Following a three-day selection camp in The Netherlands, Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team is proud to announce its six-strong team time trial squad for the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Boels-Dolmans hope for team time trial gold rests with Chantal Blaak, Karol-Ann Canuel, Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead), Christine Majerus, Evie Stevens and Ellen van Dijk.
The team includes four riders who have previously won the team time trial world title (Blaak, Canuel, Stevens, Van Dijk), the reigning road world champion (Deignan), the reigning European time trial champion (Van Dijk), the reigning UCI hour record holder (Stevens), a reigning time trial national champion (Majerus) and the 2013 individual time trial world champion (Van Dijk).
“We had eight riders that were capable of being a part of this squad,” said team manager Danny Stam. “Ultimately, I chose the six that have the most experience riding together. This group has the best combination of power, experience, technical skills and the will to win.”
It’s the win that is the aim. Boels-Dolmans earned the silver medal at the 2015 World Championships in Richmond last year, missing out on the top step of the podium by six seconds. Gold in the team time trial has been a clearly articulated goal ever since, and team time trial training began as early as team camp in December of last year.
The extra attention to the discipline has proven effective. Boels-Dolmans recorded its first team time trial win in the team’s four-year history in April at the Energiewacht Tour. Team time trials win in Värgarda and Boels Rental Tour followed.
Van Dijk, who has been part of every team time trial win this season, has said the collective achievement explains the team’s focus on the discipline: “We’ve had a lot of success the whole year, but nearly every time, there’s only one rider standing on the podium or only one rider standing on the top step. A team time trial result is something that the whole team can share together – not only the girls here but even the ones that are not here with us. The staff play an important role and the sponsors do, too. Every victory is a team victory but this is the only one where you can see it so clearly.”
Specialized, in particular, has proven integral in preparing Boels-Dolmans for the team time trial. The California-based bicycle company’s involvement has extended far beyond supplying and testing equipment.
“They have been with us whenever we are doing the team time trial – at the camps or at the races,” said Van Dijk. “They support us all with data and all the high tech stuff. They also work with us on strategy and how to best approach each course. That’s really an advantage for us to have a sponsor that is so involved and so knowledgeable.”
The 40-kilometre team time trial begins in the city of Lusail in the north of Doha and follows an urban stretch of road south into the West Bay Lagoon, which is the entry point into The Pearl Qatar. The man-made island off the West Bay coast hosts the finish of all 12 events that make up the UCI Road World Championships.
“There are some corners in the beginning of the course but they are not hard corners,” noted Van Dijk. “There are two times U-turns. It’s quite a lot of straight roads. It will come down to the smoothest trains. It will be important to pace the race well and not to go too fast or too slow in the beginning.”
Van Dijk and her teammates travel to Brussels on Monday and to Qatar on Tuesday.
“It’s an easy coffee ride on Wednesday for the girls,” said Stam. “The other days, we’ll use to see the course, but sleep and rest are more important at this stage.”
The hard work was done over the last several days and in the weeks and months that have lead up to this moment.
“We have been training this discipline for quite some time, and the final preparation was these last few days,” said Van Dijk. “A lot of thought has gone into where we can improve, but I’m sure it’s the same for all the other teams. We can’t worry about the others. We can only focus on ourselves, and that’s what we are doing.”
“This discipline requires such intense concentration,” added Stam. “It looks simple on paper, but there is nothing simple about it. We made a lot of mistakes in our first training session last week, and we realised again the challenges involved in getting a group of six to ride as fast as possible from Point A to Point B.”
Can this group of six prove quickest next Sunday?
“We are one of the favourites or maybe the favourite for next week, but for sure it’s not going to be easy,” said Van Dijk. “Of course, that’s what makes it so special.”
“Nothing is as hard to predict as a team time trial,” Stam added. “We need all six riders in the best shape of their lives. Our final training session went well. I believe we have a good chance, but everything must go perfectly.”
Regardless of the outcome, Sunday’s team time trial represents Stevens’ final race. The American announced her retirement following the 2016 Rio Olympics. She’s elected to close out her seven-year career as a professional cyclist with the team time trial in Qatar.
“I have the utmost respect for my teammates, staff and sponsors and I love racing the team time trial,” said Stevens. “I am happy to know my last memory of racing will be with this group of strong and powerful women and this amazing organisation. This is exactly how I want to end things, and I feel lucky that I’ve had the option to end things on my terms.”