Tony Martin claimed a second world time trial title yesterday, a convincing and deserved victory for a talented and popular rider.
Such is Martin’s talent, his victory might have been achieved against all comers. The slight sadness of the situation stems from the fact that some of the men with whom he has vied for the title of world’s best time trialist were absent.
Four-time world time trial champion, Fabian Cancellara, had failed to recover in time from surgery to a shoulder damaged in the Olympic road race; an injury that effectively scuppered his chances in the subsequent Olympic time trial.
The omission from the worlds ITT of Great Britain’s leading time trialists may, however, point at interesting developments in Sunday’s road race for at least two of yesterday’s absentees, a race for which Team GB’s leader has not yet been declared.
Recently crowned Olympic time trial champion, Bradley Wiggins, absented himself from the worlds ITT on the entirely reasonable grounds of a long season; one spent winning Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphine, and, of course, the Tour de France.
Chris Froome withdrew only on Monday from yesterday’s test against the clock on the same grounds, his case perhaps stronger even than that of Wiggins, with a second Grand Tour (an especially grueling edition of the Vuelta a Espana) in his legs.
Geraint Thomas told the BBC he had not put himself forward for the road race because he felt that, after a summer on the track, his road condition was not sufficient. He did not mention the individual time trial, but did, however, ride for Team Sky in the trade team time trial in Limburg, among a squad filled largely with climbing talent, and national time trial champion, Alex Dowsett.
His decision not to contest the individual time trial is one to be regretted, by British fans at least. Victory this year in the Tour de Romandie prologue, one gained soon after an extended spell on the boards preparing for and then winning the world team pursuit title, would have provided a happy omen had he competed in the ITT in Limburg, the worlds test following an extended spell on the boards preparing for and then winning the Olympic team pursuit title.
In the final shakedown, Alex Dowsett was the sole bearer of the nation’s hopes. The British champion did himself and the country proud with eighth place; a fine achievement for a 23-year-old making his debut at senior level in a world championship ITT.
The question remains, have Wiggins and Froome been saving themselves for Sunday and the elite men’s road race? With 10 ascents of the Bemelerberg and Cauberg to end proceedings, defending champion, Mark Cavendish, is unlikely to be the focus of the team’s efforts. At the time of writing, no-one is sure who will be, which makes Froome and Wiggins’ absence from the ITT more intriguing.
Froome’s climbing ability was writ large in his Tour de France performance, and he impressed on Spanish climbs, although not to the same degree. The feeling remains that he was undone by the proximity of the two Tours, a burden not placed upon winner, Alberto Contador, and third-placed Joaquim Rodriguez (although borne lightly it would seem by runner up, Alejandro Valverde). Will he be the man to lead Great Britain on Sunday?
Wiggins must also be considered a candidate for leadership of Team GB’s nine-man squad, although his insistence is to the contrary. We know he is an excellent climber if not a specialist and has an ‘engine’ to equal any. His abilities as a time trialist and more recently as a Grand Tour champion are well known, but we have never really seen Wiggins the one-day rider. Did we glimpse this incarnation on stage one of the Tour of Romandy, where he simply rode away from an elite chasing pack engaged in a furious sprint? A world road race championship would be a fitting end to a historic season and a seal a ‘Triple Crown’ of a different kind to that achieved by Merckx and Roche.