Missouri time trial set to split overall contenders

The Tour of Missouri stage five time trial is the most highly anticipated of all seven stages. The flat, 30 kilometre stage is held in Sedalia and pegged as the deciding factor in who will capture the overall title at this year’s race.

There are a handful of potential candidates who are looking to try on the yellow jersey before concluding in Kansas City on Sunday. Cyclingnews talks to the favourites for today’s stage and potentially race victory.

Michael Rogers (Columbia-HTC)

Michael Rogers is the current Australian time trial champion and a three-time world time trial champion in 2003, 2004 and 2005. He is arguably the most decorated time trialist at the Tour of Missouri. As the team’s prominent overall contender, Rogers has placed inside the top 10 at the Tour de France and is well-known on the American domestic podium placing second last year in Missouri and second in the 2007 Tour of California.

“That was probably one of the hardest time trial’s I’ve ever done,” said Rogers, regarding last year’s predominantly uphill course in Branson. “I haven’t seen the course yet but I’ll go have a look at it tomorrow morning. I hear that it’s flat. It’s obviously the most deciding stage and they say the last stage is quite tough but for sure, the racing is going to be down to the time trial.”

Roger’s played a key role in leading out back-to-back stage winner Mark Cavendish, who pulled out of the race on Thursday due to illness. “I was only doing the lead-out and that kept me at the front and out of trouble,” Rogers said. “We still have a lot of opportunities with George and Pinotti. I think we have more cards to play than any other teams. But there are a handful of guys and it’s going to be tough and I’m not expecting huge time gaps. I quite sure that it will be all close together.”

Marco Pinotti and George Hincapie (Columbia-HTC)

Roger’s teammate Marco Pinotti is a four-time Italian national time trial champion and is also looking for a win in Friday’s time trial. Both he and his team-mate George Hincapie, USPro road champion, are eyeing the yellow jersey. Hincapie is no stranger to the top spot on the podium, having won the overall title in the Tour of Missouri’s inaugural 2007 edition.

“We have three good riders here,” Pinotti said. “Me and then of course we have George, who is good form after his injury and Michael Rogers. They are stronger than me but we wanted to have three options. The first goal was to win the first stage with Mark and then we would like to have George win in his stars and stripes jersey but of course the strongest rider after the time trial will be protected in the end.”

“I’m feeling quite well because the team has allowed me to save some energy,” he continued. “The time trial is a good chance for me and of course there are a lot of other competitors. But I’m confident and I will try to do my best. I have the World Championships in my view also.”

David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream)

Current USPro Time Trial Champion David Zabriskie is no slouch in the world rankings. The Salt Lake City, Utah native placed second in the 2006 UCI World Time Trial Championships year followed by a third place last year. He has won stages in all three Grand Tours. Arguably his most notable result came when he won the opening prologue at the 2005 Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for five days, before an unfortunate crash in the stage four team time trial.

Asked if he was going to put as much heart into this time trial as he did singing Guns’n’Roses on the sign-in stage at the Giro d’ Italia this year, Zabriskie responded, “Yes for sure,” he smiled. “For sure I think about winning tomorrow and the yellow jersey is on my mind. The team’s hopes are kind of on me, without Vande Velde. So I have to take up the slack.”

Gustav Larsson and Lars Bak (Saxo Bank)

The Tour of Missouri has seen a bunch sprint in each of the first four stages, with a battle between sprinters Mark Cavendish, Thor Hushovd and JJ Haedo. Saxo Bank’s sprinter Haedo, came out on top with a stage four win that took him straight into the overall leader’s jersey, something that will likely change after tomorrow’s time trial.

His squad has fielded a strong general classification team, with riders Beijing Olympic Games runner up Gustav Larsson and Lars Bak, who has also proven to be a time trial specialist as the current Swedish Time Trial Champion.

“I think that Gustav Larsson has been saving his legs for the whole week,” said overall leader and stage four winner JJ Haedo. “Even today in the end there were a few attacks and he just looked for Levi [Leipheimer] and other GC riders. He is the best man for the time trial. We also have Lars Bak, Jason McCartney and Nicki Sorensen. The other guys can still do pretty go and then the last stages you never know, there could be a break away. I think they are going to be harder than what we have see the last few stages for sure.”

Tom Zirbel (Bissell Pro Cycling Team)

Tom Zirbel made a name for himself racing amongst the ProTour squads when he continuously placed inside the top 10 in the Tour of California time trials in 2008 and 2009. He is known as the fastest domestic specialist, having won nearly every time trial he entered this year. Zirbel will say goodbye to domestic racing at the end of this season having signed a contract with the ProTour team Garmin-Slipstream for next year.

“I’m excited about it the course change,” said Zirbel, who can also rely on team-mates Ben Jacques-Maynes and Jeremy Vennell to post good times. “It looks like it was tailor made for me. It’s rolling with long straight-aways. I’m looking forward to it and I hope there is a good amount of wind that day.”

Zirbel went on to note the tough competition he will face if he wants to take a podium place. “There are a lot of strong riders here,” he said. “You never know how people are going to be going in September. Some of these guys are looking forward to worlds or at least a good GC placing here. If I’m still in it for GC with the same time as the leaders then I’m going to give it a go for the yellow jersey. I think a podium is a definite possibility for this team.”

Levi Leipheimer (Astana)

Last but not least Levi Leipheimer is one of the fastest time triallists in the business. Missouri marks his first race back since breaking his wrist at the Tour de France in July. Only eight weeks later and Leipheimer is on the hunt for a time trial victory and perhaps a yellow jersey.

“Of course I’d like to win the overall here,” Leipheimer said. “But mainly I’d have to say that it was just about getting back to race condition before the year’s end. I was here two years ago and now it looks like it’s dead flat this time, which is fine. Sometimes they are dead flat. I’ve won flat, hilly and uphill time trials so I think I can compete. I’m definitely not an outright favorite and a dark horse is a good way to put it.”

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