherlands).
The first rider off is Segundo Navarrete (Ecuador) at 1:30 p.m. local time. Tuft starts at 3:12, with van Garderen at 3:14 and Phinney third-from-last at 3:20.
Martin is last out of the gate at 3:24.
It shouldn’t take the fastest riders much more than 50 minutes to reach the line. Martin, Contador and Phinney hope the top step of the podium is reserved for one of the final three starters on the day.
Previous world time trial champions
1994: Chris Boardman (GBR)
1995: Miguel Indurain (ESP)
1996: Alex Zülle (SUI)
1997: Laurent Jalabert (FRA)
1998: Abraham Olano (ESP)
1999: Jan Ullrich (GER)
2000: Serhiy Honchar (UKR)
2001: Jan Ullrich (GER)
2002: Santiago Botero (COL)
2003: Michael Rogers (AUS)
2004: Michael Rogers (AUS)
2005: Michael Rogers (AUS)
2006: Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
2007: Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
2008: Bert Grabsch (GER)
2009: Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
2010: Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
2011: Tony Martin (GER)
World championship 2012 podium (46.4km)
1. Tony Martin (GER), 51.813 km/h
2. Bradley Wiggins (GBR) at 1:15 *
3. Fabian Cancellara (SUI) at 1:20 *
*Not racing the world championships in 2012