Linda Villumsen’s return to world championship racing was a strong one as the former world time trial champion joined with her Team Virtu squad to take fifth place in the team time trial; the first race of the UCI World Road Championships in Bergen, Norway.  The race was won by Team Sunweb ahead of Boels Dolmans and Cervelo-Bigla.

A tough 42.5km course lay in wait for the nine teams taking on the women’s team time trial course.  The Danish squad of Team Virtu Cycling Women – formerly Team VeloCONCEPT – of Claudia Koster, Christina Siggaard, Pernille Mathiesen, Amber Neben, Sara Penton and Linda Villumsen were the first team off the start ramp, and they quickly set about establishing a solid benchmark for the other teams to try to emulate.

At their first intermediate check at 10.5km Team Virtu had stopped the clock in 14 minutes exactly, a strong average speed of 45kph over the rolling course.  Not unexpectedly the team dropped Christina Siggaard early, but what was surprising was the unexpected mechanical issue that the team suffered.  One of the team’s strongest riders, last year’s individual time trial world champion, Amber Neben, was brought to a halt with an issue with her chain.

Team Virtu had, at this point, been riding for some 26 minutes and still had more than half of their ride to tackle.  Neben was quickly back up and running thanks to the rapid support from the team car, but she’d lost ground on her teammates and now the decision had to be made on whether the remaining four riders would wait for Neben or not.  Four riders had to cross the line together, and with more than half of the race still to go it would be a big decision for the team to make.

It looked, in the end, that the team had decided to push on and rely on the fact that the remaining four riders would be able to remain together throughout the rest of the ride; a ride which included the tough 7.2% average gradient of Birkelundsbakken; a climb that would reach 9.1% in gradient.  On the climb Team Virtu Cycling found themselves in further trouble as Sara Penton began to suffer.  The climb itself was brutal, bringing the team down to around 11kph.  Penton began to drop off, and so too did Claudia Koster.  Mathiesen and Villumsen were strong at the front and led the way to the second time check at 31km.  

Villumsen led the way to the top, with the team finally stopping the clock in 44.52 mins.  The quartet would have to remain together though and after reuniting they proceeded to fly down the descent.  

The climb would proceed to be problematic for more than just Team Virtu as BePink Cogeas struggled to keep four riders together.  Hitec Products were the first team to really approach the climb well, holding four riders together up the climb comfortably, while BTC City Ljubljana kept five riders together up the climb.  But it was clear that Team Sunweb at this point were really establishing themselves as they crested the climb at 31km with all six riders in tact, and with a time a full 1.49.51mins faster than Villumsen’s Team Virtu squad; the first team to better Virtu at this point.  Cervelo Bigla were marginally quicker again on the climb, but only by a couple of seconds.  Canyon SRAM were slower though than both Cervelo Bigla and Team Sunweb.  Boels Dolmans went through the second time check 12 seconds up though and with all six together still, looking very strong. 

Team Virtu – featuring Linda Vllumsen – battled bravely after losing two riders inside of the first half of racing, photo Sirotti

Up ahead the next challenge would be the cobbled section, and again that put Team Virtu under pressure, with the outfit by now having ridden about as much time with four riders as they’d done with five.  The team’s rhythm was upset repeatedly but the team still managed to produce a strong ride as they kept the four together to cross the line.  Villumsen led the way through the final turn and the team crossed the line in 58.33.15mins, an average speed of 43.553kph.

Team Sunweb were flying back down the road though, while BTC City Ljubljana and BePink were coming home, Sunweb were busy catching the FDJ Nouvelle Aquitane Futuroscope team, showing that they’d obviously saved something in reserve to make an assault on the final sections of the course.

Over the final section of the course Team Sunweb lost two of their riders, but it was clear to see why with the intensity with which they’d ridden the final section.  Coryn Rivera led the team towards the line, stopping the clock in an impressive 55.41mins.  They were the first team to beat Villumsen’s Virtu team and they’d smashed the time by 2.52mins.  Back down the road Boels-Dolmans still had six riders together but it had emerged that the Sunweb team were so strong in the latter sections that they’d taken back all of their deficit to Boels-Dolmans and now led the team by just 2 seconds at the 36km check.

As the kilometres continued to tick away and Boels-Dolmans hit the cobblestones the strength of the two Dutch teams became apparent as Boels-Dolmans closed the gap to just 0.22 of a second.  Canyon SRAM were the surprise of the day, losing a lot of time later on to finish in 56.46mins which would eventually only be good enough for fourth place; and outside the medals.

Boels-Dolmans went through the 1km to go banner with just 5 seconds the deficit.  It was going to be mightily lose, but they were losing ground on Sunweb’s time bit by bit.  Having led at intermediate time checks for so long, Boels-Dolmans finally lost their lead at the last, stopping the clock 12 seconds slower than Team Sunweb.

There were tears of joy from Team Sunweb and justifiably so as the Dutch squad, who weren’t expected to win had produced a stellar final section to completely tear up the script and secure a famous win courtesy of Lucinda Brand, Leah Kirchmann, Floortje Mackaij, Coryn Rivera, Sabrina Stultiens and Ellen van Dijk.

Boels-Dolmans and Cervelo – Bigla took second and third, with Canyon SRAM fourth and the valiant Team Virtu completing the top five.

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