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PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — Cycling is all about individual success, but it certainly takes a team to win, so perhaps it was no surprise when Tejay van Garderen described Sunday’s team time trial victory with BMC Racing as the “highlight of my career.”
BMC Racing upset pre-race favorites Omega Pharma-Quick Step, knocking back the Belgian squad and Australian challenger Orica-GreenEdge by more than 30 seconds to win the prestigious race Sunday as the UCI World Road Championships opened in Spain.
“This is the highlight of my career. To be able to share this with the team, it’s just incredible,” van Garderen told VeloNews. “To be up here with my boys, it’s awesome.”
Van Garderen’s celebration was clouded by a late-race thunderstorm, however, which added a touch of polemic to the finale as light rain and gusting winds kicked up for the final teams still on course.
BMC Racing was fastest at two of three time splits on the 57.12km course looping around the Bierzo wine country, stopping the clock in 1:03:29 (53.954kph).
The American squad started more than 30 minutes before defending champions Omega Pharma and rode to the finish on dry roads. An afternoon thunderstorm quickly developed, with light showers dampening the roads and gusting winds creating tougher conditions for the later starters.
BMC and Omega Pharma were all but tied at the first time check at 23.5km, and Omega Pharma was nearly 10 seconds faster at the second time check at 36km. At 48.9km, BMC was once again 12 seconds faster, and won handily by 35 seconds over Omega Pharma, and 31 seconds over second-place Orica.
Omega Pharma’s Tom Boonen said the rain and the wind were both contributing factors to their loss.
“We knew we were behind. Coming into the final climb, we saw the thunderstorm coming, and the wind was really picking up,” Boonen said.
“I think it changed a lot for these three teams starting later [Orica, Omega Pharma and fourth-place Sky]. We went 8kph slower on the last part than we did in training. It was just pushing, pushing, pushing.”
Boonen said the team lost “a lot of time” on a final climb and descent as the team separated, and had to wait for everyone to regroup before the final corners to make it safely to the line.
Van Garderen, however, defended BMC’s victory, saying that his team was already fastest when the sprinkles started to fall.
“It’s a kind of a blessing and a curse. We got a little bit better weather, but the teams knew how to play off of us, because they had the split times,” van Garderen said of BMC’s earlier starting time.
“The weather didn’t come until the end … maybe it would have been closer, but I am confident that we were the strongest team today. We made no mistakes. We were hauling ass out there.”
Van Garderen said BMC’s game plan was to try to remain steady throughout the course and keep everyone together as long as possible.
“We started with 20-second pulls, and once we got to the first check, we assessed who was a bit stronger and weaker, so the weaker guys sat on a bit longer, and the stronger guys pulled longer,” he said.
“We tried to keep the speed the same, and then drill it on the flats. We didn’t want to over-complicate things. It was just, get out there, and ride … hard.”
Rounding out the team were Italians Manuel Quinziato and Daniel Oss, Swiss rider Silvan Dillier, Australian Rohan Dennis, and Slovak Peter Velits, who has now been part of three straight team time trial victories, adding Sunday’s win to victories in 2012 and 2013 with Omega Pharma.
Velits, too, defended BMC’s victory despite the late-race change of weather.
“I think we would still win, maybe not with such a big advantage, but we would still win,” Velits said. “The last few teams had rain, with worse roads, but we were strong all the race. It was the work of the whole team.”
Sunday’s intense battle revealed just how seriously the major teams are taking the team time trial. Several big favorites for next week’s road race were roped into racing by their respective teams, such as Fabian Cancellara with Trek Factory Racing, and Peter Sagan, with Cannondale.
Team Sky brought in 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins (who said, when asked how the race went, “There’s not much to say, is there?”), while Marcel Kittel, the German sprinter, started with Giant-Shimano.
“For any team that takes it seriously, there are five or six teams that go all out for the team time trial, amongst those teams, it’s a very special race,” said Orica’s Svein Tuft.
“It’s a special test, a real show of character of the team. It’s a very special event. I think it’s a great event that they’ve added to the world championships.”
For van Garderen, winning gold in Sunday’s team time trial is what he said was his most realistic chance to ever become a world champion. He admitted it will be tough to beat Tony Martin in Wednesday’s individual time trial, or knock back the likes of Sagan or Cancellara in next week’s road race.
“This is a team sport, but sometimes people don’t understand that. The team time trial really shows you that. You can understand what the team aspect is all about,” van Garderen said.
“There are times, like at Colorado [USA Pro Challenge], I was there on the podium, but I wanted to have my whole team up there.”
On Sunday, the entire BMC Racing Team celebrated the victory.