Garmin-Slipstream is hardly the Austin Powers of cycling, but as David Millar said today, the team has found its mojo in this year’s Vuelta. Prior to the start of the race it had clocked up a maddening run of near misses in Grand Tours, but once Tyler Farrar scooped its first win on stage eleven to Caravaca de la Cruz, everything fell into place.
Ryder Hesjedal triumphed two days later, with only the rest day interrupting what was two consecutive stage wins. Then today Millar made it three from twenty when he stormed to time trial success in Todelo.
The purple patch saw other important victories. Tom Danielson rode strongly until he was struck down by illness, but his performance was an achievement after years of struggles. Chris Sutton clocked up a sprint triumph in the Tour of Britain, and on the other side of the pond, Dave Zabriskie nabbed the time trial and overall classification in the Tour of Missouri.
In fact, since August 8th and Danielson’s time trial win in the Tour of Burgos, the argyle armada has topped the podium thirteen times.
"It is an odd thing in sport," a relaxed Millar said, when asked about the team's turnaround. "Sometimes it is just a question of mojo. When Tyler won, I think we had four or five wins in the space of the week. That is very unlike us... so, yes, I think it has changed some certain things.
"I think Ryder’s victory was enormous. That was great to see and he is becoming a great rider. The team is changing, we are growing. We are only two years old…in fact, we are not even two years at this level. So it is normal that we are taking steps and getting bigger and bigger."
Millar based his Vuelta around this stage, staking his personal ambition on winning here. He was fifteenth in the prologue and then finished second in the Valencia time trial, conceding 32 seconds to Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank). Cancellara’s withdrawal to prepare for the world’s time trial undoubtedly boosted his chances, and he then held back on the stages leading up to today in order to be as fresh as possible
"I based most of the Vuelta on the last time trial," he said. "I didn’t know it was going to be so hard, though, as the profile looked a bit easier. When I saw it in the car beforehand I was a bit shocked.
"I had to basically make my strategy up on the spot when I saw how difficult it was. I took the first half fairly subdued and then I hit the climb very hard. Then I held back a little bit for the last kilometre as well."
Today, and beyond
Crouched low and pedalling smoothly, the Scot gauged his effort perfectly. He was only sixth fastest at the first time check, conceding 34 seconds to Philippe Gilbert, but losing only four to the next rider. He had accelerated by the time he reached checkpoint two, setting a time that would be five seconds quicker than that of Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), and maintained that pace until the end. Cue a nervous wait, but then a greatly savoured victory.
He spoke afterwards about his gearing and the demands of the test. "I was using 55 x 39, 11 x 23," he said. "I don’t think I used the 39 x 23 once, but I was in the 39 x 21 a few times, that is for sure. It was a beautiful course, it had everything. It had a motorway, a big fast section, it had a technical descent, it had the flowing climbs. It was a really nice time trial."
It was also a nice victory, and one which will have been appreciated by the riders and staff here at the Vuelta. Only four of the Garmin team remain in the race, and they will share in the celebrations tonight, even if Millar modestly played it down somewhat.
"I think whether I won today or not, it wasn’t so important for the team after Ryder’s incredible victory on the queen stage and Tyler finally getting his first Grand Tour stage win," he said. "I think we have had a very great success here as a team. For me, personally, it is huge as I have been searching for this all year. I am very proud of it, very happy.
As mentioned before, Cancellara withdrew earlier in the race in order to prepare for the worlds and so too did defending time trial world champion, Bert Grabsch. Millar will also head to Mendrisio aming for success, but he’s decided to do that in the road race only. There are conceivably three reasons for that: one, he’s aware that it would be very difficult to beat the race favourite. Two, by staying until the end of the Vuelta, he feels he’s able to better build his condition prior to next Sunday’s big test. And three, the strategy netted him another Grand Tour win to add to his collecion.
"We had great success with the team here," said Millar. "My objective was this stage, so I succeeded in that. Cancellara is the best [time trialist] in the world at the moment, and so I take the opportunity when he isn’t here. I respect his talent.
"[Because of that], I’ll do the road race only. I don’t want be racing against Fabian in the TT in his home country."
Millar will lead a solid British team next Sunday, and expects to be in good shape. "I think it will be fine. I showed today that I am going well, I climb well, and I am ready for the worlds."