This Sunday, 9th October, World Championships week rolls out with the Women’s Team Time Trial. CANYON//SRAM will take to the start line wearing new Rapha skinsuits, with hopes of winning the title.
In team manager and sports director Ronny Lauke and his German compatriot, the rider Trixi Worrack, CANYON//SRAM has the most successful duo in recent TTT history on its side. Together, Worrack and Lauke have enjoyed four successive wins at the Worlds together. Down in the desert of Doha they will attempt to mastermind victory once again.
A visually compelling spectacle that sees teams ride and finish a time trial course together, the TTT has had an inconsistent history. First introduced at the 1920s Tours de France, it was quickly dropped due to a lack of exciting results. Reintroduced in the 1960s as a brutal 100km four-man event at the Olympics it then disappeared again in the early ‘90s. Long considered a pet project of the UCI, in 2012 the return of the event for trade teams at the Worlds was announced and Lauke was immediately motivated:
“My dad was a specialist in the ‘70s and won a bronze medal at the Olympics. When I was a rider I also had some success in the event, more on the track than the road though. I love that you have to prepare, to think hard to find every detail that can make the group better. I like that everything has to be perfect and in order.”
Stereotypes about German efficiency aside, the event suits the details-obsessed Lauke to a tee. More than any other cycling discipline, the TTT demands a harmony between riders of varying abilities and strengths, with the goal being that every team member gives the maximum they can while staying together. Riders rotate through and off the front to share the brunt of the wind while trying to keep their wheels close together for aerodynamic efficiency.
For Lauke, there is only one way to achieve this equilibrium of form and force: practice. “When you ride on your limit, you suffer,” he says. “Normally this means the brain has a lot of blood loss so you can’t think in a proper way. Everything therefore needs to become routine and this comes from training on the limit.”
Having whipped his charges into shape for the first TTT Worlds in Limburg in 2012, Ronny’s team – then named Specialized-Lululemon – won by 24 seconds. The following year, they were dominant, winning every TTT all season and the Worlds by over a minute. Throughout, Worrack was a trusted road captain: “She has a really good feeling if the group is good or how they can improve and what to do – it means I don’t have to interfere too much,” says Ronny.
Another talented German rider had joined the TTT squad in 2013, Lisa Brennauer, and she has been an ever-present fixture since. This shared winning experience helps to develop another important facet of the event: trust. “The riders need to consider that they are riding their bike at 60km/h, 5cm from the person in front and behind. They must trust that if they follow wherever the rider in front of them goes, they know they will be safe,” sys Ronny.
The CANYON//SRAM line-up for Sunday’s 40km race includes four of the six riders who beat Boels-Dolmans by a nail-biting six seconds last year in Richmond: The captains Trixi and Lisa; Mieke Kröger (“an incredible engine; she will be a key person”) and Alena Amialiusik. They will be joined by two newcomers: Elena Cecchini and Hannah Barnes. The battle with Boels-Dolmans, who CANYON//SRAM have yet to beat in the discipline this year, should be as intense as the middle eastern heat bearing down on them.
In preparation for perhaps their toughest Worlds TTT yet, the team held a training camp in Germany in September before arriving in Doha ten days ahead of the race. They have been training on the course, learning the speeds at which they can take the corners as well as acclimatising to the extreme weather with the help of Aspetar, a leading sports medicine hospital that has been monitoring the riders’ health and reactions to the heat. By Sunday, Ronny’s job will be done and he can sit back and watch the race from the best seat in the house, the team car. Whether he’ll enjoy it or not, is another matter:
“On the day, it’s a feeling of nervousness and adrenaline, but I like it somehow. When the TTT train is running smooth and the six riders melt into one unit then I can just drive behind and enjoy the speed and dynamic – that’s a passion for me. But as soon as 1 or 2 percent of the perfection is missing, then I start to not like it any more!”
He shouldn’t worry though, Worrack will be there and she knows all of the tricks of the trade. The 35-year-old had a kidney removed following a crash in March and for her to already be back at the top of the sport is an achievement of some measure. Should CANYON//SRAM be victorious this weekend on the Pearl of Qatar, it might be the most precious jewel in her TTT crown yet.