Columbia-Highroad team manager Rolf Aldag looked a nervous but excited man at around half-past five on Saturday afternoon at the Giro d'Italia. By that time, all of his riders bar pink jersey elect Mark Cavendish were safely holed up in the comfort of their team bus, while Cavendish awaited his verdict in front of a TV screen in the media tent by the Venice finish line. "I was a bit disappointed when we crossed the line," Cavendish grimaced. "I think we could have gone quicker..."
But as the minutes ticked by, so Cavendish and Columbia's position at the top of the leader board looked ever more impregnable. And so Aldag looked ever more satisfied with his and his team's day's work.
"You always look at places where you could have gone faster or better," he said. "There's was a small mechanical problem with [Michael] Rogers at the start, then the last roundabout could have been faster but they did all of the basic things right. They always came in line to the corners, they grouped before the corner, then they sped up really well out of the corners. You always have a couple of critical moments when guys can't follow any more and the others don't realize, but we held it together all the way..."
Aldag confirmed that, contrary to speculation in the Italian media that Marco Pinotti would be the first Columbia man over the line, it was always the team's intention to let Cavendish lead them in.
"It was our plan for Mark to cross the line first, although there was also a plan B," Aldag said, smiling cryptically. "The problem was that we talked about it and everybody really deserved it. That's the thing. We finally decided that it would be Mark but we also said that he had to take care of it. We told Mark that he was the sprinter and he should know where to be to come over the line first; he couldn't be at the very front or back with a kilometre to go because that wouldn't work. But he did it very well."
Aldag, Cavendish and also Pinotti spoke effusively about the team spirit that had fired their performance – and also allowed all nine Columbia riders to cross the line together. As well as great camaraderie, Aldag said that his team had also benefited from the considerable experience of time trial and team events within their ranks.
"The thing is that we have many guys who have a lot to say about the team trial," he said. "It's quite complicated for us because the meeting always takes more time than on other teams. For other teams it's quite easy; you have one guy who's really vocal and everyone just does what he says, whereas in this team, we have a three-time world time trial champion in Mick Rogers. We have Cav, who has a lot of experience on the track. We have Mark Renshaw, an excellent team pursuiter, so you have so much experience. You just have to listen to it all then decide which are the best ideas and go with it. It takes a lot of time to come to an agreement but I think the way we tried to do it worked well.
"It's amazing when you think that Mark is only 23," Aldag said of Cavendish. "It's also amazing, how he can bring people together. He'll be there, telling everyone 'Come on guys, let's go out and beat everyone.'. The other really amazing thing about him is that whatever he's promised to do, he's always done it. He's never really failed. He's taught us that you have to trust him."
Aldag's spoke finally of the intriguing subplot to yesterday's team time trial – the Columbia-Garmin rivalry stoked by Cavendish's claims that Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters had been "disrespectful" to claim that his team's season started on Saturday. Cavendish would temper those remarks in his post-race press conference on Saturday. Even before that, Aldag laughed off suggestions that the controversy had an impact on yesterday's result.
"We were in a team meeting yesterday when we saw what Mark had said and we were like ‘OK' [raises eyebrows]. But he feeds off that stuff. It's not like, 'Oh, it was an accident'. He reads it and he has a big smile on his face. Sometimes he reads things and people misunderstand, but he likes to say things and play games...It's all a bit of fun, and it's good for you journalists!"