By Hedwig Kröner in Varese
German time trial champion Bert Grabsch celebrated his biggest career win on Thursday after taking the World time trial title ahead of Svein Tuft (Canada) and Dave Zabriskie (USA). The Team Columbia rider flew over the Varese worlds course in 52'01 minutes as the only rider to average more than 50 kilometres per hour.
"It was a perfect day for me, the course was perfect, the weather was perfect - it was my day," said Grabsch at the post-race press conference. The usually quiet man from Wittenberg, Germany, surprised many of his rivals on the fast parcours around the town of Varese, which allowed him to fully express his potential.
"The course was very fast, raced with an average of 50 km/h. It was different to Beijing [where he finished 14th - ed.]. It was perfect for me, as it was so fast. There weren't a lot of climbs," he explained.
The 33 year-old Grabsch is a late bloomer. He is in his 11th year as a pro cyclist, as he started his career in 1997 with Agro-Adler Brandenburg. From 2001 to 2006, he spent six years within the Swiss Phonak team, where he slowly progressed, but nevertheless remained a faithful domestique to the squad's various leaders. In 2007, already German champion in the race against the clock, he won the first time trial of the Vuelta a España on a similarly fast course. This season, he added a total of four wins to his palmarès, and topped it all off with the rainbow jersey.
The German therefore does not come out of nowhere, even if few cycling observers had him on the radar for today's victory. "Last year, I always had good results in the time trials I rode," he said about his progress as an athlete. "Four years ago, at the Vuelta time trial, I was fifth. Last year, I was fourth in the World Championships and German champion. This year, I defended my national title in front of Stefan Schumacher, who - only a few weeks later - wins both Tour de France time trials."
Grabsch himself was not included in Columbia's Tour de France squad, "which left me quite frustrated back home," he said. "But I made up for a it a bit at the Tour of Austria, winning a stage. I knew then that I was strong [today], but I didn't know I was that strong!."
His brother Ralf, himself a pro with team Milram, had nevertheless sensed that Bert could be up for the podium at the Worlds in Varese. "He worked towards this goal for years," Ralf Grabsch said. "He told me before the worlds that the course suited him. After his strong results in the last few months, I thought to myself that he could be up front this time."
Columbia team manager Bob Stapleton added, "Bert really benefited from the improvements we made on our time trial equipment this year. We also took him to the wind tunnel in San Diego last winter. We knew the course suited him well, especially the flat part, so this doesn't come as a surprise to us."
Asked if the absence of World and Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara had opened up an opportunity for Grabsch this year, the new world champion replied, "The race victory today was open to a handful of riders. Even if Cancellara had started, that would not have been different. Maybe he would have won, maybe not."