While it was hardly a surprise to see heavy favourites David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) and Tom Zirbel (Bissell Pro Cycling) claim the top two steps of the podium at Saturday's US professional time trial championships, Kelly Benefit Strategies' Scott Zwizanski's bronze medal ride, coupled with a fourth place by teammate Reid Mumford, may have been unexpected. The underdog role, however, is one that Zwizanski and his teammates have revelled in throughout their 2009 season.
"I'm pretty pleased going three-four," said Zwizanski. "Probably a lot of people didn't expect that of us today, but we've been surprising people all year."
Zwizanski and Mumford finished one-two in the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay's stage seven time trial in April, putting Mumford into the race lead with Zwizanski in second. The next stage Zwizanski assumed the overall lead which he held through the conclusion of the 10-day national tour.
Two months later at Canada's Tour de Beauce, Zwizanski again won a pivotal time trial which put the California resident into the race lead which he defended through to the seven-stage event's conclusion.
For Zwizanski, his burgeoning time trial prowess has been a matter of gaining confidence, whose origin can be traced back more than a year ago to a time trial in the 2008 season.
"It was my strength as an amateur, but I kind of didn't focus on it when I turned pro back in 2004," said Zwizanski. "But last year it kind of just started clicking again suddenly. I think Nature Valley was the first time I really felt confident again.
"Ever since then it's been a confidence thing and just the mental ability to suffer. Time trials are all about suffering. I feel that's back, and I'm also racing a little bit better weight this year, which is good. I have a great environment with Kelly [Benefit Stategies] which also is good."
Speaking to the environment on his team, Zwizanski mentioned the tone set by Performance Director Jonas Carney and Manager Ken Mills. "They keep it fun, nice and laid back, but Jonas expects a lot of us. He expects us to do our job and you know if if you don't. It just makes for a good environment to be willing to sacrifice for you teammates."
Carney followed Zwizanski's bronze medal ride in the team car, and was providing feedback through the team's radio over the three-lap championship event. "I'm not the biggest fan of the radio, but Jonas is good and doesn't talk too much on it. I like doing the laps, it could be from my swimming background, where you can get a bit of feedback from your speed each lap. I really wanted to be consistent throughout and have the last lap be my fastest. I don't think that's what I did, but I might have been close."
While Zwizanski finished with a comfortable margin between the times of the second and fourth place riders, 17 seconds separated the riders in fourth through eighth position with teammate Mumford claiming fourth by the slimmest of margins over fifth-placed Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly Cycling Team). Mumford eclipsed Van Ulden by three hundredths of a second.
"I had no idea that Bernard was so close to me," said Mumford. "I didn't run a radio. I was passed by Zirbel and I was able to keep him in sight for half of a lap. I could see that Zabriskie was also behind me, I happened to be slotted between those two as I made my way through the second lap.
"I was able to gauge my speed from those guys, and it took them a while to catch me so I knew I was going pretty good. I took about two minutes off my time from last year, so that was definitely a big improvement."
The Kelly Benefit Strategies duo has set the tone for their teammates, and morale is high heading into Sunday's road race championship.
"Tomorrow maybe we'll improve on that three-four and maybe get a little higher on the podium," said Zwizanski. "That's the goal at least, we have a whole team of guys who can race well tomorrow."