Bradley Wiggins will roll out in Florence today in a season-saving bid to pull on the rainbow stripes of world time trial champion.
The Londoner will face a quality field, including arguably two of the greatest time trialists in the history of the sport: four-time world champion, Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), and the twice and reigning champion, Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
The threat to Wiggins’ ambition will not end with that illustrious pairing, however. Other supremely talented ‘testers’, including the American, Taylor Phinney, Sylvain Chavanel (France) and the Italian rider, Marco Pinotti, could upset the form book.
A flat and predominantly straight 57.9km course from Montecatini Terme to Firenze, with a 138m rise to the first time check at Serravalle Pistoiese the only incline, should deliver fast times.
Sir Bradley Wiggins
Having looked on the verge of retirement after a disastrous campaign in the Giro d’Itlaia, one in which his motivation rather than his form supplied the biggest question mark, Sir Bradley Wiggins will enter today’s world time trial championship as joint favourite with Cancellara and Martin.
A triumphant Tour of Britain gave a glimpse of the Wiggins who dominated 2012, winning Paris Nice, the Tour de Romandie, and the Criterium du Dauphine, as well as the Tour de France. More significant than any of these victories, however, was his crushing victory in the men’s time trial at the London Olympic Games.
This season, of course, has been wildly different, but time trial victories at the Tour of Poland and the Tour of Britain have shown that when all other factors are discounted, Wiggins remains one of the world’s best against the clock.
Fabian Cancellara will bid to add a fifth world time trial championship to an illustrious palmares. His record in this competition surpasses all others, and while his two big rivals for the rainbow stripes are hugely accomplished, ‘Spartacus’, perhaps more than his rivals, will feel that the jersey belongs to him.
Like Wiggins, Cancellara has lifted the Olympic time trial title, but happily for Spartacus, his 2013 campaign has been one of almost unbroken success. A magnificent spring brought victories at E3-Harelbeke, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix, completing a rarely-equaled cobbled Classics treble.
Cancellara’s time trial form has been equally impressive. Victories against the clock at the Tour of Austria, the Swiss national championships, and, most recently, at the Vuelta a Espana, where he put 37 seconds into Martin over a 38.8km course, have proven that Spartacus is far from a cobbled Classics specialist.
The Panzerwagen will be the last from the start house in Montecatini Terme, but will hope to be first among his illustrious equals, Wiggins and Cancellara, when matters are concluded in Firenze. The German doesn’t ‘do’ pressure. Like his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mate, Mark Cavendish, he simply delivers.
Evidence for Martin’s crushing consistency is writ large across his 2013 campaign, where has won time trials in almost every race in which he has competed, with the Vuelta a small, but notable exception. Early season? How about the Volta ao Algarve, where he took overall victory as well as the stage four ITT. Mid-season? Victory against the clock in a low key event called the Tour de France. Late season? Victory just three days ago with OPQS in the world team time trial championship.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of Martin’s 2013 season, however, did not come in a time trial or end in victory, His self-confessed ‘four hour’ time trial on stage six of the Vuelta a Espana, where he was caught within sight of the finish line, sent a chilling reminder to his rivals that when the course is flat, Mr 58-11 is hard to stop.
Today’s elite men’s time trial is widely viewed as a three-way battle, but as might be expected at the world championships, the start list is filled with talent, with Spanish champion, Jonathan Castroviejo, the American, Andrew Talansky, and Britain’s Alex Dowsett, winner of the stage nine test at the Giro d’Italia among those who ruin the script for ‘the big three’.
Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel added a fifth national time trial title to his impressive palmares in June, and has used victories against the clock as the foundation for his three biggest triumphs this season in the colours of Omega Pharma-Quickstep: the Eneco Tour, the Three Days of De Panne, and the World Team Time Trial Championship. Should Chavanel pull on the rainbow stripes today, close inspection of his record would reveal a victory long overdue.
Italy’s Marco Pinotti went one better than Chavanel this year, in the national time trial stakes at least, by winning a sixth championship. In all other regards however, Pinotti has had a low key season, and the 37-year-old should ride today with the intensity of a man who knows that this world championship could represent his last, best chance to pull on the rainbow jersey.
Taylor Phinney (USA) was fourth in last year’s world time trial championships, barely a month after finishing fourth in the Olympic time trial (he was fourth in the world road race championship, too). Still only 23, has developed sufficiently in the last 12 months to threaten the big three? Phinney’s best performances this season have come in bunch races rather than against the clock (a stage four victory in the Tour of Poland; seventh at Milan-San Remo). His best time trial performance came at the UCI 1.1 Chrono Herbaria, where he finished third behind Martin and Chavanel. While Phinney remains a wonderful prospect, victory today may be beyond him.