When Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team set goals for the 2016 season, winning the team time trial title ranked atop the list of lofty ambitions team manager Danny Stam set out to achieve. The Dutch-registered squad had come close last year, missing out on the top step of the podium by a mere six seconds to Velocio-SRAM in Richmond, Virginia.
Fuelled both by last year’s loss and this season’s success, Chantal Blaak, Karol-Ann Canuel, Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead), Christine Majerus, Evie Stevens and Ellen van Dijk delivered, stopping the clock at 48:41:62 after a steamy, sticky 40-kilometre effort.
That effort proved plenty fast enough for the world title with a time that was 48-seconds faster than CANYON//SRAM and nearly two minutes quicker than Cérvelo-Bigla in third. The win in Doha, Qatar on Sunday was the 40th win of the season for Boels-Dolmans.
“We’ve worked hard all season,” said Deignan. “We’ve shown ourselves to be the most dominant team in women’s cycling, and it was really important to us to finish off the season with this medal. It’s been a long season, and I’m so proud of how the team came together.
Boels-Dolmans was the second to last team to power down the start ramp. Only eight teams contested the the team time trial in the Qatari desert, with many teams citing the high travel-related costs as a reason not to make the trip. The opening kilometres were the most technical with 14 corners to contend with before the first intermediate check at the 13.6-kilometre mark.
Clocking a time of 17:10.84, Boels-Dolmans was fastest at the first check until CANYON//SRAM reached the marker. With a time of 17:01.43, the four-time defending champions had the upper-hand by eight seconds.
“It’s never nice to know you’re behind, but I knew we need to stick to our plan,” said Van Dijk. “There’s nothing else you can really do anyway.”
By the second intermediate check, the table had turned. At 26.4 kilometres, Boels-Dolmans led CANYON//SRAM by 14-seconds.
“We knew were in a good way when we heard that,” Van Dijk noted. “We were 14-seconds ahead on the second after being eight-seconds behind on the first, so we were 22-seconds faster than CANYON on the straights. That’s when I knew we were having a faster speed, which was good for the head coming into the finish.”
Seven kilometres from the finish, Boels-Dolmans still had all six riders motoring toward the finish line. Canuel and Majerus would sacrifice themselves in the closing kilometres, leaving Blaak, Deignan, Stevens and Van Dijk to drive it home.
“I was confident they could finish it off, but you never know until the end,” said Majerus. “I was super happy when I crossed the finish line and saw the times. That’s when I knew we had done it.”
RIDER-BY-RIDER COMMENTS TO TODAY’S TEAM TIME TRIAL WIN
Sunday’s win was Blaak’s second team time trial title. She won the team time trial with Specialized-lululemon in 2014.
What went right: “We stayed pretty long together with six. Everyone is really strong at the moment. We are all six motors, and today was the ultimate motor-pacing.”
The biggest obstacle: “The heat. I really struggle in the heat. Even if you’re good in the heat, today was hard. It was hard for everyone.”
Learning the team had won gold: “I found out pretty late. I didn’t have a working radio. I was the only one without. I didn’t know we were eight seconds behind. I didn’t know we were 14 seconds in front. I signed to Danny straight away so he would know. After the finish, first I saw black and almost passed out. When I finally felt good, I asked [soigneur] Smiley: ‘Do you know?’ And he said: ‘We won of course.’ And then, it was just happy.”
Canuel has twice won the team time trial with Specialized-luluemon/Velocio-SRAM. The Canadian was signed by Boels-Dolmans last fall in part because of the firepower she would add specifically on this day.
Pressure to perform: “Every team time trial is different, so I was focused only on today’s race. I know I can bring a strength to the team in the team time trial, but every single person is important. I didn’t feel any extra pressure today because of my role. I knew it something we could only accomplish together.”
How this win is different from her past titles: “It was nice to win Evie’s last race with her, and it was important to the team to win. It’s been a focus all year. There has been a lot of talk about how they lost last year by six seconds. Those six seconds. I heard a lot about them this season. So – it was really important to everyone, especially with the year we had, it made sense that we wanted to win it today.”
What went right: “Today it was the condition of all six riders. We rode a lot with each other, and we know how we race together. Today we weren’t thinking. We were just doing. It was a very natural way of riding.”
The road world champion has been with Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team since its inception four years ago, and as she has evolved, the team has evolved and so has the team’s ambitions. Deignan was part of the silver medal ride last year and a key figure in the team’s gold-medal ride this year.
The significance of the team time trial win: “It’s my favourite win of the season. Really, it is. It’s been a struggle for me to continue this far in the season. This World Championships road race has never been a goal of mine. The pressure I felt coming into today, when I’ve gone out training, it’s all been for my teammates. Since August the seventh, this is what I’ve thought about. It’s been all-consuming for the team, and now that we’ve done it, I feel a great sense of pride in everybody involved.”
Learning the team had won gold: “There was relief mixed in with the happiness. There always is when you work towards something for such a long time and you finally achieve it.”
Amongst her teammates, Majerus was the only rider of the six to not have won a world title (individual or team trial). A 24-time Luxembourg national champion, Majerus can now call herself a world champion.
The immediate post-race feeling: "It feels good. Obviously it was a big goal for the team to win it. Already for the last few years, we were unlucky but we also didn’t have the legs. This year – after the season we had – I think we were all like: ‘Okay. This is the year that we have to get it.’ And we did.”
Pressure to perform: “I wasn’t too stressed even if I knew it was maybe my only opportunity to get a world title. I was already happy to make the team because Kasia [Pawlowska] and Amalie [Dideriksen] would also have done great in the spot. This is really for everyone, the whole team. I’m really happy to have it. It was nice to finish second last year but it’s nothing the same as the win.”
Not a perfect ride but a perfect result: “I think it’s completely stupid to make us race in these conditions. It’s nice that we won, but racing in these conditions that require heavy intensity in extreme heat is dangerous for our bodies. I’m happy we’re all okay. That’s the first thing. The second thing is on the final lap, there were cars in the roundabout, motos in the roundabout. I’m happy we could stay focused through every incident. Usually those are the sort of things that can cause a loss of focus and a loss of time. It wasn’t a perfect day or a perfect ride, but we managed it well to not start it too hard and to keep the pace on the long straight where you could really make a difference.”
Stevens announced her retirement from professional cycling in August and not too long later revealed that the team time trial at the 2016 Road World Championships would be the final race of her career. A three-time team time trial winner with Specialized-lululemon/Velocio-SRAM, Stevens was thrilled to add team time trial number four as the final line on her illustrious palmares.
Retiring with a world title: “I knew all season that I would retire this year, and I knew all season that this is how I wanted to go out. I can’t think of a better ending than this. This is exactly how I wanted to do it.”
The sentiment now that it’s over: “I feel very confident that I made the right decision. My biggest goal was to end and know that I’m still good, that I could still keep going but that I was choosing to stop and I did that.”
On heat acclimation: The team did a good job preparing for the heat. We spent time in sauna last week. We got here early this week to adapt. It’s not a head that I ever want to ride my bike in again, but I think we did a good job managing it and being prepared.”
ELLEN VAN DIJK
The Dutchwoman moves to Liv-Plantur in 2017 and was highly motivated to close out her three-year tenure with Boels-Dolmans with the team time trial title. The win on Sunday is Van Dijk’s fifth world title, her fourth on the road and her third in the team time trial.
How this win is different from her past titles: “It’s my third team time trial, and it’s the third time I’ve come in as a favourite. It’s always hard to be the favourite and then come out and achieve what everyone expects that you can do. It’s also cool to be on a Dutch team and hear the Dutch anthem on the podium. That makes it extra special. It’s also a special way to leave the team. It’s a good farewell.”
The plan: “The plan? Just go. We didn’t start out fast or slow or whatever. We wanted to do a good speed and keep that, and we really did. The plan…I don’t know. Ride. Go. Win. And we did.”