The day before the TTT world championship, each teams is granted one trial run, complete with moto escorts and fully barricaded roads, just like they will be on Sunday. It’s the final chance for teams to soak up as much information as possible about the complicated Richmond course. The only thing missing is the thousands of cheering fans that will likely clog every inch of the course.
The day before the team time trial (TTT) world championship, in a best case scenario, is a day that should be easily forgotten, washed away with the nerves and adrenaline that will accompany Sunday’s main event. Notes are taken by directors and athletes put in some efforts, but not too many. Best to stay fresh. It’s about smoothing over as many kinks as possible before 24 do-or-die miles of racing that will be seen by millions around the world.
“Every time we’ve had a TTT camp and trained together on the discipline as a team, we have built on the progress we made last year,” said Leah Kirchmann. “It’s a really fast course, so being as smooth as possible in the group and maintaining a very high speed, especially through the technical sections will be key. The hardest part of the course is definitely the final few miles on Governor Street – we will be on the limit at that point, and its such a punchy climb all the way to the line. I expect that to be very painful. Teams will gain or lose a lot of time there.”
The plan was to follow the women’s world-class time trialists from sunrise on, and provide a detailed account of this buttoning up process. The day began peacefully enough, with a thick fog blanketing the roads as the women wheeled casually to the start in Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Everything moved along as planned, the team navigating the course smoothly, slowing down occasionally to address issues. McCarty relayed intel to the team via radio.
“Once we get to the yellow sign, lets start picking up speed to about 80% power. If you are on the front, that is the last moment you can swing off if you aren’t comfortable leading through the technical section – that sign is your Alamo. Lets pay very close attention to that. Once the lead rider peels off, the next person will go all the way through the tricky section.”
Jasmin Glaesser dropped back to the car and held the window sill to chat with McCarty, uttered some words that would prove prophetic a few moments later.
“I think on some of the faster corners, especially the downhill corner on 15th, we need to get out of the bars a bit sooner. There are a lot of bumps and little holes in the road, and I think we should get out of the bars and give everyone a chance to set up earlier.”
Unfortunately, as we all know cycling can be cruel and fickle. Tight-as-a-drum riding formations and aerodynamic positioning make sight lines scarily narrow. Time trial bicycles like the impeccably designed Diamondback Serios are made to push the limits of efficiency and speed, but the rider’s precarious aerodynamic position on the bike leaves them more susceptable to the dangers of the road.
The heartbreaking moment came and went in a flash, shortly before one of the race’s critical turns, shortly after a chaotic little stretch of road where another team was pulled over on the side of the road adjusting their bikes, surrounded by police. After clearing the confusion, the 6-rider rotation began gearing up to full speed ahead for the turn. What they missed would cost them dearly – a recessed manhole cover roughly 30 meters before the corner, devilishly placed in the center of the proper racing line, which the women had to hastily rejoin. Kirchmann, in the lead, noticed the unmarked hole too late, but was able to dodge it. Rider two, Annie Ewart, busy staring at Leah’s wheel, wasn’t so lucky – she hit the dip hard and went down harder. The rest of the team, just inches apart, piled on top of her or vaulted through the air, the downed bikes and limbs like a tripwire in the road. The hollow crunch of carbon fiber rang through the air. In one instant, a year’s worth of preparation was drastically altered.
Ewart took the brunt of the collision, snapping a left collarbone already loaded with hardware from previous crashes. Maura Kinsella escaped broken bones but landed squarely on her Lazer Wasp helmet, suffering a concussion in the process (imagine the damage without it – wear your helmets, kids). Kirchmann and Glaesser escaped unscathed, and Amy Charity and Brianna Walle lost skin and fabric but stayed mostly intact. It was a humbling bit of punctuation for the US national champion team time trial team, and will certainly alter the outcome of the race on Sunday.
McCarty, always level-headed, shared his thoughts on the incident.
“These are city streets so they will always be a bit rough in spots, but the race did a great job making these roads as safe as possible. This was just an unfortunate set of circumstances. There was a bit of confusion going into a corner that was one of the more important turns in the race. You lose a bit of focus, it goes on and off and on again, and moving at such a high speed, in such a tight formation, that is really all you need to lay it down. We didn’t see the manhole in time and we hit in straight on.”
“We’re here to race the World Championships and we will have a team start tomorrow, though clearly this was a tough blow. Everything we have done this year, and everything we’ve done in the last 10 days to build up to it… I don’t know how to describe it besides just a bad joke. But we will not let this be completely disastrous for us. We have trained hard for this event and all of our riders are still motivated. We will line up and give 100% tomorrow. With this group, the spirit they have for this race, I have to believe one way or another they will make an impression here.”
Send your thoughts to Annie Ewart, Maura Kinsella, and the rest of the women as they grit their teeth and toe the line for today’s race.