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With Tuft leading the charge, Orica comes up short in Alberta TTT

Svein Tuft and his Orica teammates ride to second place in the Tour of Alberta TTT, and now turn their TTT focus to the worlds.

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GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alberta (VN) — Head forward, back flat and straight, and with seven Orica-GreenEdge teammates on rollers to his right, Svein Tuft shifted cadences and monitored his bike computer.

It was a few minutes before another team time trial, this time stage 1 of the Tour of Alberta on Wednesday, and it served as the final tune-up before the UCI Road World Championships that are now 17 days away. Tuft, the nine-time Canadian national time trial champion, is the squad’s leader in its quest to end three years of podium futility.

The Orica squad won the opening-day Giro d’Italia team time trial this year, minus its injured leader Tuft. It also claimed the 2013 Tour de France TTT and the 2014 Tour of Italy TTT, with Tuft helping the squad.

Orica has finished third, second, and second in the TTT at the UCI Road Worlds the past three years. Tuft, one of cycling’s enduringly tough and lead-by-example riders, badly wants the title.

“I think we have really put together a good team,” said Tuft, whose Tour of Alberta squad included his pending five world championship teammates. “Sure, you need a great day. But it’s something we’ve really worked on. And I think we are going to give it a good run this year.

“From what I’ve seen from the guys, they’re all at really good levels right now. We’ve basically selected our guys, so because we’ve been working on it for so long, the crew we have we think can have a big ride. It’s pretty straightforward.”

But Tuft’s optimism and goals were surprisingly stymied again. Orica was the prohibitive favorite and the last of the 15 squads to contest the 12.2-mile flat circuit in Alberta. The eight-rider team had the fastest early split, but finished with five riders, .74 seconds behind Trek. Bauke Mollema of the winning squad is the race leader entering Thursday’s stage 2.

“We didn’t know that we had lost because we were up by so much at the split,” said Tuft. “We just kind of assumed that we couldn’t lose that much time.

“But because we had used our real engines early on, we didn’t have that top speed coming home in the headwind section. We’ve had a lot of close ones in our day and that’s hard to take sometimes.”

Despite the upset, Tuft remains steadfast. He’s signed with Orica for 2016, his fifth season with the team. He’ll turn 39 next May.

“The top end drops a little bit,” said Tuft of his specialty and the aging process. “But you get other things. You get experience, so it’s kind of a balancing act, really.”

Tufts’ legacy has been well-documented. He left school at age 15 to live and climb mountains in the wilderness. It was a rite of passage encouraged by his father and grandfather, men who thrived in the Norwegian wilderness. Tuft rode his bike 4,000 miles throughout Alaska as a teenager. He shrugs, smiles, and gives a “who, me?” answer when asked his tough-guy persona.

But when asked time trialing and his persistence in the sport, Tuft isn’t at a loss for words.

“I think so much of it is mental ability, really,” he said. “It’s great to be talented, but it’s more and more about being able to put yourself in a state where you can just keep pushing yourself mentally and where you’re not thinking about anything else.”