Consistent racing by Beijing Olympic silver medallist Emma Pooley and reigning British champion Sharon Laws saw their Dutch squad, AA Drink-Leontien.nl, win a bronze in the opening trade team time trial of the World Road Championships yesterday.
The six-rider line-up finished one minute 59 seconds slower than the day's winners, Specialized-Lululemon of Germany, on what proved to be an exceptionally challenging 34.2km course through the rolling Limberg countryside of southern Netherlands. Orica-AIS, an Australian team, clinched the silver.
In an event reintroduced to the World Championships this year after a two-decade absence, Pooley and Laws' team were never considered a major favourite, making their bronze medal an impressive achievement.
But despite losing one of their riders early on, with Pooley driving hard on the climbs – her speciality – AA Drinks were inside the top five on each of the intermediate checkpoints and briefly held the top spot on the leaderboard at the finish.
"It's a very good result and the best we could have hoped for," Pooley said. "There was a solid ride from the whole team, but particularly Sharon, who was called up at the last minute and who had only ridden the course once."
Pooley admitted they had indirectly benefited, too, from another team's misfortune – local side Rabobank looked to be heading towards bronze but suffered a series of mechanical issues and crashes that left them 21 seconds slower than AA drinks.
In the men's equivalent event Team Sky – who started out last, an honour usually reserved for one of the top favourites – did not live up to expectations, finishing ninth and well out of the running. Instead the victory went to Belgian squad Omega Pharma-Quick Step in a tightly fought duel with American outfit BMC, just three seconds behind.
Sky's management explained later that one of their riders, the Colombian Sergio Henao, was brought in as a last-minute replacement for one of the squad's top experts in the speciality, former triple world time-trial champion Mick Rogers, who had fallen sick. Another one of their best time triallists, Olympic pursuit gold medallist Geraint Thomas, had a mechanical problem with his bike early on.
"The boys fought back well," Sean Yates said. "We had four guys for the last 20km and they climbed up the rankings a bit before the finish. They didn't give up."
With the rest of the events in the Netherlands to be raced between national, rather than trade team, line-ups, Pooley will return to racing tomorrow in the women's individual time trial, an event which she won in 2010 and claimed bronze in last year.
Today there are two races, the junior and Under-23 men's time trials.