Alrighty, so I’m back after a 2 night lay-off with a bit of a ‘lergy — talk about bad timing! Last night sounded like a brilliant finale (although Gilbert winning is hardly a surprise). I can’t wait to see what happens next in this race — the Team Time Trial is on tonight, and consequently there are a bunch of teams who are riding for a chance to hold the yellow jersey. Gilbert holding on by 3s over Cadel, and 6s over at least one bloke from every other team that can put together a decent TT means that the boys will be putting it all on the line in the hope of holding the yellow jersey at the end of the day.

Teams will have bonuses structured in to the majority of the riders’ contracts for just such occasions, so atop the simple battle to win for the win of it, there is quite a financial incentive for not only the man likely to hold the jersey, but also for all of his team mates (depending on the team).

I hear fans complain about the Team Time Trial because it’s not a fair race, and blokes can lose too much time if they haven’t got the right group of riders around them. This view when coming from Aussies was almost invariably formed around Cadel getting his bum handed to him in TTTs in the years that he came second overall in the Tour. The counterargument is that the course for the Tour is known some 8months prior to the race, and teams can pick riders to be strong in any given discipline if they so choose. Don’t blame the race if your man loses time!

I love the Team TIme Trial.

Easily my favourite day of racing ever was the TTT from Stage 4 of the Tour in ’09. To set the scene, we at Garmin had a big focus on TTs (they still do) and we’d prepared a great deal for this one day. Our man Brad “Wiggo” Wiggins was sitting very highly on GC, so we knew that if we nailed the TTT, we’d be in yellow, potentially win a stage of the Tour, and generally set ourselves up for a cracking Grand Tour.

Team Time Trial
The parcours that day was on very narrow roads around the town of Montpellier, and had one significant hill early in the race that turned out to be the defining point of our day.

Our squad was impressive — we had Wiggo, Christian Vandevelde (VDV), Dave Zabriskie (Zab) and David Millar as TT specialists, as well as Ryder “Beat Him Like A Rented Mule” Hesjedal, Martijn Maaskant, Julian Dean, Tyler Farrar and Danny Pate. For those out of the know, all TTs are run from last place to first on overall standing, and because of Wiggo’s high spot on gc, we were 4th last team out, chasing our 3 main rivals — Astana, Columbia HTC & SaxoBank. Additionally, the TTT is based on the time of your 5th rider across the finish line, so we had our four aces, and were looking to one of the other boys to step up (although were expecting most if not all of the team to be together at the finish line).

Anyhoo, after a standard warm-up, we the staff sent the boys on their way, and bundled into a car to get back to the hotel as quickly as possible so that we could see what was happening. We had the car radio hooked up so we could hear what team Directeur Sportif Matt “Whitey” White was saying to the boys as they were bombing along.

First update: “That’s good boys. Nice and smooth. You’re 7seconds down on Caisse d’Epargne. All good.” Those of us in the car all had big grins, high fives, and put on a burst of speed so we could see our boys shoot it out.

Second radio call: “Take a look around boys. There’s only five left. No one gets dropped from here on. Smooth turns.” The drop in morale in the car was precipitous to say the least. There was a LOT of swearing. And then we double and triple checked our watches and the expected time of the race, worked out that they were down to five riders within the 1st third of the race, and swore a LOT more. And then sped up further to get to the tv to see what the CRAP had gone down!

We sprinted for the tv at the hotel, and got to see it all happening. You can’t really know how well any team is going other than by the look of them, and by the intermediate time checks. Watching the TV, you’re completely reliant on the vision chosen by the broadcaster, and we weren’t the main story at that point, so we still had no idea who was riding and who not.

Our split through the 2nd time check came up, and we had the morale booster that we were in the lead (with 3 teams on the road) by 11s, but still no clue as to who was still riding! We had the further boost of seeing none of our main rivals go quicker than us through the first time check, which put all of the staff into “bunker mode” where the vibe we were all putting out was “backs to the wall” and “fight fight fight!”

Finally the TV showed our boys, and it was the big 4 TT lads putting out superb turns on the front. Basically the time your spend at the front of the train in a TTT is the work time. The longer you spend, the harder it is for you, but the more rest your boys behind you have, and so the better for the team.

It’s a superb balancing act where so many variables come into play. There was a roar in the hotel TV room when we realised that our 5th man was Ryder Hesjedal, and that all he was doing was hanging on to the fourth wheel. So we had four men going head to head with nine-man teams, and to date, our boys were winning the battle.

We the staff then truly began to sweat on intermediate time checks, and they started coming thick and fast! We were clearly 1st through the 3rd check! And we had put time into SaxoBank & HTC on the 2nd check. Bugger it! We’d lost time to Astana on the 2nd check! We’d taken time back OUT of Astana at the 3rd check!! And had further gapped HTC & Saxomophone on that check too! Our boys were magnificent! Could we possibly bring it home?

Team Time Trial
Likes to get in his own space does Zab…

Zab was on the front in his USA Champions kit for what seemed an eternity, and still Ryder hung on at the back! Then Wiggo took a turn and seemed to put on even more speed! It was an incredible performance, and each of the boys turned on their absolute best work — Millar described it as holding on for your life as you hung over a cliff, knowing that help was coming, only if you could hold on that little bit longer. And still Ryder dangled along at the back!

We crossed the line comfortably first, with all of the boys showing nothing but agony on their faces. Ryder in particular had one of the great pain faces: spit all over it like a horse that had been run near to death.

I was that proud of the boys I was near to bursting. All there was to do was wait and hope that somehow the impossible had happened. Sadly it wasn’t to be. We lost a further second to Astana in the final section of the stage, losing by 18s; although we did comfortably gap all of our rivals.

It was the best team performance I’ve ever been even peripherally involved with, and that it didn’t win wasn’t for a lack of quality work, just a lack of manpower.

Team Time Trial
Clearly after the race was run!

So for tonight’s TT, bring it on!

Wiggo now rides for Sky, and they have a genuine hit squad. Garmin still have Zab, VDV & Millar, and a few of their other boys are guns too. HTC consistently dominates at TTTs, and Radioshack have the knack of getting the job done when it’s the big show. And then there’s Leopard Trek vs SaxoBank to see if Andy can get even more time on Alberto. I can’t wait to see what happens!

My two cents worth (and not expensive Aussie cents either — maybe Fiji cents…)

  1. Sky
  2. Garmin
  3. HTC

And Leopard to beat Saxo.