I don’t want to alarm anyone, but the greatest cyclist on the planet just had one of the worst days of her career in the World Championships team time trial.
Is Marianne Vos out of form just a week before the biggest race of the year?
Vos was dropped by her Rabo-Liv team, near the 25-kilometre mark of the 36 kilometre time trial course.
Her team was pushing hard, in second place on the road but trailing the powerhouse Specialized-Lululemon squad by 30 seconds. Orica-AIS was only a handful of seconds further back.
Vos never cracks. It doesn’t happen. She’s the strongest female rider in the world, and even on her mediocre days it takes something special to beat her.
It’s so rare that many were wondering if she’d had a mechanical, noticing that her bike was in the small chainring. Perhaps her front derailleur was misfiring and she couldn’t shift onto the big ring?
Apparently not – Vos tweeted after the race that she had simply run out of gas. The small chainring was engaged because her legs couldn’t push the big ring any more:
A day to forget for @RaboLiv… Emptied my legs in 25km and the girls were doing so well in the last part. Then this horrible crash… 🙁
— Marianne Vos (@marianne_vos) September 21, 2014
Ahh yes, the horrible crash. Lead rider Annemiek Van Vleuten overcooked it coming through a chicane and hit the barriers, sending her bike cartwheeling across the road and bringing down the whole team.
It was a silver medal lost, which is bad enough, but it will also have repercussions for the road race.
Two riders, Anna Van Der Breggen and Van Vleuten were hospitalised; Van Der Breggen fractured her ilium and will be out for a few weeks. Van Vleuten (who was straight back onto her feet and looking for her bike) needed stitches, and will also miss the road race.
That’s two important riders missing from the Dutch team to support Vos. Both were in great form, having finished first and second on general classification at last week’s Lotto Belisol Belgium Tour.
Vos may have just had a bad day, not eaten enough, trained too much, or simply pushed too hard at the start. We’ve all had bad days. Perhaps she is ill. That’s not the sort of thing you’d announce before a big race, because your opponents take advantage.
Regardless, the invincible aura around her is flickering, dimming slightly perhaps. A momentary weakness, a knock to Dutch morale; the shadows grow bolder.
Who are the biggest threats?
As befits a world championships, it’s a hard course; never flat, with plenty of climbing. It should be too hard for the pure sprinters. I don’t think Kirsten Wild, Chloe Hosking or even Giorgia Bronzini can win.
Vos’ Rabo-Liv teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France) is one rider who can win.
World Cup winner Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain/Boels-Dolmans) is another (she will miss retired teammate Emma Pooley though).
Sweden’s Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) is a third.
The Dutch have other options: Ellen Van Dijk, Lucinda Brand, Chantelle Blaak… heck, half of the team could potentially win the thing.
Australia’s best chance is probably Tiffany Cromwell.
But all eyes will be watching the defending champion Marianne Vos, scrutinising every move for signs of weakness. How quickly can she mark attacks? Is she labouring on the climbs? Can she be cracked again?
It’s going to be a tense week in the women’s peloton. Can the great champion of women’s cycling win her third consecutive world road race title, or will we have a new wearer of the rainbow jersey?
One thing’s for sure: never write a champion off.