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Latest round of TTT rivalry goes to BMC

BMC Racing and Quick-Step Floors have dominated the team time trial discipline for years, and Tirreno-Adriatico offered the latest face-off.

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BMC Racing re-staked its claim as the best team time trial squad in the peloton and revived its long-running rivalry with Quick-Step Floors.

Since the UCI reintroduced the team time trial discipline in 2012, now run under the flags of professional rather than national teams, only two teams have split the world title: BMC Racing and Quick-Step.

Wednesday’s 22.7km out-and-back course to open Tirreno-Adriatico saw these two long-running rivals knocking heads again. BMC came up tops, 17 seconds faster than Quick-Step, which featured Tom Boonen racing in his final team time trial race of his career.

“As a team, we put a lot of emphasis on team time trials,” said BMC’s Tejay van Garderen. “It has really become a part of the BMC Racing team identity.”

Team time trials are all about bragging rights, and execution. Teams love them, and most of the bigger, well-developed squads wish the calendar had more of them. A typical calendar might have only a handful of TTTs sprinkled across the season, but when they do pop up, like in Wednesday’s TTT, the big teams go all-in.

“The key to winning a team time trial is confidence, the bravado and the attitude of the team,” van Garderen said. “It’s not cracking under pressure, and we lived up to that mentality today.”

Team time trials usually prove decisive in stage races — Van Garderen carries a “virtual lead” of 21 seconds to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and 49 seconds to Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) going into Friday’s stage at Tirreno — and some argue too much so. And TTTs can spell disaster when things go wrong, like when a wheel exploded on a Sky rider during Wednesday’s TTT.

That’s one reason why the discipline has fallen out of favor over the past decade or so, especially at the Tour de France. More than a decade ago, to keep up suspense during the Tour, organizers reduced the distance of TTTs and, during the Lance Armstrong era, even introduced rules limiting the amount of time losses. From 2009-2015, the TTT was back on interval years, with Astana winning in 2009, Garmin in 2011, Orica in 2013 and BMC in 2015. Unfortunately for fans of the discipline, there is not a TTT in the 2017 Tour.

Teams like BMC and Quick-Step put a lot of emphasis on honing their TTT prowess, and work as a unit a few times a year to keep technical skills sharp to shine against the clock as an eight- or nine-man team in the fluid, fast, and dynamic discipline.

So far this year, BMC won TTTs at the Volta a Valenciana and Wednesday at Tirreno. Quick-Step is perhaps feeling the loss of TT anchor Tony Martin, who switched to Katusha-Alpecin for 2017.

“When you are going fast, you have the impression that you are flying,” said BMC’s Stefan Küng, who took the best young rider’s jersey. “When you hear the wheels roaring, it is just great. That’s what we train for, to go as fast as possible … This is a great team victory, and we showed that we don’t have to fear anybody.”

The rivalry will continue this month, with a relatively long TTT of 41km at the Volta a Catalunya, and a shorter 13.8km course to open the Vuelta a España in August.

And then there’s the biggest bragging rights at the world championships. Of the five events held so far among the pro teams, Quick-Step has won three (2012, 2013 and 2016) and BMC Racing two (2014 and 2015).