It's easy to gloss over a stage victory in a Grand Tour. 21 stages, 21 bottles of prosecco, 21 post race interviews. With the bigger picture always surrounding a raging GC battle - stage winners are the talk of the day, but they blur into obscurity far quicker than their victories credit. On Stage 16, Jan Tratnik closed the circle on years of development.
From individual fittings with athletes, we were able to ascertain what each rider was looking for - personalising to ensure their performance, and taking their feedback into account. Refining, developing, improving - because that's how you get better. Before the season had got underway, we'd already updated and altered each rider's team allocation - but we weren't going to stop there.
Early season testing afforded us time in the wind tunnel with two team riders. Slovenian Jan Tratnik and new signing, Pello Bilbao. With prototype kit to test, we made sure to see how we could help our riders and maximise the efficiency of our kit out on the road.
With Jan and Pello both strong time trial riders, the focus of the day was optimising their position on the bike, and assessing how our equipment interacted with the enhanced aero fit. An intensive and itterative process, it's about marginal refinement, an eye to detail - a seam here, a fabric there - millimetres make meters.
Working with McLaren's world leading aerodynamics experts, we highlighted areas for improvement, both for the riders, as well as for our kit. Taking these to the road, we were about to see how a little insight goes a long way.
Just two weeks post our wind tunnel testing, Tratnik and Bilbao were riding in Paris Nice. It was in Stage 2 that Tratnik got in the breakaway group, and showed the strength that selectors had factored into his signing. More than this though - his time in the wind tunnel was offering better insight into aero performance.
Wearing unreleased, special issue kit, he powered on, remaining the only survivor of the breakaway.
Early season, this was already signs of progress. Unfortunately, it was not enough to save him from the harrowing experience of being caught by the bunch with just 50 meters remaining. It was a tough day, but an eye opening one - there are still big gains to be made in the pro-peloton.
The performance implications weren't limited to Tratnik. While Covid interrupted the season, time in the wind-tunnel, testing prototype speedsuits, refining position on the bike and of course, putting in hours of training at home, Pello Bilbao emerged from lockdown strong - taking his first national championships in the time trial, using the kit that we'd refined together in the wind tunnel.
Taking this form into the Giro, Bilbao, despite tired legs from the Tour, managed to hold onto 5th on GC at the Giro, in an impressive show helped by imperious performances in the TTs. He kept his placing, but Jan had unfinished business from Paris Nice.
Despite a Lockdown back in Slovenia, training on the turbo and on the empty roads, Jan was in good race shape. The parcours on Stage 16 was lumpy - with a 13km run into the finish. In short, it favoured a breakaway, and within it, a powerful rider.
After securing a spot in the day's break, Tratnik rode evenly, keeping consistency, and focusing on efficiency. As the group behind attacked one another, he pulled out a gap with 40km to go, and crucially, he held it.
Going out as far as one minute, this gap was bridged only by Ben O'Connor of NTT, a climbing specialist making contact at the summit of the final climb. 13 km remained to the line, with a punchy rise punishment at the end.
Even headed, Tratnik worked with O'Connor until the last rise, conserving energy where possible. The expected attack from O'Connor took place with 1km to go. Having already peaked, troughed and dipped into the red zone to meet Tratnik on the pervious climb, the NTT rider's accellerations couldn't force a gap.
Tratnik, with something in reserve, surged with 300m, forceda gap and rode to the line - taking his first ever Grand Tour Stage Win - and Le Col's first ever Grand Tour stage win, completing the circle of personalised development.
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