GreenEdge’s dream debut in the pro ranks continued this week with the unlikely overall victory by Michael Albasini at the week-long Volta a Catalunya.
Cynics might want to put an asterisk next to the win because horrific weather forced organizers to chop two deciding climbs out of Wednesday’s mountaintop finish, but Albasini took the bull by the horns to defend the leader’s jersey over the ensuing four days.
Under normal conditions, Albasini couldn’t have made it up with the strong GC climbers in Wednesday’s 210km mountain stage, but the Swiss sprinter, who had won the opening two stages, fought tooth-and-nail to keep the jersey after he woke up Thursday morning still in the top spot on GC.
Snow, wind and cold in Wednesday’s stage forced race officials to improvise a finish-line 50km sooner than expected, with Jani Brajkovic (Astana) taking the win eight minutes ahead of the chasing peloton.
The race jury decided to honor the stage win, but nullified the time differences, meaning that Albasini still held a lead of 1:32 the next afternoon at the end of Thursday’s rollercoaster stage across the green hills of Catalunya.
Warm, spring-like weather returned for the closing days and Albasini’s chances of taking the overall heated up with each passing day.
“I need to thank the team for the work that they’ve done throughout the week,” Albasini said in a team report. “This is an important win for me personally and for the team. It would have been impossible without them.”
Albasini proved he had some climbing skills to go along with his fast-finishing kick. That doesn’t come as a complete surprise, because many of Albasini’s wins have come out of small groups from breakaway efforts.
But with a chance to deliver GreenEdge’s second WorldTour overall title prompted the former HighRoad rider to lift his game.
The closing days were hardly walks in the park, with each day presenting a series of climbing challenges that Albasini and GreenEdge masterfully handled.
Attacks from the likes of Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and Rigoberto Urán (Team Sky) were all foiled by a collective GreenEdge front.
Sunday’s hilly finale featured three Cat. 3 climbs and a stiff Cat. 1 challenge before the line.
GreenEdge knew they could play Albasini’s major in their favor, but he didn’t need it.
“I had Daryl [Impey] with me on the final climb,” Albasini said. “He has been by my side throughout the entire week. Each of my teammates did everything we asked them to do. They rode an incredible race, and I’m happy to pay them back by finishing off the job with the win.”
Albasini stayed with the front group over the climb and watched Julien Simon (Saur-Sojasun) dash to his second win of the week.
Albasini was joined by Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Van den Broeck on the final podium.
The victory marks an extraordinary debut season for the new Australian-backed team.
The squad opened the WorldTour calendar with victory on home roads as Simon Gerrans won the Tour Down Under.
GreenEdge took its first European win with a prestigious victory in the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico for bragging rights among the top squads.
Gerrans then kicked to an emotional win ahead of Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) at Milan-San Remo last weekend.
Sport director Neil Stephens said the run of success shouldn’t come as a complete surprise for the first-year team which he described as an overnight sensation more than a year in the making.
“An outsider might think the results that we’ve achieved up to this point are out of proportion for what to expect from a new team,” Stephens said on the team’s web page. “We had our first get together in September. The boys began working closely with one another in December. The staff has been working on this team for well over a year.
“There will be points throughout the year that we might not get as many results,” he said. “We hope our fans will be patient and remember that we are team that always gives our very best.”