As increasing amounts of data are made available to us, it’s possible to believe that some performances are predictable; a statistical modelling problem where power, coefficient of drag, air pressure and course profile reside at one end of the equation and a podium place, for a select few, is available at the other.
The elite men’s individual time trial title holders have done little to alter this perception. The rainbow jersey has changed hands among a narrow and slowly evolving group for the last decade. Until 2015, the previous 10 wins were shared amongst just five riders.
In contrast, the World Championship road race is recognised as a lottery. Extreme distance and demanding courses whittle down the field until the winner emerges from among the strongest riders. However, the vagaries of road racing are such that the podium is impossible to forecast with confidence. This year’s 261.4km elite men’s road race was no exception. Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews were expected to be competitive, but who could have predicted that Ramunas Navardauskas would stand on the third step?
Time-trials take place in a more controlled environment. This makes preparation and prediction easier. We can see evidence of this in the team event. Since the revival of the team time trial in 2012, some iteration of the Quickstep team has been on the men’s podium in every edition. BMC and Orica-GreenEDGE have been present on the podium in three out of four events and Specialized–Lululemon, later Velocio-SRAM Pro Cycling, have won every women’s team time trial since the event’s inception.
Performance in the team time-trial has also provided hints to the form of individual riders. In previous years we’ve seen Tony Martin make huge pulls at the head of his team's train before securing the individual title later in the week. Vasil Kiryienka helped Team Sky to a bronze medal in 2013 before taking a respectable fourth place in the individual time trial. After watching Rohan Dennis’ heroic performance for BMC Racing in this year’s team event, many predicted that the Australian former hour record holder would be in contention for an individual medal.
However, the 2015 elite men’s individual event was a surprise to many. In the mixed zone, immediately following his ride, three times world champion Tony Martin was asked whether he had an explanation for the lack lustre performance of many of the favourites. “No”, was his succinct reply, but he may have simply said that they were not fast enough.
Martin languished in 7th place, off the podium for the first time since 2008 (where he also finished 7th). Tom Dumoulin was an unknown quantity following his demanding campaign at La Vuelta and perhaps the fatigue took its toll as he started strong then dropped to fifth position. Rohan Dennis finished in sixth place, failing to follow-up on his promising performance in the team time trial. In contrast, Kiryienka finally took home the gold medal after a string of near misses: fourth in 2013 and 2014, and third in 2012.