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Time Trial: View from the Jelly Belly Team Car
By Marianne Werz O'Brien
Date: 4/23/2004
Time Trial: View from the Jelly Belly Team Car

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 image.

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!

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