The Garmin-Sharp team was confident going into the team time trial at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, they’ve proven in the past that the TTT is a skill that they master.
“It’s an event that we’ve always been good here on Garmin, something that we’ve always looked forwards to since 2008 when we started this team. Not going to say that it’s a no brainer but we always put a little more effort into it because we know we can do well.” Christian Vande Velde said after the stage.
The team simply smoked the three 4.5-mile laps on the Miller Motorsports Park for a final distance of 14.5 miles (21.75 kms), beating their closest competitor, Rabobank, by 33 seconds. Vande Velde become the new yellow jersey with four stages to go.
Vande Velde continued, “I know what David Zabriskie is going to do before he does it, I know what Tyler (Farrar) knows before he does it and the same thing goes with myself. We’ve done tons of events together and it’s almost like a college team when you have a team go together from freshmen to senior year, they always play better towards their senior year and we’ve been here for five years now.”
The team has not only practiced this skill but raced it successfully claiming TTT wins at the 2011 Tour de France and at the Giro d’Italia in 2008 and 2012. The team also won the team time trial at the 2008 Tour de Georgia which was also run on a racetrack.
For Vande Velde, racing is the key to hone this very specific skill. “You can practice as much as you want but racing is always a different animal. There are people who let their nerves be known a little bit more that other and you just have to be ready with those kinds of things. I think racing is the biggest thing, we’ve been a part of so many races together that some of the things come second nature, you anticipating something before it happens, you’re never surprised.”
That’s the experience. The skill was on display where they kept a consistent and high-pace throughout the course, no severe accelerations and no decelerations.
“One of the basic principle is that if you see the speed dropping when you’re riding on the front you just have to get out of the way because if the speed goes down, that’s already a big problem. I think that you win team time trials not by going extremely fast but by never going slowly. So it’s about keeping a constant level and the biggest problem is having the strongest riders in the way. Because they can put the others in difficulty and that can cause a big problem.” explained DS Charlie Wegelius.
With that in mind, Wegelius created a preliminary order for the team. “The aim is basically to place the riders in such an order that the weakest rider gets the easiest ride and the strongest rider has the hardest time. I really want to get to the finish and I want to hear (David) Zabriskie and Christian complaining that they had a terrible ride because that means they had to work the hardest.”
The size and characteristics of a rider come into play when creating the order. Who goes first? Who sets the pace out of the start house?
“there was a little bit of a debate amongst the team about who we would have starting because whoever starts an event like this sets the tone for the speed. So a rider like Tyler Farrar could get us up to speed extremely quickly but he could also put a lot of our riders in difficulty because he’s so explosive. You have to take all the physical characteristics of the riders and try to balance them out because there are some guys who are extremely smooth in the way that they accelerate and other guys can do corners better. Some of our younger riders and some of our better climbers, we tried in a way to give them some protection but the problem I have now is that nobody want to be on his (Vande Velde) wheel anymore. I have to find a system so we can do a team time trial with nobody on Vande Velde’s wheel.” Wegelius laughed.
The only thing that Vande Velde worried about was the first lap. “Some guys get a little excited especially the bigger guys can go quite fast off the line. That’s the only thing that I’m always worried about. I’m the worst off the line.”
The first and second rider are extremely important on the first lap. Go too quick and you take a chance of dropping riders, go too slow and you lose time that can never be claimed back.
After discussion, seven-time and reigning USA National time trial champion David Zabriskie was the first rider in the rotation.
“David is a specialist time trialist, and initially I wanted to send Tyler first but as I said he’s so quick.” said Wegelius. “David can do it extremely smoothly and take them up to very high speed quickly without putting anybody into the red. After him comes Tyler who can continue that speed and then they’re already into the first section of the race. If you start too slowly, even in the longer time trial like this, you never recover from it. Those two riders were crucial at the start.”
Having a team time trial on a race track with its numerous turns, some tighter than others, also brought new dynamics into play. Many of the riders had raced the individual time trial at the same venue in previous years but new lines had to be taken.
The course was fast, with speed around some of the corners between 35 and 40 mph. But the riders at the front had to think about their teammates behind them and remember to take the turns a little wider than usual. Take it too tight and the riders in the back might be pinched and forced to slow down.
“By yourself, you’d be cutting the corner a lot closer, little things like that add up. If you have a nice sit on the back, not being pinched up in the corners makes for a better ride.” Vande Velde said.
For Alex Howes, the team time trial brought new dynamics on the wide open course. “I know it was pretty difficult back there for that reason and many others, one of those being Christian at the front, taking three and a half minute pulls or something like that. Just the dynamics of the course, it was technical in ways that a lot of people didn’t predict I think.”
One of those technical factors was the wind. “Some corners you wanted to take really tight and some you wanted to take wide like Christian said. That changed depending on which way the wind was coming from. If you had the wind coming from the left and you’re going into a right-hand corner, you take it as tight as you want. If you were going on the opposite way, the guys at the back would get thrown off the back pretty quick.” added Howes.
The wind conditions had been changing all day. When the team first came to the venue to practice, they made the decision to run shallower front wheels.
“When we were practicing the wind was blowing so we used a smaller front wheel whereas we won’t get caught in the crosswinds as we would with the bigger wheels. So that helped us a little bit more, we weren’t flying around as much and we could sit on the wheel a little bit better.”