BRASELTON — The sixth annual Tour de Georgia cruised into Braselton’s Road Atlanta on Thursday, easily living up to expectations of being one of the nation’s premier cycling races.
With temperatures in the mid 70s, spectators lined the track in hopes of seeing a glimpse of the nation’s first team time trials event in nearly 20 years.
Onlookers weren’t left disappointed, as the world’s most elite cyclists zoomed around the track, putting in blazing speeds under ideal cycling conditions.
Slipstream Chipotle, from Boulder, Colo., took the title, completing the 10-mile course in 19 minutes, 36 seconds. The eight-man team, comprised of cyclists from all over the world, took the course during the fourth heat at 2:02 p.m.
"After the big hill, it was like the whole course just rolled (down)," said Trent Lowe, a native of Australia and Slipstream’s fourth-place finisher.
"The speed was high and the corners were fast, so that made it a lot of fun. We have some good guys on our team, and the speed stayed high the whole race because they’re some high-engine guys. We were also very smooth, and that has a lot to do with it, because you can kill your guys if you race too hard," he said.
Second place went to Astana, from Kazakhstan, finishing just four seconds behind Slipstream with a time of 19:40. Team High Road, which took the course in the final heat, crossed the finish line at 19:42.
"We had a radio and we were all listening pretty intently," Lowe said when asked about the close finish. "Tyler (Farrar) was probably the most nervous one about the finish. We all jumped pretty high when we did hear the final time."
The 15 teams, which were broken up into eight different heats, maneuvered the course counterclockwise at an average speed of 29.14 miles per hour, lapping the 2.54-mile track four times.
After leaving the starting line, the teams climbed the steep hill at Turn 12. The cyclists then raced up a long straightaway, employing their pre-race strategies. Most teams transferred their riders from front to back, exchanging 10-to-15-second intervals at the front of the pack.
Originally, the fifth rider’s time would be recorded as the overall team time. Shortly before the race, officials adjusted the team’s time they would take, replacing it with the time of the fourth-place finisher.
"We talked about how we wanted to approach (the track), and our goal was to set a good tempo on the first lap and go pretty hard, but not go too hard," said Micah Rice, manager of Jittery Joe’s racing team, which calls Athens home. "The teams really only need to finish with four (riders), so the whole idea is really to just finish with four.
"It was a really good track with a really good crowd, and it was just a lot of fun."
Team CSC captured a fourth-place finish, Toyota-United finished fifth, BMC Racing Team earned a sixth-place finish, Gerolsteiner claimed seventh, Health Net Presented by Maxxis took home eighth, Bissell finished ninth and Symmetrics Cycling team rounded out the top 10.
"I knew entering the race that it would be a pretty competitive field," Road Atlanta spokesman Earl Fannin said. "With the format that it was, and the strategy the teams were using, really made for some intense racing under a more controlled environment.
"The opportunity to showcase our facility and promote our upcoming events was huge for us."
Fannin added that he hopes that the Tour de Georgia makes the team time trials race an annual event at Road Atlanta.
"For a first-time event, I couldn’t have been more pleased," Fannin said. "It was late coming together, and it was tough to promote it, but the Tour de Georgia did a great job of promoting it for us. It was a little freaky to see the spectators sitting so close to the track, but they were all well-behaved, and I am just so proud of the outcome."
The Tour de Georgia will now move to stage five today, beginning in Suwanee and ending in Dahlonega. Stage six will venture through the mountains, taking riders from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald.
The final stage ends in Atlanta, concluding the seven-day, 589-mile event.