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Discovery Channel are almost certain to be the team to beat in next Tuesday's 67.5km team time trial between Tours and Blois, but the Phonak team are quietly confidence that they can get the better of the American formation. That confidence stems victory in the equivalent stage at the Tour of Catalonia in May and second place in the ProTour TTT event in Eindhoven 10 days ago, but also from a huge amount of preparation undertaken by the Swiss team this season.
As revealed in this morning's L'Equipe, the team's riders were taken to an old velodrome during their January training camp in Majorca in order to assess their position on the bike. All were filmed on their time trial bikes and then had their power output assessed. Based on viewing of the film and power output readings, adjustments were made and a final position decided on for each rider. Then Phonak's bike supplier, BMC, set about custom-building carbon fibre frames for each of the riders likely to appear at the Tour. Their target now, according to Floyd Landis, one of their three leaders, "is to win" the TTT.
Landis, who was part of the US Postal team that won the TTT at the last two Tours, says that Tuesday's course should be very quick. "It's not a dangerous course. There aren't any tight bends, and not many roundabouts," said the American, adding: "It's just as well because these are very rigid bikes and they are not very easy to control if it rains."
The Phonak team trained on the course on Wednesday, riding in the following order: Robert Hunter, who will get them up to cruising speed from the start ramp, Bert Grabsch, co-leader Oscar Pereiro, who was dropped by the team in the equivalent stage last year and lost four minutes, co-leader Santi Botero, Alexandre Moos, Nacho Gutierrez, Landis, Nicolas Jalabert and Steve Zampieri.
"Pace-setting should not last more than 30 seconds for each rider," Jalabert explained. "If you do more than that, you expend too much energy and pay for it towards the finish, especially if you've lost riders or some of them can't do a turn any longer. There is no talking when we're riding either. If we were talking, that would mean that we weren't going fast enough."
As well as the 23,000 euro frames they will start on, each Phonak rider will have a spare carbon fibre and aluminium back-up on the team cars behind. The intention is to avoid the confusion last year when several riders had mechanical problems and Pereiro was dropped with 30km remaining. By several twists of fate, the Spaniard ended up 10th overall and Phonak's best-placed rider, only underlining that his team should have waited for him in the TTT.
This year, Phonak have done all they can to ensure greater Swiss-like precision.
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