VENARIA REALE, Italy (VN) — Saturday’s 19.3km team time trial will be about team honor and setting the tone for the ensuing battle in the season’s first grand tour, as the 2011 Giro d’Italia clicks into gear.
The mostly flat, wide-open course should produce high speeds and see a duel between specialist teams such as Garmin-Cervélo and HTC-Highroad and GC favorite Liquigas-Cannondale.
HTC-Highroad has a consistent track record in the discipline, winning the TTTs to open the 2009 stage in Venice and again in last year’s Vuelta a Espana, both times putting Mark Cavendish into the leader’s jersey. The squad returns with some real depth, with Marco Pinotti, Alex Rasmussen, Frantisek Rabon and Lars Bak all expected to power the team toward the maglia rosa.
“We’ve got some of our top time trial specialists, so I think we can be confident of a good result,” said HTC-Highroad sport director Valerio Piva. “It’s flat and parts of it are very similar to Venice. A lot of it takes place over city roads; it could be slippery and you cannot afford to take risks if it begins to rain. It should be a spectacular, high-speed start to the race.”
Right behind them will be Liquigas-Cannondale, another team that always performs well in team time trials, especially when they’re in Italy and the pink jersey is on the line. This year’s squad is heavily tilted toward climbers, however, so Liquigas might not have the right combination of riders to aim for the stage victory. Eight of the team’s nine starters are Italian (Pole Sylvester Szymd is the lone non-Italian on the team), but pre-race favorite Vicenzo Nibali is no slouch against the clock and could well power his squad to victory and put himself into the pink jersey.
Garmin-Cervélo will be aiming to repeat its breakthrough victory in the 2008 Giro in what was the team’s first grand tour. On a challenging course in Palermo, Garmin set an early fast time and held on to win the stage and put Christian Vande Velde into the pink jersey as just the second American ever to hold the Giro leader’s jersey.
David Millar will be the only rider from that winning 2008 team, but the squad brings solid motors with Cameron Meyer, Matt Wilson and Brett Lancaster, himself a former winner of the prologue at the Giro a few years ago.
“The victory in the team time trial was very important for the team, so of course we would like to win it again,” said Garmin-Cervélo sport director Lionel Marie. “We will not see the course until Saturday morning, but we know that these are urban roads, so there will be a lot of challenges such as rail lines, cobbles, slick roads that will make it difficult. We practiced our formations (Thursday) to get everyone familiar to be working together. Everyone is motivated to try to win, because the team time trial is always a special race.”
The course starts in Venaria Reale on the outskirts of Torino. There are five turns in the opening kilometers before settling into long, flat and wide-open roads that will favor the teams who bring top TT talent and who have the experience working together against the clock. The route is nearly pancake flat, so the winning speeds should be very high. Weather conditions should be idea, with only light winds, little chance of rain and temperatures in the low 70s.
Behind the top-three favorites, there are another handful of squads who could pop for a surprise.
Saxo Bank-Sungard will also likely push into the top five. On paper, it doesn’t have the strongest or most experienced squad, but it will be pushing deep to limit the losses for Alberto Contador.
“The team time trial is important, but I do not expect to see it having such an impact on the overall classification as it did in the 2009 Tour,” Contador said. “We want to do well and I think we can surprise a few people. It’s important that you keep the team together and not lose too much time.”
RadioShack also consistently performs well in the team time trial while Team Sky also brings some firepower for the stage, with Russel Downing, Dario Cioni, Michael Barry and Thomas Lovkvist all capable of setting a high pace through the decisive middle part of the course.
Other teams not known for the time trailing finesse will be scrambling to limit the losses for the GC riders, with squads such as Katusha, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Colnago-CSF Inox and Androni Giocattoli CIPI hoping to post strong times to keep their respective leaders within range.