Never have four seconds been so crucial to the happiness a team. For Garmin-Cervélo, during a year in which criticism and intrigue has plagued the American squad, its win in the Tour de France team time trial is like gold dust, sprinkled from the skies above Les Essarts.
The US team saved one of its best performances for the Tour, beating BMC by four seconds after 23km of super fast racing, allowing Hushovd to pull on the yellow jersey by a mere 47 hundredths of a second ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC). And Jonathan Vaughters’ crew did it the hard way, setting the fastest time of 24:48.10 after being one of early runners on a course that was not overly challenging but found some of the big teams wanting when the moment mattered.
Those teams included HTC-Highroad, highly fancied before today’s start, Leopard-Trek, RadioShack and Saxo Bank, with all four finishing close but failing to fully fire on the big stage. Consequently Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and BMC captain Cadel Evans will benefit from the changes in the general classification. The Australian is now third overall, just one second behind Garmin-Cervélo duo Thor Hushovd and David Millar. Wiggins is further back but only at four seconds.
“This is a great day. We did a really good team effort. Everything worked perfectly,” Hushovd said.
“Every rider gave 100 percent for the team. It’s incredible. When I look back to 10 years ago when I won the same TTT, it’s crazy. It’s an incredible day for me and the team. I’m proud to wear the rainbow jersey at the Tour de France but to pull on yellow is incredible for me.”
Evans is tantalizingly close to the yellow jersey but remained upbeat, knowing he has gained more precious seconds on his overall Tour rivals.
“The first goal was not to lose any time and the second was to see if we could gain any time,” said Evans after the finish. “The fact that we were there in the running to nearly win the team time trial was really something. It was a faint hope but it was also a realistic one.”
He wasn’t making bold predictions about his chances of a stint in the yellow jersey, preferring to concentrate on Monday’s stage, which is one for the sprinters. “We’re going to have a look at today, have an analysis of everything and get through tomorrow without any problems,” he said.
Instead it was Hushovd thinking about the overall ascendancy, swapping his rainbow stripes for the yellow jersey. Having taken third on Saturday’s stage, just six seconds behind winner Philippe Gilbert, Hushovd found today’s labours fruitful and can now enjoy another stint in the race lead to go with the maillot jaune he garnered in the 2006 Tour by winning the prologue in Strasbourg. Hushovd has come under fire this season for a lack of winning performances as world champion but a stage victory in the recent Tour de Suisse and a start in the yellow jersey tomorrow will go some way to making amends.
Garmin-Cervelo team manager Jonathan Vaughters was ecstatic about his team finally winning the team time trial, the stage he loves the most and won himself in 2001.
"I think I just made a fool of myself but I can't say I care. This has been a long time coming,” he said. “We've fought hard and we've always done it as a team. For our first win to be as a team, it's phenomenal.”
"We don't have the biggest budget or the biggest staff, but we have the most passion. Today it came together. We put out a plan that got us to the line the fastest. The amount of sacrifice the guys had to do to get it done is amazing. I'm very proud of our guys."
Contador under pressure
Whilst Garmin-Cervélo can celebrate, one man sure to be under pressure is Alberto Contador. The defending champion lost more valuable time in the test against the clock with Saxo Bank-Sungard finishing eighth – 28 seconds behind the stage winners, giving the Spaniard more than a sour French public reception to consider.
Saxo Bank was the first team off and set a good but not spectacular time. Soon after, it was time for the eventual winners to lay down a time in pursuit of the stage victory.
Going through all intermediate splits the fastest, a smooth, consistent performance from Garmin-Cervelo ensured the American team set a time that would ultimately prove hard to overcome.
That first intermediate check was safe until Team Sky’s men set a time of 9:02 for the opening nine kilometres, although they couldn’t match Garmin-Cervélo’s second intermediate split, sitting four seconds behind after 18.5km and seven men with which to ride to the finish. They were down to five by the line, the quintet recorded the second best time to that point of 24:52. Close but quite fast enough.
Disaster struck HTC-Highroad early in its ride, with the experienced Austrian Bernhard Eisel coming down in the first corner – the team's misfortune was reflected in a first split of 9:11. Meanwhile, RadioShack also recorded an opening intermediate split of 9:11 but was 10 seconds down on Garmin’s time by the finish – not bad for overall favourites Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Klöden, Janez Brajkovic and Chris Horner – but not good enough for a stage win.
Soon after, and with Mark Cavendish charging down the final 300 metres, HTC-highroad recovered well to take third on the line with a time of 24:53. It would eventually be good enough for fifth, after the arrival of Leopard-Trek and BMC Racing.
The latter of those two squads, boasting green jersey Evans and experienced heads such as George Hincapie and Marcus Burghardt, set the third fastest first intermediate with 9:04, demonstrating that this American squad has come with serious intentions to put Evans into the overall ascendancy during this Tour de France.
Leopard-Trek took third on the line from HTC-Highroad by mere hundredths of a second, with time trial world champion Fabian Cancellara towing his men through the 23km to ensure the Schleck brothers wouldn’t lose too much time overall. It was enough to keep the Luxembourg team in fourth by day’s end and a solid performance, despite missing the stage victory by five seconds.
Soon after Evans, Hincapie & Co almost stole the show with a stunning finale to finish just four seconds behind Garmin-Cervélo. Whilst the team had dodged a bullet with a seemingly awkward middle sector of the course, the final kilometres were ridden strongly and like fellow GC contender Wiggins had done before him, Evans pulled his charges along in stunning fashion.
Nevertheless, nobody could match Garmin-Cervélo’s superiority and for the man who wears the rainbow jersey, tomorrow will be all about another colour – yellow.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.