With his victory in the 46km Vuelta a España time trial today, Slovakia's Peter Velits is poised to become the first rider from that country to stand on the podium in the sport's biggest events after he moved into third overall behind the race's new leader Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo).
Velits also handed his HTC-Columbia team its 100th win of the year, and topped the achievements of his compatriot Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo), who won two stages and the points classification in Paris-Nice.
The success of Velits was rather unexpected, even by his team. The 25-year-old held big promise after a 2007 win in the U23 world championship road race, but after two years at Team Milram and only one win he and twin brother Martin came to HTC-Columbia looking to have a break-out season. Still, Velits wasn't considered a GC contender until his strong and consistent finishes in the Vuelta's summit finishes.
"We came to the Vuelta to win stages with Mark Cavendish but also to prepare the future and building up riders like Peter Velits and Tejay Van Garderen as GC riders," said directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman at the beginning of the Spanish Tour. While Van Garderen had strong performances early, Velits's maturity shone through in the final week of the tour, and today's victory is the apex of his career to date.
"This is my first time trial victory," Velits said in Peñafiel. "It's unbelievable that it happened at the Tour of Spain. I can't describe it. To beat Cancellara who is the absolute top TT rider makes it even more of a surprise."
The top three of the Vuelta is now made up of the riders who finished together at the Lagos de Covadonga - Nibali, Mosquera and Velits - and the young Slovakian hopes it will stay that way to Madrid on Sunday. "I'll try to keep my spot on the podium as hard as I can," Velits said.
"There's one more climbing stage on Saturday at Bola del Mundo. I'll do everything I can. I'm already very happy with the victory I got. It's possible that I'd be fighting for the overall victory if I didn't lose time in Cotobello, but every day at the Vuelta I've given my best and I'm more than satisfied with the position I have now."
Peter Velits might well be the first Slovakian to reach the final podium of a Grand Tour on Sunday on the Paseo della Castellana in Madrid. After that, he and his brother will ride the world championship in Australia in support of Sagan, whose ambition is no less than becoming the youngest winner of the rainbow jersey after coming second in the Pro Tour GP Montreal three days ago.