I got to hitch a ride in the Jelly
Belly team car, following Ben Brooks in the Time Trial yesterday afternoon. I
have to say my initial observation is that the time trial has to be one of the
loneliest, most “naked” events in cycling. There is simply nowhere to hide. It
is one man against the clock.
Brooks starts his "test"...Photo by Marianne Werz O'Brien. Click
for larger image.
Ben has been riding quite well so far in the Tour de Georgia, so he had the
immense misfortune to be starting 107th. Misfortune, you ask? Well, just look at
starters 108 and 109... Jens Voigt and Lance Armstrong!
Ben started out strong, riding along at average speeds of 29-30 miles per
hour. One thing I noticed immediately, from my privileged vantage point in the
team car, was how amazing the human body is. Just watching the muscles in his
legs moving so fluidly – and in a racer the muscles are so defined – it was a
thing of beauty to behold!
The time trial started out rolling a bit – it shows up as flat on the
profile, but trust me – the profile lies. After about 16 kilometers the road
starts to turn skyward. It’s a climb, then a false flat, then a climb again
which extends overall for 4 kilometers, after which is a very tricky technical
descent and smooth sailing into the finish.
Ben Brooks from the follow car - where the road turns up.
Photo by Marianne Werz O'Brien. Click for larger image.
In the rearview mirror we could see the flashing lights of Voigt’s group
approaching as Ben powered up the climb. It was pretty obvious that Voigt was
going to pass Ben, but we kept hoping he could crest the climb and maybe stay
away on the descent. It was not to be.
Ben made it almost all the way up to the top of the climb before Voigt caught
him. I think perhaps nothing can be quite as demoralizing to these guys as
getting passed in a time trial. You can almost see the wind get sucked out of
their sails; the legs grow just a bit heavier.
From then on it was a nervous ride for those of us in the car. In the
distance behind us, we would catch glimpses of the motorcycle headlights for
Armstrong. Would Ben make it across the line without adding insult to
injury? Would he cross the line ahead of Armstrong?
At just under a mile to go the lead motorcycle signaled us to give way.
Fortunately it was a straightaway to the finish some 500 meters ahead, and we
could see Ben. Armstrong passed us by and all I could do was pray that Ben hit
the line ahead of him.
Ben Brooks. Photo by Marianne Werz O'Brien. Click for larger
The waves of cheers from the crowd when they saw Armstrong were echoing off
the walls as Ben crossed the line. He did it! He made it across ahead of
Armstrong! Ben was pretty toasted when he got to the team car. A time trial is a
brutal sort of stage, especially when it’s the second stage of the day, and the next day is the mountains...
Many thanks to Danny
Van Haute and Jelly Belly for letting me tag along. It was a fascinating trip!