By Kirsten Robbins in Rock City, Georgia
Riders were happy with the new parcours for the stage four time trial at the Tour de Georgia. The course was shortened by nine kilometres to remove the risky descent over Lookout Mountain down Ochs Highway into Chattanooga. Ciaran Power of the Navigators Insurance Cycling Team fell victim to the fast and technical descent in stage three, crashing over a guardrail with ten kilometres to go.
The risk of descending Ochs Highway is increased for the time trial because aero equipment gains much more speed with much less handling due to positioning. Today's time trial winner Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) was not in attendance at last year's Tour de Georgia but approved of the changes made to the time trial. Leipheimer seemed surprised that the 2006 time trial included what was stage three's descent, saying that, "After doing that descent yesterday, I said to the other guys, 'Did you really do this descent on your time trial bike last year?' It is fast and I can imagine that some guys were scared last year!"
Omitting the descent provided a good opportunity to add a rolling, technical three kilometres to the finish of the time trial. Leipheimer noted that this final section is possibly where he was able to use his time trialing experience to know where to push hard and where to conserve energy. The new addition encompassed elements of challenge and fun at the end of a grinding effort. "Descents are a part of bike racing, but I thought the stage today was a beautiful course and in the last five kilometres it was very technical and fun. I think the area here is beautiful and there is no reason to change the course from this year."
Nathan O'Neill of the Health Net-Maxxis team gave the new course two thumbs up and agreed with Leipheimer's thoughts on the course and its new final three kilometres. The Aussie has had a late start to his racing season due to a car accident while training on the time trial course in March. His injuries have healed quickly and he proved to be back in the game after placing third in the time trial.
The eight-time national time trial champion only had positive remarks on the course where he was able to test his progress. "Based on what Levi said I think there is no reason to change the course," O'Neill said. "He wouldn't change it either because he won the bloody thing. But seriously, I raced this thing last year and if you looked at the intermediate time split at the top of the climb it didn't change anything in the results. Fortunately, last year nobody crashed on the descent but odds are if you push things long enough and keep sending riders down a descent like that on their time trial bikes something bad is probably going to happen sooner or later."
O'Neill added, "The way it is right now, it is a beautiful new course and I would be in favour of keeping it the way it is. I think the last section is really good and technical; certainly, it is the most critical part in the course today. It was great, without a doubt."