by Kirsten Robbins in Atlanta, Georgia
Finishing the Tour de Georgia's stage four team time trial in third place may have been the blessing in disguise that camouflaged High Road's eventual race winner from Belarus, Kanstantsin Siutsou, enough to climb atop Brasstown Bald and take the four seconds needed to seal the triumph over a tactical match between the two race favourites Trent Lowe from Slipstream and Levi Leipheimer from Astana.
"We brought him here with the hopes that he could put on a good show and be competitive for the overall and he came through big time," said Team High Road owner Bob Stapleton regarding finding the Belarusian climber late last season. "He had a lot of help from Hincapie these last two stages, who rode with him for the first part up the mountain and coached him on the important parts. I think it helped that people were not focused on him and it has been encouraging to know that if you plan right and you have good fitness you can win."
Taking the overall race win was not as unexpected as Tour de Georgia competitors and followers may have thought going into Brasstown Bald and according to Siutsou it was utilizing his good form to perfection that lead to a team success. "I feel that I had great legs this week and yesterday was a difficult day and after a hard day like that today was really about concentrating on keeping the jersey intact. I had George helping me do this and so it was not just my victory, it is a victory for High Road."
"In the beginning of the week I did not think I would win this race overall," continued Siutsou, who spent the majority of the earlier stages working for his sprint leader and double stage winner Greg Henderson. "After helping during the sprinters' stages the team felt that the hills were a good place for me and the teamwork has been great all week."
High Road team director sportif, Alan Peiper believes that while his team played off of Siutsou's top level climbing over Brasstown Bald, their win was partially attributed to the tactical errors over the decisive climb between both teams Astana and Slipstream. "I think firstly Astana did make a tactical error because they knew who Kanstantsin was," said Peiper regarding the racing history between Astana's director Ekimov and the Belarusian. "However, Lowe was the race leader that day and he was staying on the wheel of Leipheimer, forcing him to do all the work. When Kanstantsin attacked it wasn't up to Leipheimer to respond, it was up to Lowe."
Peiper analysed that "I think it may have been a miscalculation, maybe Lowe didn't know who he was, or maybe he had all his focus on Leipheimer and totally underestimated Kanstantsin. Primarily, a rider who is winning the race should know who's close to him, especially after riding with them all week."
Slipstream director sportif, Jonathan Vaughters offered his insight into the quick change in GC lead from his team to High Road as less of a case of tactical error and more of a case of Lowe's gutsy climb turning up short in the end. "Trent knew that Kanstantsin was six seconds behind and he did everything he could," said Vaughters. "I communicated that I didn't think Levi was looking that great and that Kanstantsin would have been the rider to watch. Trent did a good little sprint to get away from Levi in the end but I don't think he quite had it during the moment when Kanstantsin went. I think he did what he could on a steep climb and couldn't go with Kanstantsin."
Siutsou, who is currently living near Bergamo, Italy, where mountain training is incorporated into his daily routine, substantiated Vaughters' comments by confirming Brasstown Bald's difficulty. "There was no way to use tactics on this climb because this mountain is very steep," said Siutsou. "It was all about who was fit, strong on a steep climb like that and able to win. I think George's help was very important for me. It was all about who had better legs in the last kilometre. I followed Levi's accelerations and then I found one opportunity to attack in a place I could accelerate."
Despite the decisive Brasstown Bald, according to Siutsou he is honoured to win his first American race for his US-based team and feels prepared to start the Giro d' Italia in GC contention. "I am happy to have this jersey for my team, myself and Bob," said Siutsou. "This is a dream to represent my team like this. I knew I was riding well, I'm here training for the Giro and then to work for Kim Kirchen in the Tour de France."