All of the drama in a time trial is in the splits, on the leader board. Riders generally can't see each other, but they've got their director sportif screaming through their in-ear radios that they're falling three seconds off the pace. The team time trial that was stage four of the 2012 Giro d'Italia saw plenty of that, as Taylor Phinney fought for his Maglia Rosa against the strong efforts of Teams Sky and Garmin-Barracuda. He did so with four stitches in a heavily taped, swollen ankle stemming from stage three's crash.
Santa Rosa based Team BMC went into the day with Phinney holding a nine second lead over Sky's Thomas Geraint and an 18 second lead over Garmin-Barracuda's Ramunas Navadauskas. Those were the last three teams to start the race, and as Garmin hit the first checkpoint it became clear BMC was in for a fight. Garmin got to the first marker in 9:56, the first team of the day to do so in under 10 minutes, 15 seconds faster than Sky managed. That was only the first check, though, and many teams lay down a blistering pace early only to fade as the race continues.
Discipline is key in a team time trial, as every tenth of a second spent in an aerodynamic tuck has an impact on the final outcome. Good teams will ride as much of the race as possible in a single line, with each rider drafting off the rider in front of them. As the man at the front of the line tires, he rolls off and drifts to the back and the team continues. The disadvantage for some teams is that they end up with less than powerful riders at the front of the line, or worse, fading off the back of the small group.
When BMC hit the first time check, they were surely hearing from their director. They got there in 10:07, 11 seconds worse than Garmin and enough to cost Phinney the Maglia Rosa. Things got ugly for a minute, with Phinney coming off the road in a corner and almost falling into a ditch, emerging with grass trailing from his gears. Garmin kept the pressure up, entering the midpoint check at 25:10, nine seconds faster than the leading Team Katusha. Team Sky rolled across the line about 25 seconds behind the leader, good enough for 9th place after all teams had finished. That left only Teams BMC and Garmin on the road, and in the end it was Garmin's day. They finished the stage with the fastest time, 37:04, 31 seconds ahead of BMC, taking the leader's jersey from Taylor Phinney and handing it to Ramus Navardauskas.
Phinney had been asked at the start of the race if there was a secret to team time trials, and he was candid: "I don't know if there's really a secret. We have to ride really well as a team." They weren't able to manage that, and Garmin-Barracuda took advantage for a huge day. They now stand in the top four places in the overall classification: Navardauskas on top, 10 seconds ahead of Tyler Farrar, with Robbie Hunter and Ryder Hesjedal bringing up the rear. Phinney stands behind them in fifth, 14 seconds out, but with the form he showed today there are big questions about his chances going forward. It's Garmin-Barracuda in the prime position as the race continues, and they present a big obstacle for BMC or any other team that hopes to climb to the top.