Some specific training in the south of Spain paid off for BMC as they raced to victory in the 14km stage two team time trial in the Tour of Qatar five seconds ahead of Team Sky and ten seconds quicker than Omega Pharma-Quick-Step.
Taylor Phinney was the powerhouse in the American squad but it was his teammate and countryman, stage one winner Brent Bookwalter, who retained the leader’s golden jersey. Behind him, the general classification is stacked with BMC riders, with Phinney second and Britain’s Adam Blythe third. Bernhard Eisel of Sky is 6th at 11 seconds.
The out-and-back course on wide roads was not technical, but the strong wind – headwind on the way out, tailwind back – made it challenging and different teams adopted different approaches.
Geraint Thomas said that Sky, who lost Chris Sutton and Gabriel Rasch relatively early, perhaps went too hard in the first half. “We said we’d go hard from the start, get down there as quick as we could and let the wind take us back,” said Thomas. “But from the last corner, on the way back, everyone was a bit gassed and I think that’s where we lost a bit of time. We never got back on top of it.”
It was telling that BMC retained all eight riders until the final 1.5km. “Everyone in the group was fantastic,” said Steve Cummings, the other British rider on the team. “It’s the best team time trial I’ve ridden; we were really smooth as a unit.
“We did a lot of work for this at our training camp in the south of Spain with Max Sciandri and Allan Peiper, who’s really helped the team step forward,” added Cummings.
Phinney will be most people’s favourite for the overall, though the wind is forecast to drop in the coming days, which should favour the pure sprinters. Phinney said he arrived in Qatar on the back of his best ever winter’s preparation: “I ended last season at a pretty high level and stayed on top of things throughout the winter.
“I had a great, problem-free winter, which is something that I’ve never had over the past couple of years.
“We are just pretty confident as a team and we’re riding well as a team,” he continued. “The win by Brent [on stage one] was a bit of a surprise for sure, but today was the main objective. To beat a team like Sky, who have a strong classics unit here, is a good sign.”
Phinney also felt the team time trial drills in training were significant. “It was a couple of days when we exclusively worked on the team time trial with this group,” he said. “It just so happened that where we were in Spain it was even windier than it was today.
“I made sure to remind the guys what we put into this. A lot of teams come here with a new combination of riders and they work on their team time trial skills maybe the day before or the day of the race, and we’ve been working on it for weeks and really pinpointing this race.”
As for the overall, Phinney said: “You never know. Qatar is a strange race, you never really know what can happen here. We are going to try to keep this jersey on Brent’s shoulders for as long as possible and Adam and I will be up there in the sprints.
“If it were up to me, and if it were up to Brent, I think we’d hope for some more windy stages. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be that way, but even with a 10k side wind, you can do some damage, especially out here in the desert.”
Tour of Qatar 2013, stage two: Al Rufaa Street to Al Rufaa Street, 14km team time trial
1. BMC Racing in 16-07
2. Sky at 5 secs
3. Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 10 secs
4. RadioShack-Leopard at 11 secs
5. Katusha at 15 secs
6. Astana at 17 secs
7. FDJ at 23 secs
8. Orica-GreenEdge at 23 secs
9. Cannondale at 24 secs
10. Saxo-Tinkoff at 26 secs
11. Argos Shimano at 30 secs
12. Ag2r at 33 secs
13. NetApp-Enduar at 33 secs
14. IAM Cycling at 37 secs
15. Vacansoleil-DCM at 51 secs
16. Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox at 59 secs
17. Champion System at 1-16
18. Japan at 1-48
Overall classification after stage two
1. Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing in 3-44-44
2. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing at 6 secs
3. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 10 secs
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 10 secs
5. Michael Schar (Swi) BMC Racing at 10 secs
6. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky at 11 secs
7. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky at 15 secs
8. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 15 secs
9. Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky at 15 secs
10. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky at 15 secs
11. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 20 secs
27. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky at 36 secs
61. Matt Brammeier (Irl) Champion System at 1-37
95. Steve Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing at 16-45
101. Russell Downing (GBr) NetApp-Endura at 16-54
BMC, stage winners
Eddy Merckx congratulates race leader Brent Bookwalter