The Olympic women’s time trial champion and the men’s national champion cycled through – seventh and 25th – and neither of them knew what was wrong.
It is noteworthy that both of them were on the starting stage in a great feeling on Sunday. This might be the day I’m world champion again, Van Vluden thought, until halfway through the sledgehammer came: her interval minutes were turning very slowly. After that defeat, all that is left is to suffer.
Mollema trained well on the time trial bike for several days and pedaled the correct, high wattages. “The first 10 minutes were good.” But he was shocked when he saw the bike computer. He pushed 20 watts less than usual. He felt it was a lot from the wind created by second-place Stephen Kung. Already after a three-quarter time trial, the Swiss passed Mollema, who started 1.5 minutes earlier.
Mollema and Van Vleuten weren’t the only ones stumbling around in the dark. Also, Italian Filippo Canna, the favorite and reigning world champion, did not understand his rest day: he finished seventh. ‘I’ve been driving confident wattages for the past few days.’
Cycling is now driven by data, for example, if power figures are inexplicably poor, other data are sought for a concrete explanation. The most asked after World Cup time trial is called jet lag. But unfortunately, the data surrounding attempts to beat the time difference shows little agreement between riders losing and winning.
A rule of thumb is that it takes a day to get used to for every hour of time difference. Europe-Australia eight o’clock. Khanna was in Australia for more than 10 days when he collapsed in pain on Sunday halfway through the tour. Mollema was also there early, and announced exactly one week before the time trial that he had completed his first stage in Australia.
On the flip side: Ellen van Dijk arrived in Australia at the same time as Mollema and won her third world title in the time trial. Norwegian Tobias Foss was a late arrival in Australia but is now the world champion in the men’s time trial. Maybe because he took a western route through Canada? The biological clock tends to adjust faster to the west than to the east.
Jet lag protocol
Van Vluden also sat on the bike more than the rule of thumb dictated. During the Vuelta he won, he had already started the jet lag protocol, in which the riders followed Australia’s day and night hours in advance, gradually – dinner at lunchtime.
Riders also use light therapy glasses to reduce the time difference. According to former riders, it wins with the head rather than the body, partly because of the physically demanding, long flight. Mathieu van der Boel had no sleep during the 25 hours of Brussels-Dubai-Sydney. However, he was so tired upon arrival that he slept like a log on his first night in Australia.
Two days later, van der Boel rode well in the mixed team time trial, which ended up in the water for the Netherlands after a chain fell at Mollema and a burst for van Vleuten. No theory about the effect of jet lag on top athletes can help against failing equipment.
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