Three editions in, the addition of the trade team time trial to the World Championships programme has perhaps yet to fire the imagination of the general public, but Tejay van Garderen was in no doubt about its importance to the riders themselves after his BMC squad landed the 2014 title in Ponferrada.
Van Garderen, of course, was part of the BMC sextet that narrowly missed out on the inaugural gold medal in Valkenburg in 2012, when he inadvertently dropped Taylor Phinney with the ferocity of his long turn on the final haul up the Cauberg. Even after waiting for Phinney on that occasion, BMC were still only three scant seconds off the world title.
This time around, van Garderen and company were emphatic and deserving winners, finishing 31 seconds clear of Orica-GreenEdge and 35 ahead of defending champions Omega Pharma-QuickStep. Twice a top-five finisher at the Tour de France, van Garderen has also stood on the podium in Paris as the race’s best young rider, but he ranked Sunday’s achievement as his finest to date.
“This is my first World Championship and probably one of the only chances I’ll have to be a world champion so for me this is the highlight of my career,” van Garderen said.
Powered by Tony Martin and with the previous two team time trial championships already on their palmarès, Omega Pharma-QuickStep were the favourites for victory, with Orica-GreenEdge and Team Sky viewed by many as those most likely to pose the sternest challenge.
Though without the injured Phinney, however, BMC boasted a strong sextet that saw van Garderen line up alongside new arrival Rohan Dennis, Italian strongmen Manuel Quinziato and Daniel Oss, Peter Velits and Silvan Dillier, who rides for Switzerland in the individual time trial on Wednesday. Allan Peiper’s men were also able to count on the counsel of Marco Pinotti in the build-up to the event, and they arrived in north-western Spain quietly confident of wresting the title away from QuickStep.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” van Garderen said. “I think we came here knowing it was going to be hard. We had a lot of respect for the other two teams here, we knew they were favourites but we knew we had a chance. In Valkenburg, BMC was only three seconds off the win. To be that close once, there was no reason why couldn’t be up there again. We were definitely happy but not overly surprised. We were confident coming in.”
BMC’s pacing strategy was masterful throughout. A second down on QuickStep after 23 kilometres, they pulled eight seconds clear by the next time check after 36 kilometres, and then increased their advantage all the way to the finish, eventually stopping the clock in 1:03:29 for an average speed just shy of 54kph.
The American squad’s earlier start meant that they missed the light drizzle that blighted the final leg of QuickStep’s time trial, but while that may have helped to pad out their winning margin, there is little question that they weren’t full value for their victory.
“Through the whole race we were up there, we had some of the best intermediate splits,” Velits said. “I think that we would still have won. Maybe not with such a big advantage but we would still have won.”
Victory with BMC marked a hat-trick of world team time trial titles for Velits. The Slovak was part of Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s winning efforts in 2012 and 2013 but he was coy when asked about his impressive streak. “I don’t know if there’s a secret, but it wasn’t just me doing the time trial, it was the whole team,” Velits said. “It just feels really good to win it three times.”
Van Garderen, meanwhile, will surely be buoyed by his team time trial victory as he faces into the individual event on Wednesday. The auguries are certainly promising – he finished fourth and within touching distance of the podium after his silver medal in the team time trial two years ago – though the Colorado native was quick to stress that he was more at ease as part of a collective effort.
“I was more confident as part of a team but when I’m out there on my own without my guys it’s a bit harder to beat guys like Tony [Martin] and [Bradley] Wiggins and Svein [Tuft],” van Garderen said. “But I’ll give it my best shot. I was pretty close to a medal in 2012 so I’ll try to aim for that.”