Race of Truth Redux - UCI World Championship Teams Time Trial - Limburg 2012

The All Time Teams Time Trial Leader Board

Omega Pharma Quickstep Won the brand new 2012 Professional Cycling World Team Time Trial Championship at Limburg in the Netherlands on the weekend. The six victorious OPQS riders were Peter Velits, Sylvain Chavanel, Tom Boonen, Tony Martin, Niki Terpstra and Kristof Vandewalle. All six crossed the finish line together, covering the 53.2 km course in a time of 1:03:17, recording an average speed of 50.4398 km/h. BMC were 3.23 seconds behind followed by Green Edge down by 47.06 seconds for third place.

Eighteen years ago the UCI condemned the old 100 km four man teams time trial. Relegating the event to the vaults of cycling history. Along with other skeletons stuffed in the closet, like the Hour record, the UCI have done a pretty good job of washing their hands of these iconic races. Eighteen years, surely enough time has elapsed for the old event to lay safely tucked away in the abyss. So how do you make a race, which once tested the mettle of 'amateur' racers representing nations, into a race befitting of the current crop of professionals? On Sunday in Limburg the UCI trotted out their new show pony, looking more like a pantomime horse than a thoroughbred.  The new format, just half the distance with two extra men, far enough to show off the prowess of present-day bike riders. This format ought to separate the two events, making them distinctly different to compare.

A relic of the past. Last run at Agrigento Italy in 1994. Based on elite amateur squads representing nations, with the same riders able to compete with pro's in pro-am events, the line between Pro and Amateur prior to 1994 was blurred. Deleting the 100 km teams event was like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Instead of removing the event from the programme, simply switching it over to become a professional race would have made more sense. After all it was a sentimental favourite with many riders and cycling fans alike.

Given that average speed is a pretty good gauge of performance of man and machine, how did the Omega Pharma Quickstep boys and their compatriots compare to the old battle of nations riders. Really it's a pretty good handicap, the original race was double the distance, with two less men, riding old steel bikes, and they were 'amateurs'.

After compiling all the statistics earlier this year, on all the old UCI 100km teams time trial races. All we had to do was sit back and wait for the new 2012 professional version to run, and see how the neo time trial professionals fared, on the all time TTT leader board, against the old national teams.

First a quick look at the stats. We are missing the times for Agrigento 1994 and Oslo 1993, both races won by the Italians. Leaving the fastest known time at a World TTT over the distance of 99.1 km in a time of 1:54:48 with an average speed of 51.7944 km/h. That time was laid down by Italy at Stuttgart in 1991. Take a look at the table below, there are five teams ahead of the OPQS 2012 squad on the ALL TIME TTT LEADER BOARD (OPQS, AVS for 53.2 km 50.4398 km/h).

Team Time Trial Race OF Truth Redux

Team Time Trial Race OF Truth Redux

Reputedly the fastest time ever recorded at an international teams time trial event was at the Victoria Canada Commonwealth Games in 1994. The time was 1:53:19 run over a 99km course, that's an average speed of 52.4194 km/h. The Aussie team that recorded the time was Phil Anderson, Brett Dennis, Henk Vogels and Damian McDonald. Famously, the three younger riders told Phil to "go sit on the back you're slowing us down". If verified, this was a scintillating time from the Heiko Salzwedel coached Aussies. Heiko was known to have burnt out and completely pissed off masses of riders, not to mention mechanics amongst others, in his quest for perfect athletic performance. Defaulting to his own vision of winning, derived from his previous life coaching in East Germany.

During the era of national teams representing each nation at the world championships, there were two types of teams. The ones where last minute selections resulted in four riders cobbling together whatever gear they could, with virtually no support. The second type was borne of national programmes aimed at producing the best four athletes capable of winning. Here there was competition within nations, to select the best athletes from, competing squads. These nations were the ones taking home the medals. Italy undoubtedly the most successful, followed by the USSR.

Obviously one reason why the old steel bike riding national teams were faster over longer distances, than today's professionals was the depth of their "tackle boxes." There wasn't as much testing back then and really it was the glory days of amphetamines, EPO, "smack you head off like a freight train" high dosage caffeine, HGH, roids, and a plethora of other substances. Hell some even subscribed to "Horse and Hound" magazine to find the best available vet supplies then adapted them for human consumption. One rider I knew even took performance enhancements meant for greyhounds, no science there, just dumb luck. As Aussie comedians Roy and HG used to say, these blokes were "chock a block full of the angry pills."

Put the unlimited tackle box together with the desire by some nations to create the ultimate time trial winning four man machine, at whatever cost. Complete this with extreme training programmes, plus rider competition within nations tailored for one event. You begin to see why these guys were faster over double the distance, than today's pro's.

In the lead up to the race at Limburg this week, Omega Phama Quickstep's preparation was just a small part of their 2012 racing programme, not an entire season based around winning one gold medal.

OPQS Sports Director Wilfried Peeters said before the race, "The riders are motivated. We did some specific training but it will be important that on Friday and Saturday, we will do more training on the parcour to tune up all of the duties and responsibilities of each rider — the perfect line, who takes the corners, who makes the final effort, things like that. "

As indicated by Peeters, they certainly didn't base their entire season around this race.

Undoubtedly the OPQS lineup of riders was impressive plus this statistic for OPQS says it all, it was their 53rd win for the 2012 season, "in three disciplines". Yes OPQS management are counting and they publish the number as it grows, at every opportunity. What this says about the new 2012 format for the Team Time trial race at the world's is that it can never really be compared to the old 100km race format. They are that different, yet it is still interesting to benchmark the old times with the new.

The last part that makes me wonder what this new race is really about is the way in which the winning team gets to tell the world they won. There's no rainbow jersey, just a special UCI "distinctive logo" imprinted on their jersey for the 2013 season.

In 1994, the UCI scrapped a hugely popular event, designed to torture men who loved a liberal dose of pain, a true test, loved by fans and riders alike. Time will tell whether the new lightweight Pro version with it's, attractive prize of a "distinctive logo", can find a place of it's own in the hearts and minds of cycling aficionados.

For a different perspective there's more here. Inrng Team Time Trial World Championships

Title image, Araya disc by Robert Cobcroft of Australian Teams Time Trial bikes at Villach Austria 1987.