Whilst Specialized-Lulumonâ€™s margin over second-placed Rabo Women Cyclingâ€™s team was a convincing 71 seconds,Â in the men's category Omega Pharma - Quick-Stepâ€™s victory could hardly have been narrower this time round, with just 0.81 seconds separating the Belgian squad from runner-up Orica-GreenEdge. Over such a long distance, 57 kilometers, only the tiniest of margins finally decided which men's squadÂ would fill each of the two top spots.
If the men's course was a cliff-hanger right up to the last metre, Specialized-Lululemon on the other hand, were constantly on top of the provisional leadersâ€™ board on the 47.2 kilometre, flat, largely untechnical course between Pistoia and Firenze, fulfilling their role as one of the main pre-race favourites to perfection.
Of the 12 teams that took part, Specialized -Â Lululemon were one of the few that managed to keep all six riders through to the finish - Lisa Brennauer, Katie Colclough, Carmen Small-Mcnellis, Evelyn Stevens, Ellen Van Dijk and Trixi Worrack - as a single unit.Â That cohesiveness,Â and an impressive average speed of over 50 kmh,Â very probably unprecedented in womenâ€™s team time trialling,Â were two factors which helped them netÂ their second gold in as many years.
"Now we have a double rainbow," Evelyn Stevens, part of the 2012 winning team as well, said afterwards, â€śit was a huge objective for the team and a great way to end theÂ season.â€ť
â€śFor sure we were feeling nervous coming into the race, because when youâ€™re the ones who are supposed to win, you feel that pressure.
This was a huge objective for the team. It's a great way to end the season. We were nervous coming into the race because when you're the one who is supposed to win, you feel the pressure."
â€śWe knew that the other teams were working on it hard, and at [the World Cup team time trial in] Sweden we saw specially that Orica - [AIS] and Rabo were pretty close,â€ť added Ellen Van Dijk. â€śWe knew that we had to work harder and harder but I think we did it very well.â€ť
If Specialized-Lululemonâ€™s second straight victory was by a clear advantage, the menâ€™s team time trial was a much more hotly disputed affair as Omega Pharma - Quick-Step were forced to pull out all the stops to defend their title.
Like the womenâ€™s event, the 57.2 kilometre course between Montecatini Terme and Firenze lent itself to ultra-fast times, with the very warm late summer temperatures making for an even more gruelling race.
At kilometre seven, the first intermediate checkpoint Omega Pharma- Quick Step seemed likely to be up to the task, with a 12 second advantage over Orica-GreenEdge and BMC Racing Team, whilst Sky ProCycling, ultimately their other main challenger, trailing by 24 seconds.
However as Sky gradually upped the pace to move from a provisional fourth spot into the fight for the podium places, Orica-GreenEdge also managed to squeeze the Belgian squadâ€™s advantage. World Individual Time Trial Champion Tony Martin and four more of his team- mates in the six man squad had been present in the same line-up when Omega
Pharma triumphed at Valkenberg last year: would they be able to resist the pressure?
At the 42 kilometre mark, it was not looking so good for the defending champions, as Orica-GreenEdge gained a 1.45 second advantage. As the pressure steadily mounted both teams had shed a rider, and both would shed one more before the finish in central Firenze, but it was all but impossible to decide which side would finally net gold.
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step were the last team to finish, and the looks of joy as they shot across the lines and turned their heads to look at the finishing board times - and corresponding groans of disappointment from the Orica-GreenEdge riders - confirmed that the Belgian team had just managed to retain their title. By less than a second, perhaps, but enough to ensure they had taken gold again.
â€śItâ€™s hard to see when you have to pull time back like we did there but Tom Steels [sports director] boosted our morale via the radio,â€ť Martin recognised. â€śWe took some risks in the last ten kilometres, but we knew it was either win or crack. Itâ€™s great to see that we won.â€ť
â€śThe time gaps were like a wake-up call in the finale, we were probably a little too slow at first so we tried to up the speed. It hurt, but it has to hurt a lot. We did that, we held our speed and we won.â€ť
Racing now continues with the womenâ€™s juniorÂ and menâ€™s U-23 individual time trials on Monday.