PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — Shaking off a training-day crash, Specialized-Lululemon powered to its third consecutive team time trial victory Saturday to open the 2014 road world cycling championships.
Three of the team’s six riders went down hard in a high-speed training crash Saturday, with key rider Evelyn Stevens earning a trip to a Spanish hospital.
Under sunny skies Sunday, they rallied to fend off a deep, 14-team field to claim the prestigious trade team title for the third year running.
“The staff did an incredible job after our crash yesterday, helping us recover not just physically, but mentally as well,” said Carmen Small. “They helped us keep a positive attitude, to remind us that it happened yesterday, and not on the race day. That helped us to focus on what we needed to do.”
Stevens and Trixi Worrack have been on the team for all three victories. For Stevens, riding across the line victorious once again was even more significant after the crash. Stevens said riders crossed wheels, sending her crashing hard on her shoulder.
“I was getting X-rays last night, so it added a little bit more flair. That made it even more special knowing that we were not perfect going into the race,” Stevens told VeloNews at the line. “We just went out and rode flawlessly. It’s super special, because it was a really deep field.”
Specialized-Lululemon rode the 36.15km course in 43:33 (49.805kph). Stevens, who said she was not seriously injured Saturday, lost the wheel on the final descent, but regained contact in the closing kilometers to give the team six across the line.
Orica-AIS kept it close, stopping the clock for silver at 1:17 back.
“We’ve been working really hard all year, and we got it spot on today. I am really pleased with the ride,” said Orica’s Emma Johansson. “Lululemon have been super-fast all year, but we’re getting closer and closer.”
Astana-BePink, which wasn’t among the pre-race favorites, took a surprise bronze at 2:20 slower, edging out Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies by just six seconds. United Healthcare was also close to the podium, stopping the clock in 2:44 for sixth.
“It’s an incredible experience for the team to come together to get a medal,” said American Alison Tetrick of Astana. “We might not have been one of the favorites, but we had a great ride and a lot of heart today, so we are very proud of our ride.”
Rabo-Liv crashed heavily in the closing kilometers, finishing last. Anna Van der Breggen and Annemiek Van Vleuten — key helpers for defending world road race champion Marianne Vos — were both transported to a local hospital.
Vos had been gapped by her teammates, so she was not involved in the crash.
“Team time trialing is not my thing,” Vos said at the line. “I only saw the crash when I came around the corner. I hope my teammates are okay.”
Many eyes were on Ellen van Dijk , who was part of Specialized-Lululemon’s first two worlds-winning teams. She switched to Boels Dolmans this season, but her team could only muster fifth.
“It didn’t go as well as we had hoped. Not everyone was on their best day,” Van Dijk said. “We lost two girls early, and on the climb, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. I was feeling okay.”
Specialized-Lululemon took special pride in winning its third title despite the departure of Van Dijk, the reigning world individual time trial champion.
“We showed we are a strong team, even without Ellen here,” said Lisa Brennauer. “This shows to everyone that we six stick together, that we can make it happen. It’s more than just about her, it’s the whole team. It’s not just one, that’s what we showed during the whole year.”
Despite some changes in team sponsorship for 2015, the team’s future is secure, though there could be some changes in Specialized-Lululemon’s lineup for next season when it defends its world time trial title in Richmond, Virginia.