Behold, Thor, Norse god of Yellow Lycra.
The short 23k team time trial in Les Essarts guaranteed that the winning margin would be mere seconds. Factor in the drama of a yellow jersey on the line for riders like Cadel Evans (BMC), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) and you had a clock full of drama.
A few years ago, Mark Cavendish and his HTC mates poked fun at Garmin’s obsession with the team time trial. They aren’t laughing today. The argyle army put in a brilliant performance, beating BMC by 4 seconds and Sky and Leopard by five.
Each squad fought for seconds, from the ramp to the finish line, with Thor Hushovd, Cavendish, Evans, Wiggins and the mighty Fabian Cancellara driving their teams in. It looked like a war fought on $15,000 carbon time machines.
Earlier in the year, still smarting from having to watch his domestique Johan Van Summeren win Paris-Roubaix, Hushovd publicly questioned Garmin’s tactics. He felt his support wasn’t there and that roles weren’t defined.
Hushovd’s happier now. Nothing like slipping a yellow jersey over your rainbow to brighten the mood. “This is a great day. We did a really good team effort. Everything worked perfectly,” said Hushovd.
“Every rider gave 100 percent for the team. It’s incredible. When I look back to 10 years ago when I won the same TTT, it’s crazy. It’s an incredible day for me and the team. I’m proud to wear the rainbow jersey at the Tour de France but to pull on yellow is incredible for me.”
One guy who isn’t feeling so incredible is three time boss of La Grande Boucle Alberto Contador. After losing 1:14 on a stage one crash that happened in front of him, he falls another 24 seconds behind Evans and the Brothers Schleck. Rolling out first, Saxo put up what looked like a fast time but not by the end of the day. As a friend likes to day, “somebody dropped the meat in the dirt.”
Rival Andy Schleck was hopeful that Contador’s team would be whupped after a brutal Giro, that his two Spanish mountain men and Richie Porte would perhaps falter in the Pyrenees and Alps. Well, they sure didn’t set Les Essarts on fire.
Even the mild-mannered and quiet Cadel Evans must be having a hard time not breaking into song and dance. When he looks down the GC list, he has to scan all the way to 75th before be finds the deadliest man in stage racing, Alberto Contador. That’s tres freaky.
BMC looked composed and motivated with Big George Hincapie and Almost As Big Marcus Burghardt throwing their horsepower behind Evans. A second place in the TTT by just four seconds is an exciting start for the black and red. Even former part-time soigneur Sven Schoutteten is clapping.
Team Sky had plenty on the line today and nearly delivered a yellow jersey to young Brit Geraint Thomas. With Thomas in the white jersey of best young rider and Wiggins in his national championship kit, the Sky train flew. They set the fastest intermediate time but faded slightly, losing to Garmin by four seconds. So very close mais tres loin.
HTC-Highroad came into the TTT as an obvious favorite with Cavendish and Tony Martin providing much of the gas. However, road captain Bernard Eisel had the embarrassing misfortune to go down in the first corner. Bye Bye Bernie. The team still put in a fine ride to finish tied with Sky, four seconds back. For the rest of the Tour Eisel will be saying to his teammates “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Last, but not least and actually sixth, the Electronic Gizmo team, the old man diesel power squad of Radio Shack notched a good time. 39 year old Chris Horner and 37 year old Levi Leipheimer and 36 year old Andreas Kloden showed Saxo Bank how to ride a short TTT. The Shack was a full 18 seconds faster than Alberto Contador and his Giro weary teammates.
The big losers and surprises. The Men of Orange lay goose egg. Last year Euskatel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez finished fourth in Le Tour. Man, he better be fast in the Pyrenees. There is no joy in Basqueland as they finish dead last, 1:20 off the winning time. Add that to yesterday’s lose of 1:14 and he is already over two and a half minutes down on GC. That’s a tall order for a man on an Orca.
The Liquigas boys must have been riding the slow Cannondales. They placed just 15th and makes us wonder if the whole team actually crashed on Mount Etna with Basso. There were no “good sensations” and the pasta tonight will be served cold.
Nobody was expecting big things from Katusha, the Russian World Cycling Shindig. With an all Russian squad for this Tour de France, they were making history. Their performance in the TTT however is something they hope will be forgotten quickly. Like Stalin.
Finally, let’s give nine pre-owned chapeaus to the French underdog with the ugly jerseys, the Saur-Sojasun team. They took 16th place, performed with honor and beat the Men of Orange by 20 seconds.
That’s a wrap. As the headline on the Garmin-Cervelo website proclaims, “Vive Le Thor.”