Trailing Omega Pharma-QuickStep by just nine seconds at the final time check of the road world championships elite men's team time trial, the BMC team was still working in harmony and steadily clawing back ground in the final 13km-long run-in to Valkenburg. But as the road pitched upwards on the final climb of the Cauberg, their efforts would become more dissonant and their hopes of gold were dashed.
The strongest climber in the BMC line-up, Tejay van Garderen gladly took up the baton on the Cauberg and began to conduct the orchestra, which still had all six of its players in situ, but the young American may have underestimated his own strength. Manuel Quinziato and Marco Pinotti soon found themselves unable to keep pace with his brisk tempo, though with the finish time determined by the fourth rider to cross the line, BMC still had the quartet necessary to record a winning time at that point.
When Taylor Phinney began to waver further up the climb, however, BMC were left in a quandary, and their calls for van Garderen to alter the timbre of his pressing were drowned out by the cacophony of noise from the roadside. Alessandro Ballan and Philippe Gilbert eventually succeeded in relaying the message to van Garderen, and Phinney managed to latch back on for the final 1.5km-long push to the line, but that accidental deviation from the hymn sheet would prove costly - BMC came across the line in second place, just three seconds down on Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
Phinney conceded after the race that the breakdown in communication on the Cauberg had perhaps cost his team a world title, although he stressed that over a technical 53.2km course, there was a myriad of moments where the race had been won and lost. "For sure, people will point at the Cauberg because it was near the end but a lot of time was made and lost in the 51 kilometres before that," Phinney said.
Phinney was spotted in animated discussion with van Garderen after the race, but he laughed off the suggestion that he would fall out with his close friend and fellow Lucca resident over events on the Cauberg.
"I definitely was not agitated at Tejay," Phinney said. "It was so loud on the Cauberg that it was almost impossible for him to hear anything when I was yelling at him. I started struggling and was weaving a little bit on the bike, and he thought that was a sign that I was about to pull off, so he kind of came around me. At the end, we were all just disappointed because it was two or three seconds.
"I guess I was maybe a tiny bit mad at him but only because he can climb better than me and therefore he made me hurt a little bit on the Cauberg, but I'm definitely not mad at him anymore. That's bike racing, we all make each other hurt and we grow stronger bonds because of that."
Phinney had been one of BMC's strongest performers on the flat sections of the course, and he had put in a lengthy turn ahead of the Cauberg, perhaps not anticipating that he would be one of only four survivors over the top of the climb.
"I went into a whole new realm of hell on the Cauberg," he said. "When we got there, and I looked back, I saw that I was the fourth rider, so I just had to dig deep as much as possible and limit our losses. I slowed the team down a little bit over the top but when you're in that situation, you just have to push through it and hope that the finish line comes quickly."
In spite of his disappointment at missing out on gold, Phinney was able to take heart ahead of Wednesday's individual time trial, where reigning champion Tony Martin has singled him out as his most dangerous rival. After twin fourth places in the road race and time trial at the London 2012 Olympics, Phinney will doubtless be keen to end his recent run of gallant near-misses. "Today just gives me extra motivation ahead of the time trial," he said.
Indeed, by the time he left the press conference, Phinney was already able to raise a smile, firing a friendly warning at reporters as he exited stage left: "I don't want to see any headlines saying that Taylor is mad at Tejay, alright?"
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.