While most riders have ended their season, some of the best time triallists prepare themselves for one final race against the clock. Chrono des Nations may not be as prestigious as its predecessor Grand Prix des Nations but every year the French race manages to attract some of the leading contenders for a big revenge match after the Worlds and with two of the three medalists from Qatar both in attendance, it will be no different in 2016.
In cycling, time trialling have mostly been part of stage racing and the best time triallists don’t have many chances to test themselves in a standalone race against the clock. The Worlds and the Olympics are the only really big time trials where it is all about the win on the day. However, those events are both relatively new as they were introduced in 1994 and 1996 respectively and in the past it was another event that had the status as the main time trial of the year.
The most important time trial in the cycling history was known as Grand Prix des Nations and was a major event on the international calendar. It has been dominated by some of the greatest time triallists in the history of cycling as Jacques Anquetil won the race no less than nine times and Bernhard Hinault took the title five times. Unofficially, the race was even known as the world time trial championships.
Grand Prix des Nations was first held in 1932 when the sports editors of the Paris-Soir had been inspired by the 1931 Worlds in Copenhagen which had, unusually, been run as aa time trial. That prompted them to organize their own 142km time trial and from there it developed into a major event. In the early years, it covered a distance of around 140km, but in 1955 it was reduced to 100km. From 1965 onwards, it rarely exceeded 90km and mostly had distance of around 75km. It was held in different places in France and never had a location.
With the introduction of an official rainbow jersey, the importance of the race disappeared. It gradually faded into the background and when the ProTour was introduced in 2005, it disappeared from the calendar. One year later it merged with the smaller race Chrono des Herbiers which had been held since 1982 and added to the UCI calendar in 1995 and the new race was establishd as a 1.1 event in October under the new name of Chrono des Nations.
The race may have established itself as a regular feature but it does not have the prestige of its predecessor. First of all, it is the final event of the European season and so it comes at a time when most have ended their season and are far from the best condition. Nonetheless, it has developed a bit of a reputation as a Worlds revenge match and very often the new world champion has used it has his first chance to wear the rainbow jersey. However, the race is often characterized by the fact that many riders seem to be there more for the money than for the race and so it is often marked by very poor rides of some of the biggest names. As a result, the time gaps are usually bigger than what is the standard for a similar time trial. However, the leading contenders from the Worlds are usually still pretty good and so the list of winners is dominated by riders that have excelled in the most important time trial of the year.
An interesting aspect of the race is the fact that it is a big day of time trialling with races for several different categories. The women joined the race in 1987 and a U23 race was added in 1993. The junior men joined the part in 1997, the junior women had their first race in 2007 and since 2011 there has even been a race for the cadets. The first race is held early in the morning and it all ends with the elite race in the middle of the afternoon.
As said, the leading competitors from the Worlds have often dominated the race and it was no different in 2015. Last year the newly crowned world champion Vasil Kiryienka took a dominant win ahead of Marcin Bialoblocki and Johan Le Bon for what would be his only victory in the rainbow jersey
The 2016 edition of the Chrono des Nations will be held on a 53km course around the city of Les Herbiers. The terrain is not completely flat as there are some rolling hills along the way. However, there are no major climbs and in general it is a course suited to the powerful specialists.
As said, the results of the Chrono des Nations are often marked by huge time gaps. The fact that some of the best riders from the Worlds are up against riders that have ended their season a long time ago and mainly seem to be attracted by a solid paycheck, means that we often see some very poor performances. However, the main contenders from the Worlds are usually still in solid form and the race usually comes down to a battle between those riders.
It is unlikely to be any different in 2016. This year the Worlds were even held much closer to the event and this means that it has been much easier for the medalists to maintain their form. On the other hand, 10 days have still passed since the big day in Qatar so like in any other late-season race, motivation is more important than anything else. This makes it harder to predict the outcome of the race.
Unfortunately, it seems that the 2016 edition will be held in rainy conditions as there is a 50% chance of rain, especially for the early starters. This could have an impact on the outcome and should mainly favour the late starters. However, the course is not overly selective and as only a few riders are real specialists and in decent form, it is unlikely to have too much of an impact. The best and most powerful riders should come to the fore on a course that is made for the specialists.
The race is very likely to come down to a three-rider battle as three of the top 5 riders from Qatar will be in attendance: silver medalist Vasil Kiryienka, bronze medalist Jonathan Castroviejo and fifth place finisher Ryan Mullen. All three riders are clearly in great form and have the skills to do well on this course and so the outcome will depend heavily on how motivated they have been to keep training after their big day in Qatar.
Last year Vasil Kiryienka won the race in the back of his victory in Richmond and he will be motivated to go for a repeat. He has been time trialling pretty poorly all year but finally manage to find his best form for the most important TT of the year. He was not even close to the dominant Tony Martin but he was clearly the best of the rest and so proved that he is one of the most reliable and consistent Worlds contenders.
Much will depend on Kiryienka’s motivation but as he has finally found some form after a difficult year, we expect him to have a huge desire to make it two in a row here. Hence, we expect him to turn up in pretty good condition. On paper, only Castroviejo is likely to challenge him if he is close to his best but as he has raced less than the Spaniard, he is probably less fatigued. As he was already at a higher level in Qatar, Kiryienka is our favourite to win the race.
Of course his biggest rival will be Jonathan Castroviejo. The Spaniard has had an amazing year and has clearly improved his level a lot. He was fourth at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, second in the Vuelta TT, won the European title and took the bronze in Qatar. On paper, he is very close to Kiryienka and the slightly hillier course than the flat route in Qatar should be in his favour. The main question is what kind of freshness he has as he has been riding hard for almost the entire second half of the season.
As a U23 rider, Ryan Mullen was marked out as maybe the biggest time trialling talent in the world. He famously missed out on the U23 Worlds in Ponferrada by the tiniest of margins and his results allowed him to turn professional at a young age. However, his first year in the pro peloton has been a difficult one and he has struggled in both the road races and the time trials. Hence, it came as a bit of a surprise that he suddenly returned to his former level in Qatar where his fifth place marked the time trial of his life. With that result in the books, his motivation for his race must be huge and he could very well be closer to Kiryienka and Castroviejo than he was in the desert. He was not far off the mark at the Worlds and if the motivation works his favour, he may be able to beat both here.
Sylvain Chavanel didn’t ride in Qatar as he turned his attention to the track and so he has not had the ideal preparation for this race. On the other hand, he has had a solid autumn season and he was absolutely flying in August where he crushed the opposition in the TT in Poitou-Charentes. His form is a bit of a question mark but his ride earlier this year showed that he still has what it takes to win big TTs. Unfortunately, the distance is a bit too long to suit him ideally.
Martin Toft Madsen may only be a continental rider with barely any experience at this level. However, the Dane has proved to have a huge potential. He won the Danish championships and a few days ago he almost finished in the top 10 at his Worlds debut in Qatar. The rolling course should suit him well and unlike many of the biggest names, he should be very motivated to go for a good result here.
Johan Le Bon finished on the podium in last year’s race. However, his form is a bit uncertain as he had a very poor ride in Qatar. On the other hand, he has always been very inconsistent and while he has often been far from the best, his best rides have been very good. This year he was amazing in Tirreno-Adriatico where he finished second behind Cancellara and he also did a great TT in De Panne. Unfortunately, the distance is probably not in his favour but you never know what to expect from the inconsistent Le Bon.
Last year Truls Korsaeth won the U23 race and he will be motivated to show himself in the elite race in 2016. While he may not have had many major time trial results at the highest level, he has the benefit of great form. The young Norwegian was the surprise inclusion in the elite group that decides the World Championships road race. This must have boosted his morale and clearly shows that he should be one of the best here. Unfortunately, he is probably not enough of a specialist to take the win.
Finally, Stephane Rossetto deserves a mention. The Cofidis rider was stronger than ever in 2015 and in addition to his good climbing performances, he did very good TTs at both Nationals and the Vuelta. Unfortunately, his 2016 season has been pretty bad and he has been far from that level. On the other hand, he was simply marvelous at Paris-Tours where he single-handedly controlled the finale and if that is a reflection of his current form, he could finally deliver a good TT on the final day of his season.
Jeremy Roy was the other French participant tin Qatar but his compatriot he rode very poorly in the desert. In fact, he is not really a specialist and even though he has had some good rides in the past, it seems that he is no longer at the same level.
***** Vasil Kiryienka
**** Jonathan Castroviejo, Ryan Mullen
*** Sylvain Chavanel, Martin Toft Madsen, Johan Le Bon
** Truls Korsaeth, Jeremy Roy, Stephane Rossetto
* Moreno Moser, Reidar Borgersen, Arnaud Gerard
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