TOOELE — Christian Vande Velde will wear the yellow jersey in Stage 3 of the Tour of Utah, but he knows it really belongs to every rider on the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda team.
"I thought about today, and one of us getting the jersey, but being the best team across the line was the goal," said Vande Velde, a veteran of stage races, including the Tour de France.
Cycling may look like an individual sport, but at its highest levels it's more a team sport than most fans understand. Tour of Utah organizers wanted to highlight the team aspect of UCI racing with Wednesday's Stage 2 — a team time trial at Miller Motorsports Park. That means that the team rides together and it's the fifth rider to cross the finish line who stops the clock.
Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda had the advantage of boasting some of the biggest names in the sport. But Vande Velde said it is their chemistry that made a difference Wednesday in what was the first time trial in a North American race since 2008.
"We've been together for five years now," he said after the team posted a time that was three minutes faster than officials believed the stage could be won in — 22:35.33. "Riding together just becomes second nature. We know each other so well because we've been racing together for so long. It's like I know what David (Zabriskie) is going to do, he knows what Tyler (Farrar) is going to do and we're able to use that. We've been together for five years now. So we're used to this."
Rabobank Cycling Team posted the second-fastest time, 33 seconds back, and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek was third, 38 seconds back. The riders navigated a 4.5-mile loop around the Miller Motorsports Park, and at different points, it seemed wind was an issue.
The riders said the shifting winds made deciding how to take corners as a group more difficult.
Vande Velde said they changed tires because of the wind and watched the other teams compete before they took off near the end of the day's time trials.
"We knew exactly what was going on before we started," said Vande Velde. "I was quite surprised to see how fast we could go on that first lap. When we heard 7:24, I got a little scared wondering how we were going to keep on doing this for two more laps."
Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda team director Charlie Wegelius didn't pedal a stroke with the squad, but he may have had the most difficult job — determining the order in which the men would ride.
"There are several issues," he said. "The size of the riders, the characteristics of the riders, who would we start? That person sets the tone for the speed. Tyler Farrar could get us off to a great start, but he might put a lot of our riders into difficulty because he's so explosive."
Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda opted to go with former Utahn David Zabriskie.
"He's a specialist in time trials," said Wegelius. "David can do it extremely smoothly without putting anybody in the red."
The team said it's most important that weaker riders do the least amount of work and stronger riders work harder in a team time trial.
"I want to get to the finish line, and I want to hear Christian and Zabriskie complain because they should have the hardest ride," he said. "One of the basic principles that if you see the speed drop when you're on the front, you have to get out of the way. … You don't win this by never going slowly. It's about consistency."
And while Vande Velde acknowledges the fact that he wouldn't be wearing yellow without the help of his teammates, he'd be happy to see any of the men he rides with take it from him.
"I hope it's someone from our team," he said. "I didn't come with massive ambitions last year, and I ended up top five. You don't know how things will go, how your body will respond. This has been fun already. I suffered like a dog yesterday. But it's great to be racing back here on U.S. soil. It always gives you that extra gear, that extra motivation to try a little harder."