TTT presents historic opportunity

By Andrew Hood

David Zabriskie leads the Slipstream train at the Tour de Georgia TTT
David Zabriskie leads the Slipstream train at the Tour de Georgia TTT

Photo: Action Images

In Palermo, Italy

Perhaps it’s only appropriate that during the 20th anniversary year of Andy Hampsten’s historic 1988 Giro d’Italia victory that another American rider could recapture the maglia rosa.

While it’s too early to say if one of six U.S. riders from three teams starting the 91st Giro can survive the grueling Dolomites with a shot for final victory, there’s a very real possibility that one of them could grab pink jersey in Saturday’s team time trial.

“We really want to win the team time trial,” Slipstream’s David Millar told VeloNews. “We’ll have one of the best teams and we’re really motivated to try to get the maglia rosa.”

Two decades have passed since Hampsten’s groundbreaking victory and he remains the only U.S. rider in Giro history to wear the prized pink jersey. Riding for the 7-Eleven team, Hampsten, now 46, captured the lead in the legendary, snow-bound stage over the Gavia and held it nine days to the finish.

The Gavia — the scene of Hampsten’s heroics — will once again feature in the Giro.

Photo: Graham Watson

If one of the Americans can lead their respective winning team across the line Saturday, a U.S. rider could be back in the pink jersey for the first time since Hampsten’s celebrated ride.

Slipstream-Chipotle, Astana and Team CSC feature Americans and all three teams will be red-hot favorites for victory Saturday on the mostly flat, power course that loops out to the beach town at Mondello and starts and finishes in Palermo.

Slipstream brings Americans Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, Danny Pate and Pat McCarty along with Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. Jason McCartney is back for his third crack at the Giro with Team CSC while Levi Leipheimer makes an unexpected Giro debut with Astana.

Squads made special preparations for the team time trial, one of the favored events among the major teams who only get a few chances a year to go head-to-head against each other in the distinctive discipline.

Slipstream — which won the team time trial in the Tour de Georgia and was second in the Tour of Qatar TTT — held a special training camp in Spain last week with its Giro starters to work on positioning, rotations and tactics.

Sport directors Johnny Weltz and Matt White created a course that mimicked conditions the team will face in Palermo, allowing the riders to perfect their tactics for the team’s grand tour debut.

Team CSC is always one of the favorites for the team time trial and brings a solid squad featuring such strong rolleurs as Brad McGee, Jens Voigt, Gustav Larsson and McCartney. Most of its Giro-bound riders convened in Lucca, Italy, last week to train specifically for the team time trial.

Astana brings its A-team to the Giro, with defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, recently crowned Tour de Romandie champ Andreas Klöden and Leipheimer. The biggest question mark will be how strong the team will be after the unexpected last-minute decision to invite the team to the Giro.

The Palermo course should favor the strengths of all three teams.

Unlike the technical and twisting course that saw Liquigas nip Astana to open last year’s Giro in Sardinia, the mostly flat route gives the big-gear riders an advantage.

Even if one of the teams manages to win the stage, it won’t be assured that one of the respective Americans will be first across the line. Internal politics and luck play factors.

If it happens, another American in pink would be a great homage on the 20th anniversary of Hampsten’s legendary victory.

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