Trek Factory Racing stunned cycling fans, and even themselves, with a nail-biting victory during the opening team time trial at the Tour of Alberta in Grande Praire on Wednesday. Their hard-fought win, which was by a narrow margin of 0.74 of a second over favourites Orica-GreenEdge, put Bauke Mollema in a much-deserved first leader's jersey.
"This is a great start of the week and it is always nice to be in the leader's jersey," said Mollema, who has never won a team time trial before. "Today was a team effort. We did it with eight guys and that makes it even nicer to win. We are all really happy."
Trek Factory Racing went into the team time trial in somewhat of an under-dog position with much of the media predicting strong performances from Orica-GreenEdge, Giant-Alpecin and Katusha. Even Mollema felt, prior to the start, that winning the stage would be a stretch.
"We have a strong team and we new that we would fight for the first three positions, but actually, I didn't expect to beat them [Orica-GreenEdge] because they brought almost their entire team for the World Championships.
"They have a really strong team and they have won team time trials before, so I was really happy that we beat them. It was really close but our team rode really well, our guys were really strong."
Mollema led Trek Factory Racing over the finish line with four teammates; Matthew Busche, Marco Coledan, Hayden Roulston and Jesse Sergent, while Kristof Vandewalle, Laurent Didier and Gregory Rast made their contributions during the early sections of the parcour.
At the nine-kilometre split, Orica-GreenEdge had the faster time of 10:25, however, they fell slightly short during the second half of the event, where as Trek Factory Racing made up more time on the way to the finish line.
"The last eight kilometres was hard with five guys but if you look at the intermediate times and the time at the finish, that is where we gained a lot of time, so that's really nice," said Mollema, who noted that his maximum speed on his SRM was 72 km/h.
Many teams were using the team time trial in Alberta as an opportunity to practice ahead of the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, at the end of September. Trek Factory Racing will not be entering the same combination of riders but Mollema said their victory in Grande Prairie still helps build confidence for that event.
"It helps with confidence, for sure," said Mollema, who last competed in a team time trial at the Tour de France in July. "It's great to win a team time trial, it's the first time in my life, and I think for some of the other guys, too, it was really special."
Mollema came to the Tour of Alberta as one of the favourites to win the overall title, given that the race organisers have introduced two summit finishes during stage 3 to Jasper National Park and stage 4 to Marmot Basin Ski Area. He now leads the race heading into the second stage, a 171km race in the County of Grande Prairie on Wednesday.
Mollema's teammate Busche described how special it was to win a team time trial and kick off the race with Mollema in the leader's jersey.
"It's really motivating and it brings the team more together," he said. "It's obvious how strong Bauke is, and that gives extra motivation to the team to work for him, and to work together throughout the week.
"Any win is motivating for a team but when it's something like this, where it's from the start, straight from a team effort, and with everyone pouring everything they have into it, it's a little bit different than if we were to win a standard road stage."