SIGNAL-DE-BOUGY, Switzerland (VN) — Waiting just beyond the finish line on Saturday evening with his wife Chiara and pet dachshund, Molly, BMC Racing team leader Cadel Evans was relaxed and confident. But he was anxiously watching the digital timer above the finish line on the stage 4 time trial at the 65th Tour de Romandie.

Zabriskie caught and passed two riders on his way to an impressive win. | Graham Watson photo

Evans had just finished his TT in 28:42, which was enough to keep him ahead of HTC-Highroad’s Tony Martin on GC; but there was still a chance that Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov, who began the stage 10 seconds ahead of Evans overall, could hold Evans off.

He knew that at the midway time check, Vinokourov and he had recorded the exact same time; and at a later split BMC team director John Lelangue told him on the radio link: “Vino is now at two seconds.”

Evans, knowing he had put everything he had into the final third of the stage, especially up one short “wall” and on the final uphill kilometer, said he couldn’t have done more.

Watching the finish-line clock, Evans saw Vinokourov’s “target” time of 28:52 click up … and keeping on clicking. The Kazakh’s final time was 29:11, which means that Evans heads into Sunday’s final stage with the yellow jersey, 18 seconds ahead of Martin and 19 on Vinokourov. As for overnight leader Pavel Brutt of Katusha, he lost almost two minutes to his closest rivals and dropped to eighth overall.

Zabriskie v. Porte

The weather for Martin, Evans and the other late starters were very different from the conditions faced in the early afternoon by TT specialists Richie Porte of Saxo Bank-Sungaard and Dave Zabriskie of Garmin-Cervélo. Through the day, thunder clouds built up over the Jura mountains to the north, resulting in a strong headwind hitting the GC men during the opening half, which included 5km of climbing to an exposed plateau.

Porte, the second-year pro from Australia who won Romandie’s TT stage in 2010, scorched the mainly uphill opening 9km in 13:42 and completed the stage in 27:59. “It’s my type of course, like last year’s when I won the time trial here,” he told VeloNews. “But I was feeling nowhere near like I did then. Put that down to being sick.

2011 Tour de Romandie, stage 4 - Porte
Porte finishes second, just 1.77 seconds back. | Graham Watson photo

“It didn’t feel real good today, but time trials never do. I mean, I’ve had a pretty horrible race so far (half an hour down on the leaders). But I kind of owe it to the team to finish off strong. I’ve been sick for months and just got off antibiotics … and yesterday I got a bomb dropped on me that I was riding the Giro (starting next week). But it’s always a good sign to do a good time trial. Fingers crossed (that I’ll win), but I’m not really holding my breath.”

Porte stood at the head of the standings for more than an hour, until Garmin-Cervélo’s Dave Zabriskie set off from the hilltop town of Aubonne. He was looking more aerodynamic than usual, with his head almost sitting on his arms and his aero helmet doing its job well.

After riding the course earlier, Zabriskie told his mechanic to put on a 26-tooth rear sprocket instead of a 21 “because I realized I could stay on the big ring up all the hills with that bigger sprocket — except on the finishing climb. I was playing the spinning game, not so much a power game,” he said.

Zabriskie, who didn’t wear a radio earpiece, so got no time checks, told VeloNews, “I saw (my minute man Vladimir) Karpets at the top of the first hill … and he got it rolling so he was a pretty good character to chase. I caught him and (two-minute man Luke) Roberts in the last 500 meters and got around them.”

Catching those two riders and racing past them through the last turns on the uphill finish was probably what made the difference for Zabriskie to better Porte’s time by just 1.77 seconds — close indeed!

Zabriskie did a great race in conditions that didn’t favor the later starters, but he really won this TT last week at his Garmin team headquarters in Girona, Spain, where he made major changes to his riding position. The former U.S. tine trial champ said he hadn’t been feeling comfortable on his TT bike all year, even though he had finished fourth in the timed stage at the Critérium International in March and third in the TT at the Circuit de la Sarthe in early April.

“Honestly, I think my position’s been off for quite some time,” Zabriskie said. “I’d finally had enough and I asked my mechanics, ‘Is my extension really on the (UCI) limit?’ I felt like I couldn’t breathe; I was really cramped up. And they said, no, you can really move out some more.”

The Garmin rider said that his TT extensions were moved out by some 2cm, “and I moved my saddle back because the rule is, they want it 5cm behind the bottom bracket, and then I felt too scrunched up; so why not move it back, as you can move it back as far as you want?

“I also raised my seat by about 2cm. So I went out, up and back, And the bike just feels like it did when I was back on a Cervélo with CSC. That helped me open up the diaphragm more. I was really excited I got it dialed in. I went home and told my wife, ‘I just spent two hours at the service-course and it feels like it used to feel.”

Behind the surprise 1-2 finishers came Vacansoleil’s Lieuwe Westra and Sky’s Brad Wiggins, with Martin ending up in fifth, Evans eighth and Vinokourov 22nd. The other big ride of the day was done by Garmin rookie Andrew Talansky, who came in sixth, only 15 seconds behind Martin, after riding in fairly similar conditions as the later starters.

Evans is in a solid position going into the final stage. | Graham Watson photo

That ride was good enough for Talansky to take over the under-25s’ white jersey from his teammate Peter Stetina. But it’s a jersey of a different color, yellow, that could be up for grabs at the finish on Sunday.

Stage 5 from Champagne to Geneva has a couple of Cat. 1 climbs, but the second one is 60km from the finish alongside the lake in Geneva. The sprinters will be looking for their first stage win of the week, with Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Ben Swift (Sky) the likely favorites, but a late challenge to Evans by Vinokourov and Martin can’t be ruled out.

With a 10-second time bonus on the line, plus a win by 10 seconds, either of them could deprive Evans of the final victory.

“I remember Vino winning a stage like this on the Champs-Élysées at the 2005 Tour,” Evans said Saturday night. “He’s been strong this week, so you never know.”

But with his BMC red guard still intact, Evans should hold run out as the Romandie champion for the second time in his career.

Stage 4 (ITT): Aubonne – Signal-de-Bougy


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