This is the payoff at the finish…Santuario di Oropa, the sanctuary at the top of the climb, some 4,000 feet above Biella. You need some divine intervention to ride a fast time trial to this place.
It’s called “the race of truth”…man and machine against the clock. Each guy is totally on his own out there, with only a chase case car to follow each rider on the road. It begins in the start house on the main drag in Biella, and ends in the shadow of the mountains.
45 minutes before start, the red-headed Russian begins his warmup on the trainer inside the friendly confines of the Tinkoff compound. Each rider has got to get his engine running hot before he hits the course…it’s like warming-up a cold car. You don’t want to give it full-gas right out of the garage.
Tinkoff Director Sportif Orlando Maini gives each rider his pre-TT instructions. He also tells us the proper way to follow a rider on-course…”Stay close, but not too close. Keep about 10 meters back.”
And just in case Brutt flats during the TT, we’re carrying extra tubulars in the trunk. Let’s hope we don’t have to do an on-course wheel change. That would be bad.
Five minutes before his scheduled start time, Pavel pedals to the start. He’s pretty focused at this point…notice how he totally ignores the potential “distraction” to his right.
We slide the PEZ-mobile, our Alfa 159, into the staging area about three minutes before Brutt’s departure. They slap a magnetic sign on the front, to let everyone know that we’re the official chase car.
At exactly 3:08pm, Brutt gets set in the start house. One minute later, it’s tre…due…uno… and we’re away!
12.6km are ahead…it’s reasonably flat for the first five kilometers, as Pavel pushes on thru the narrow streets of Biella. We keep our 10-meter distance behind him, but I can’t help but think, “How cool is this? We not just watching the race…we are IN the damn race.”
A third of the way into the TT, it gets brutal. Pavel is up out of the saddle for most of the way from here. They’re running an 11-23 rear gearing on all of these Tinkoff team Colnagos…mere mortals like you and me would have a hard time pushing the pedals over the top in gearing like this.
For more than half the course, the fans line both sides of the road. Everyone recognizes Pavel Brutt as he passes by…it must be the wild hair that sticks out of his LAS helmet.
The fans are loving this…but Pavel is in pain. Major pain. The average grade up this hill is 5.8%, and it hits 13% in some stretches. Ouch.
There are just a few short stretches where Pavel can catch his breath. Then it’s up out of the saddle again, going as hard as he can, keeping it right at the red line without blowing up.
Inside the last 2km, and the shade from the trees gives Brutt a bit of a respite from the sun. It’s a bit less steep here, and Pavel starts to regain his strength for the final push.
We get one last glimpse of Pavel, before they make us turn off the course. He heads to the finish line, and we go find the Tinkoff team car at the top.
We catch-up with Pavel at the top. He’s wasted. He tells me this was much harder than he expected. No let-ups, no recovery…always up. He’s not happy at all with his time…32:46. Pavel places 81st in the TT, nearly four minutes behind winner. Marzio Bruseghin.
I feel bad for Brutt, but I gotta admit…we had a helluva time today. Mario, my trusty driver/translator, did a great job on-course. And we have to give props to Giorgio and Andrea from LAS helmets. They’re Tinkoff’s official helmet company, and they hooked us up with this ride today.
And, of course, thanks to everybody at Tinkoff, especially Orlando and Paolo. They’re they ones who gave us, and you, the chance to Vive il sogno today.