The Netherlands acquired a valuable piece of UCI Road World Championships cycling history on Tuesday, capturing all three medals in the Elite Womens' individual time trial, whilst earlier Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel took home gold in the Junior Men’s equivalent event.
Twelve months on from the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen, Norway, 2017 Elite Women’s Time Trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten was once again triumphant in the same event in Innsbruck, this time ahead of her Netherlands team-mates Anna van der Breggen, the silver medallist at 29 seconds and Ellen van Dijk at 1-25.
Only Canada’s Leah Kirchmann, fourth at 1-27 could come anywhere close to upsetting the Netherlands’ riders domination.
To say the Netherlands have both strength in depth in womens’ time trialling was clear on Tuesday, but recent World Championships history is testament to that, too. Van der Breggen was, of course, silver medallist last year as well behind Van Vleuten in Bergen’s Road World Championships TT, whilst Van Dijk is a former gold medallist in the same category back in 2013, and also secured the silver in the same event in 2016.
But for a single nation to secure all three medals, as the Netherlands did on Tuesday, is unprecedented in Elite Women’s Road World Championships time trialling, and has only once happened in elite women’s World Championships road racing history, back in 1962 when Marie-Rose Gaillard led home a clear sweep for Belgium.
56 years on, Van Vleuten had her own team-mates to beat, as first Van Dijk, then Van der Breggen set blistering fast times on the 27.7 kilometre course.
At the intermediate checkpoint, coming after 17.5 kilometres and near the top of the Absam climb, Van Dijk’s fastest time was only beaten by Van der Breggen, 28 seconds faster. But then Van Vleuten managed to top that by another 19 seconds, an advantage she would push out to 29 second on Van der Bergen by the finish.
In the process of outpowering the rest of the field en route to gold, Van Vleuten overtook two earlier starters, first former double World Time Trial Champion Amber Neben of the USA, and, as she approached the line, Germany’s Trixi Worrack.
"There are not so many who have won the World Championships twice," Van Vleuten pointed out afterwards.
"For sure I had some pressure but I also had pressure last year, so it's no different. If you're here, you want to win. And I know how beautiful the rainbow jersey is."
"The hard thing about this TT was that there were uphills but on the descents there was no recovery. My legs were screaming to stop pedalling on the descents but I had to keep going,” she added, "that made it almost a flat time trial with hills.”
Earlier in the day, European Road-Race and TT champion Remco Evenepoel more than lived up to his status as pre-race favourite, bringing home the gold for Belgium by a margin of well over a minute.
Evenepoel, 18, had more than enough time to celebrate his win as he forged down the finishing straight in front of Innsbruck’s Hofberg palace, pumping his left arm skyward in celebration.
Already a double Junior Track World Champion in 2018, Australia’s Luke Plapp had been in the hotseat with the provisional best time at both the intermediate split and at the finish. But the Australian could see his chances of adding another rainbow jersey to his collection were slim when Evenepoel improved on his time at the mid-race checkpoint by a massive 49 seconds.
Unusually, the top four positions on the intermediate split, after 18.8 kilometres, were completely unchanged at the finish. So whilst Evenepoel ultimately beat Plapp into silver by 1-23, Andrea Piccolo of Italy, his country’s reigning Junior National Time Trial Champion rounded off the podium for the bronze, 1-37 down after marking the third best intermediate time. Meanwhile Michel Hess of Germany, fourth mid-way through the rolling, 27.8 kilometre course, was fourth at the finish, too, 1-47 back.
The biggest story of the Junior Men’s TT, though, belonged to Evenepoel, whose 83 second advantage over silver medallist Plapp was nearly seven times greater than last year’s 12 second margin for 2017 World Champion Tom Pidcock of Great Britain, over runner-up Antonio Puppio of Italy in the same discipline and level.
The last of the 71 starters, mid-way through the course, Evenepoel even stormed past the rider seeded second last, Norway’s Soren Waerenskjold, who still came home in fifth.
“I worked so hard for this, it was the main goal of my season,” Evenepoel said afterwards. “From ten kilometres out I went flat out, and my legs felt better and better.”
“I know I was under a lot of pressure; but I don’t care what everybody says, I was just thinking about how I could perform and training hard.”
Evenepoel had many thoughts afterwards for Igor Decraene, the Belgian who won the same Championships Junior TT title in 2013 but then died tragically in an accident in 2014. Evenepoel also thanked his family, relatives, coach, friends and future professional team Quick-Step Floors for their help and support.
A former football player and Belgian Junior National Road-Race and Time Trial Champion, Evenepoel said he had no regrets about switching sports, and that his second big goal of this week will be the World Championships Junior Men’s road race. “And then my pro life starts,” Evenepoel reflected. “But first comes Thursday.”
Racing at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships continues on Wednesday with the Elite Men’s Individual Time Trial,. comprising a tough 52.5 kilometres from Rattenberg to Innsbruck.
All the results.