Elite women’s TT worlds full of redemption stories

Amber Neben, Trixi Worrack, and Annemiek Van Vleuten all rode to top-10 finishes at worlds, overcoming notable injuries.

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Cycling is full of stories about resilience, sometimes distilled into one single day of racing, and other times played out over the course of several seasons. Coincidentally, Tuesday’s elite women’s world time trial championships displayed three storylines, all similar, but each with its own twist on redemption and resilience.

German Trixi Worrack rode to seventh place in Doha — a modest result for a woman who won the 2015 Amgen Tour of California, is a two-time national champion, and claimed a silver medal at 2006 world road race championships. The thing is, Worrack was riding with just one kidney. After an awful crash in Trofeo Alfredo Binda this March, the Canyon – SRAM rider was hospitalized and required surgery, which cost her an organ.

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Unfortunately, it seems the pro women’s peloton was wracked by a number of traumatic crashes this season, and perhaps none more memorable than that of Annemiek Van Vleuten, who crashed out of the lead at the Rio Olympics road race, breaking a vertebrae and suffering a concussion. The Dutchwoman rebounded quickly and was back racing one month later at the Lotto Belgium Tour, where she won stage 3 and the overall. On Tuesday, she was fifth in the time trial, despite her own admission that she “underestimated” her capacity to handle the heat and rode the race conservatively.

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But comeback stories aren’t complete without mentioning the winner, American Amber Neben. A 12-year professional who won time trial world championships in 2008, her career was jeopardized by a crash in the 2013 Amgen Tour of California time trial, where she broke her hip and two ribs. Through the following two seasons, she gradually returned to form, picking up some podium results at major races and finally notching three international wins in 2016, plus the overall title at Route de France.

On Tuesday, she set the best mark midway through the start order and never relinquished the lead, despite a serious case of nerves while in the hot seat. “I was using more energy siting there in the hot seat than out there on the bike,” she quipped.

“This one was more special because of everything that has happened between 2008 and now,” Neben added. Perhaps she thinking of her circuitous career path that took her through six different teams in that time span. But also, the 41-year-old might have been referencing that day in May when she crashed on a California road, wearing the Stars and Stripes as U.S. national time trial champion.