Matthias Brändle rebounded from a disappointing stage two in the Baloise Belgium Tour to capture the victory in the stage three time trial, Friday. It was an especially sweet win for Brändle after he felt he let his team down when he missed the key move that went over the Kemmelberg in Thursday's race.
"Yesterday I had a pretty bad day, and I am sorry to my team because they worked hard for me, but I just didn't have the legs to follow on the Kemmelberg," said Brändle. "So I am happy today that I could give the team a win."
"I waited so long for this victory. In January, I thought I could win, it didn't happen, and then the same in Andalusia and Tirreno. Now it finally happens! With my legs of today, I feel I can beat everybody."
Coming into the Belgium Tour, Brändle had red-circled the 13.4-kilometer time trial, a discipline he specializes in, and one where he has been seeking victory since the start of the season.
When Brändle blasted across the line and stopped the clock in 15 minutes and 40 seconds, he was the first to go under 16 minutes and, as an early starter, had a long wait in the hot seat.
Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), fingered as the favorite to win the stage three race against the clock, started an hour after Brändle had finished, and when the world champion clocked 12 seconds slower at the intermediate checkpoint, Brändle began to look good for the win.
Martin lost two more seconds in the latter half and crossed the line 14 seconds slower than Brändle, and when the last of the riders finished, finally the Austrian could celebrate – and erase yesterday's disappointment away.
"For me, the goal here was to do a good TT and maybe go for the GC if I have the legs, but yesterday I felt on the climb I was not ready yet," explained Brändle. "I just came from an altitude camp in Tenerife, and we could not do a lot of intensity and only worked on endurance. But for the effort like today, I had fresh legs; I could do a super good power. I think it was one of my best ones this year.
"I felt good; it was always fast. I knew it would be hard in the first part with the headwind and I knew I had to give everything there and then try to hold on for the rest. It was painful from the beginning, but I knew it had to be painful to win. During the TT, I thought about it all the time: now is a second, now again is a second, now again…"
I have the fastest bike, the best trainers, and I beat the World Champion, so I think I can be happy.
Brändle joined Trek-Segafredo for the 2017 season after the IAM Cycling Team folded at the end 2016, and is finding the progression he needs.
"I came to this team because they have so much experience with the TT," he said. "The mechanics did an awesome job: after some changes over the past months, they have now found the perfect set-up for the bike, and I feel now I am the fastest ever.
"I wanted to make the next step forward with this team, and I think today I did well – I have the fastest bike, the best trainers, and I beat the World Champion, so I think I can be happy."
Saturday's stage four is the queen stage, a mini version of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Brändle, now third in the general classification, is not looking to protect his current podium spot with the longer and harder climbs.
"I don’t know how tomorrow will go, maybe I will be okay, maybe not, but I don’t care because now I have the first win of the season," Brändle added. "It's been a while since Trek-Segafredo has won and I want to dedicate this win to the whole team and the whole staff, my trainer, and to the Tour of Belgium organization. It's my favorite race of the whole year, and I always have success at this race, I always like to ride here."
"Matthias was outstanding today!" added director Dirk Demol. "He beat Tony Martin, four-time World Champion, by 13-14 seconds and that is quite a lot. He didn't beat just a regular guy! He is a rider with a lot of potential, and we saw that today. I am very happy for him.
"We don’t have a lot of expectations for tomorrow with Gilbert here and Ruben (Guerreiro) is quite tired after the Tour of California. We will do our best and then look again to the final stage which is expected to end in a sprint. But we can be happy after today."