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OGDEN, Utah (VN) — The top of the general classification in Utah is all argyle after a sweltering team time trial in the Utah desert, with Garmin-Sharp riders making up four of the top five.
Christian Vande Velde now wears the leader’s jersey at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, followed by teammates Tom Danielson, Dave Zabriskie and Peter Stetina. The Garmin squad leveled the field at the Miller Motorsports Park on a 103-degree day, and gave its riders a hefty advantage in the GC race with four days remaining.
Vande Velde said he thought about being fast to the line during Tuesday’s opening road race because it would push the TTT start back for Garmin on Wednesday. Now, the American leads the race.
“I didn’t come with massive ambitions last year, and I ended up top five. I didn’t come with crazy ambitions for this year, because it’s just a brutal course and you don’t know how you’re body is going to react,” he said. “But this has been fun already. I’m not going to lie. I suffered like a dog yesterday, and I’m going to plan to suffer more this week.”
After the ruthless effort, Garmin all but dispatched Levi Leipheimer, as Omega Pharma-Quick Step lost more than two minutes on the day. Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) is sixth, at 33 seconds, while Chris Horner and Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Nissan) are 38 seconds back of the lead. Francisco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclist) is 1:05 off the mark. Baby Giro winner Joe Dombrowski and u23 Liège–Bastogne–Liège runner-up Ian Boswell (Bontrager-Livestrong) are at 1:08, and U.S. road champ Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale) is 1:31 back of Vande Velde.
The race still has two days of very hard climbing on Saturday and Sunday, so it’s far from over, but the line has been drawn in the sand: everyone must chase the four Garmin men. But who will chase?
“I don’t feel good. It was all right. I’m satisfied with the time,” Horner said, his RadioShack kit lined with the salt from his sweat. “But I just don’t have any power. Maybe it’s the heat or altitude or something… I’ve been at sea level, then I went back to Oregon, but it was only for a week. I just don’t seem to have the power to go deep. It could just be the race program that I’ve had before here, too. It could be a lot of things.”
Horner still likes the team’s chances for the overall, but it may not be him who wins it.
“I think more for the overall the biggest problem I have is whether or not I can ride good or not. Certainly we’ve got George [Bennett], who’s riding good, and [Matthew] Busche, too, so maybe it doesn’t have to be me.”
Duggan said his team’s strategy was to keep it together on Wednesday. And he knows there’s plenty of bike racing left in Utah.
“Our strategy was, it’s going to be more important to go 90 percent and keep everything together… as opposed to just going 100-percent all out and explode behind,” he said. “We’ve got two-and-a-half really tough stages, and another tough stage with the wind. Anything could happen. It’s wide open.”
Garmin’s Danielson said the team’s effort Wednesday was “amazing.”
“This morning, we got together and we were pretty bad. And then we got in the race and everybody just knew what to do. I felt that we rode a really fantastic race,” he said. “At some points we were just so good. We just got to certain points where there really wasn’t any panic.”
Vande Velde and Danielson’s perch on the GC puts Garmin in a strong position. “We want to win the race,” Danielson said. “That’s a great scenario,”
Garmin will have to defend the jersey, and that’s something Horner pointed out as well.
“They’ve got to defend for the next few days,” he said. “The last two days are the hardest… the time is enough to make it up if you have good legs, but like I said, I don’t know where my legs are at.”
Garmin defended Zabriskie’s Amgen Tour of California jersey, which he earned in a TT, in May — until the race’s biggest climbing stage, to Mount Baldy. Can the men in argyle take it two days longer in Utah? Only time, and the steeps of the Wasatch, will tell.