Garmin eyeing TTT stage win, yellow jersey for Millar

In position to land the yellow jersey, American squad enters Tuesday's team time trial in Nice a favorite

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CALVI, France (VN) — Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar came frustratingly close to wearing the maillot jaune of the Tour de France on Sunday, sitting second overall, one second behind stage winner Jan Bakelants of RadioShack-Leopard. He will have another shot, perhaps a better shot, on Tuesday in Nice.

Millar admitted to being let down on Sunday, saying, “I was really disappointed yesterday, but I think that’s normal. I think anyone would have been.”

Millar and his teammates will have a second chance to put the Scottish TT specialist in yellow on Tuesday, when the American squad races across the flat, 25-kilometer stage 4 team time trial course in Nice.

The TTT is an event Garmin has excelled in since its inception, winning at the 2008 Giro d’Italia, the 2011 Tour de France, and the 2012 Giro d’Italia. In all three instances, a Garmin rider went on to wear the leader’s jersey — Christian Vande Velde in 2008, Thor Hushovd in 2011, and Ramunas Navardauskas last year.

The team hopes to repeat that feat on Tuesday; however, as team director Charly Wegelius said, the focus is on winning the stage, and not taking the race lead.

“Obviously the team time trial is part of the culture of this team, it’s part of the team’s heritage,” Wegelius said. “Even in smaller races we take it extremely seriously. We’re trying to focus on the performance, rather than the consequences of a good result.”

The team spent time training together in team time trial formation last week at its European headquarters in Girona, Spain, on roads that closely simulate Tuesday’s flat, out-and-back effort.

Wegelius added that he expected the margin between the winning team and second place to be “less than fives seconds.”

Ryder Hesjedal, winner of the 2012 Giro d’Italia, said the course looks “pretty straightforward.”

“We’ve seen a Google Earth overview,” said Hesjedal. “We’ll check it out Tuesday morning, and make an exact plan. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting together a good ride with the people you have here, just staying smooth, working well together, and getting everything out of everybody. We had a few good days together in Girona, it felt like we put that together. We were moving fast, and that gives you a little confidence boost. Now we just need to put it together on race day.”

Other favorites for stage 4 include world TTT champion Omega Pharma-Quick Step, BMC Racing, Sky, and Movistar. Omega Pharma’s chances, however, were seriously hampered after world TT champ Tony Martin was seriously injured in a pile-up in stage 1. Sky was dealt a similar blow when Geraint Thomas suffered a hairline fracture of his pelvis in that same crash.

“It’s a dead-flat course with only a handful of corners,” Vande Velde said. “It’s a ‘big motor’ time trial, which favors us. There are a few teams that will do well: Quick Step, us, BMC. I think BMC is one of the favorites, but it’s also a great course for us.

“It’s too bad about what happened with Tony [Martin]. Crashes are always a factor. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, with that. Unfortunately that happened, but whether you are on the good side of it or the bad side, you never want to see that. It sucks. But that’s the Tour.”

If Millar does take yellow on Tuesday, it will be the second time in his career. He first wore yellow after winning the opening time trial in his Tour debut, in 2000. Though he was stripped of his results from 2001 to 2003 after admitting to doping, his 2000 stage win stands. Should he take yellow on Tuesday, it would bookend his career over a span of 13 years, which includes 12 Tour appearances.

“Winning the team time trial would be amazing,” Millar said. “It would be a massive bonus to take the jersey. I think we’ve done all the right work, everyone is going well, we’ve avoided all of the crashes. I think we have the right to be one of the favorites. Whether or not we’ll win is another matter. We’ll take it one thing at a time, and focus on winning the team time trial. And then, what will be, will be.”

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