Team NetApp fought long and hard to establish itself in its first Professional Continental year in 2011, but has finally achieved its breakthrough. It turned the recent Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali into a "NetApp festival,“ as Sport Director Jens Heppner said, with the riders saying the teamwork was the deciding factor.
It started when Cesare Benedetti got into the break group of the first stage and finished second. The second half-stage the next day was the team time trial – the first one for the team, and a test for its appearance in the Giro d'Italia.
The small German team not only passed the test but aced it, winning by nearly 8.5 seconds and propelling Benedetti into the overall lead. He held on to that lead for two stages, until the penultimate stage. There his teammate Bartosz Huzarski took it over by finishing third out of a break. Jan Barta topped things off by winning the closing time trial to take the overall title, with Huzarski second.
Heppner admitted to being surprised by the team's performance. "I knew that the team could accomplish something and with some luck could bring in some very good results, but I had never come close to believing in a NetApp festival!“ he told Cyclingnews.
"It was only a question of time until the breakthrough came. The potential has been there for a long time, but the self-confidence and a bit of luck were missing,“ he continued. "After the win in the team time trial, the guys saw how good they actually are and were able to directly use that form in the next stages.“
Benedetti, 24, has been with the team since its first year in the Continental rankings, and this was only his third race in his native Italy in those three years. "I have to say that I was not nervous at all,“ he told Cyclingnews. "Once I got the jersey I was very relaxed because at that point I had nothing to lose, I just had to give all I had, fighting to hold it as long as possible.“
One reason the team did so well, he said, was because of the Giro d'Italia. "I also think that every one of us wanted to show that we can race well after the polemics of our wild card for Giro d'Italia.“
The 31-year-old Huzarski said it was "always a cool feeling“ to lead in a race. He had, in fact, hoped to win the closing time trial, but was satisfied to take the second place in GC. "I think our morale rose steeply,“ he said. "Was it a breakthrough? I hope so.“
Barta, 27, had moved into the top ranks of the GC thanks to the team time trial win, and leapfrogged into the lead by winning the indvidual time trial by five seconds. It was his first win since 2009, and was "pure craziness for me. The joy is enormous.“
He knew going into the race that he had good legs, but wasn't sure if they would be good enough for the mountains. When he finished the queen stage in the first group, "I thought I could do something in GC.“ The key to the team's success, he told Cyclingnews, was simply the team. The win in the team time trial "pulled us together. From then everything went smoothly. We just worked together perfectly.“
"Then we passed the leader's jersey from one to another in the team, so that nearly everyone wore it. A super feeling. All the success in this race is based on our teamwork.“