Garmin-Sharp may have spluttered and misfired in the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico but over the border in France a different story was emerging, one that culminated in a cracking victory for their 24-year-old rider, Andrew Talansky.
The Miami native has quietly evolved into quite a handy cyclist. From 2nd overall at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2010, Talansky went on to finish a decent but not spectacular 17th at the 2011 Tour of California but then a very credible seventh at the Vuelta a Espana the following year.
He can climb and time trial very well, and yesterday’s victory confirmed his burgeoning talent, after he outsprinted a small, seven-man lead group that included Sky’s overall hopeful Richie Porte.
Talansky now leads the race by three seconds from Astana’s Andriy Griovko and David Malacarne (Europcar) on the same time. Porte sits now in seventh, just seven seconds down.
Two things were worth noting in yesterday’s stage.
The first was the way that the peloton, led by Astana and Sky, chased down the early breakaway to reel them in with 22km remaining.
Normally if a team fancies its chances in the sprint they will leave the leaders to dangle out in front until within 10km to go, playing the waiting game and discouraging others from attacking.
However that wasn’t what happened yesterday, which indicated that those teams had either recced the final descent, which on paper looked inconsequential but was anything but, or had someone ride it for them and report back.
It also signalled their intent – they’re here for the overall win.
Astana fancied their man Maxim Inglinsky, while Sky had put their faith, rightly it turned out, in Porte. Races like this and Tirreno-Adriatico often come down to seizing opportunities, and when Porte and Talansky realized that there was a break on as the descent got wetter, they dragged themselves across just in time.
One man who was tipped for the GC win, and who tipped himself too, lost out. Tejay van Garderen was caught napping and lost seven seconds, outing him now 16 seconds down on the leader. Not much, you may think, but races have been decided by less.
One other thing worth noting, is that more riders are winning these days, leaving us commentators a little bemused. Races have become harder to predict, harder for one or two teams to control, and as a result, more interesting to watch.
Why so? Well it could just be that there’s a new guard emerging, a collection of young talent that is sorting itself out and clearing out the old. Could be.
Could also be the result of less doping in the peloton, caused by a combination of the Lance Armstrong fallout, greater stringency in the testing and the biological passport, and a changing culture among the riders.
That is not to say that many of the riders don’t want to dope, not that they won’t do so again, and indeed, by all accounts there is still micro-doping going on and there may be new, undetectable drugs being used.
But the times are down on big climbs, the average speed is down, and more hitherto unheralded riders are winning and riding strongly.
Gaudin’s win in the prologue here, Biel Kadri’s (Ag2r-La Mondiale) huge solo effort on the Roma Maxima race last weekend, Talansky’s win here, further back, Evans re-emergence and (contentiously) Wiggins’ win at the Tour.
Taken separately, just great rides, but added together could be taken as evidence of a cleaner peloton.
Back to Paris-Nice. Talinsky is ready to fight all the way to Nice:
“This is really important for me and for the team because Garmin-Sharp sent a whole team here to help me for the overall,” he said.
“So to win a stage here and in the end the jersey, I think it’s a big step for me in my own career.
“I think it’s pretty logical, you get better every year. It’s a matter of time really for me to win.”