This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Team Specialized - Lululemon stormed to victory in the inaugural elite women’s team time trial at the world championships in Valkenburg with a well-drilled performance on what proved to be a very testing course.
Billed beforehand as a battle between Specialized-lulemon and Orica-AIS – two teams boasting enviable complements of specialists – the race certainly lived up to expectations, with the Australian outfit coming home in second place, 24 seconds down, while AA-Drink - Leontien.nl was the best of the rest, a distant 1:59 behind in third.
The 34.2km-long course began in Sittard and featured a flat, fast opening, where Specialized-lululemon and Orica-AIS matched one another pedal stroke for pedal stroke. At the first time check after 11km, the Orica-AIS sextet was less than a second behind Specialized-lululemon, but as the roads grew increasingly undulating, so too did lululemon’s greater balance begin to tell.
Evelyn Stevens in particular began to come to the fore and the American set a ferocious tempo up the climb of the Lange Raarberg, a little under two thirds of the way into the race, and it was here that Specialized-lululemon began to stretch out its advantage, coming through the second time check 13 seconds clear of the rivals.
The rolling Limburg course proved to be the ultimate test of the old adage that a team is only as strong as its weakest rider and Specialized-lululemon had done their homework diligently. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg was the squad’s weakest climber on paper, but the experienced German put in a mammoth shift on the front in the early, flat kilometres, ensuring that the team broke more or less even with Orica-AIS.
While Teutenberg would be dropped as the course grew more testing in the finale, her early pace-setting had set the tone for her team’s collective effort, and in Stevens, Trixi Worrack, Ellen Van Dijk, Amber Neben and Charlotte Becker, Specialized-lululemon had more than enough firepower to see them home.
Orica-AIS still put up fierce resistance even though they must have sensed the race was slipping away from them on the rhythm-sapping rises and dips that characterised the kilometres immediately after the Lange Raarberg.
With the team reduced to the minimum four for the finale, the experienced Judith Arndt shouldered responsibility for steadying the ship and ensuring that they remained in contention on the final climb of the Cauberg. Arndt’s careful pace-setting up the climb and over the false flat to the finish saw Orica-AIS cross the line with the provisional best time, 1:35 quicker than Emma Pooley’s AA Drink-Leontien.nl squad.
Specialized-lulemon were the last team down the start ramp, however, and by the time they hit the Cauberg, they knew that they had 20 seconds in hand and could afford to set a steady tempo up the climb. Stevens hit the front up the Cauberg, but was careful to ensure that her four remaining teammates could hold her wheel.
Once over the top, Neben, Worrack, Becker and local favourite Ellen Van Dijk took over for the final push to the line and brought Specialized-lululemon home to claim an historic gold medal.