Mark Cavendish Tour of Ireland stage 1

Mark Cavendish has sparked the rivalry between the two big American squads by saying that his Columbia team can beat Garmin in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France team time trials next summer.

In an exclusive interview with he said: "Everyone seems to be thinking Garmin are going to win it because they've got a load of individual time trial riders, but they're not going to have it all their own way. The best team time trial squad is not made simply by putting nine individual time trialists together.

"Remember when Real Madrid signed six of the best players in the world and didn't win the league?"

The team time trial returns to the Tour de France after an absence of three years with a 38-kilometre test at Montpellier. And yesterday the Giro d'Italia's organisers revealed the 2009 race will start with a 21-kilometre team time trial at Venice.

Slipstream-Chipotle, as they were called before the arrival of Garmin as title sponsor in July, won the opening stage of this year's Giro, a 23-kilometre team time trial in Palermo.

But as Cavendish pointed out, High Road - as his Columbia team was known at the time - were third, just seven seconds behind.

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Slipstream on their way to winning the team time trial at the Giro d'Italia this year.

"At the Giro this year we were leading until the last five kilometres and we finished third, only seven seconds behind them," he said.

"I think it's dangerous for Garmin to assume they are going to win it because they've got all these individual time trialists. It doesn't work like that. I can't wait until they get beaten by a team of sprinters," he said with a laugh.

"Seriously, we may not win it, but no one can assume they will either. There's CSC, Astana, us, a lot of good teams who can beat them. I think it's a risky strategy to put all their eggs in one basket and focus on the team time trial."

Cavendish said High Road almost won the Giro's team time trial with virtually no specific preparation this year. High Road were leading at the first checkpoint but eventually came unstuck in the final kilometres when, already down to six, they almost lost Kantstantin Siutsou.

"We would have won but we lost riders in the closing stages because they had done too much work early on. I knew what would happen. The night before I said 'Let's not have any heroics'. In team time trials or team pursuits, you get riders who feel they have to do longer turns to prove to the management they are strong. I've seen it when I was at the British Cycling academy, and I saw it at the Giro," Cavendish said.

"They try to do longer turns but the effect is they slow the overall team down. In the Giro we also had a guy like Morris Possoni, who sat on and hardly did a turn. We should have won that race, but it unravelled a bit at the end.

"It's about getting the team from A to B as fast as possible. It's much more efficient to go at a constant speed than it is to go fast, then slow.

"You get riders who go to the front to do a 20-second turn, they turn the pace up for 10 seconds, then the speed starts to drop because they've gone too hard. I really think that with the number of sprinters in our team, we will do well, because the hardest bit about a team time trial is not when you are at the front, it's the sprint effort you have to do to get back on the end of the line. Your personal effort goes up and down but the team effort should be constant.

"But we got third place, only seven seconds behind, with almost no specific team time trial training. Garmin [Slipstream] were in Girona for two weeks specifically preparing for it.

"We had no inkling we were going to be challenging that strongly at the Giro. When we went through the first check point in the lead we didn't expect it.

Cavendish added that the return of the team time trial to the Tour will add an extra edge to the discipline, particularly as any time lost to the leading teams will count towards the overall classification.

Garmin already have top time trial riders David Zabriskie and David Millar, as well as the likes of Ryder Hesjedal and Christian Vande Velde who can turn in superb rides against the clock. With the time trials in mind, Jonathan Vaughters has signed Canadian Svein Tuft, the revelation at the Olympic Games and World Championships, and Bradley Wiggins.

Cavendish said: "Everyone will prepare for the team time trial at the Tour and it'll be extremely competitive. "I am not saying we will definitely beat Garmin or that we'll definitely win it, but you can't just look at Garmin's team and see Dave [Millar], Brad [Wiggins] and the others are in it so they're going to win it. It doesn't work like that. I think we're a faster team."


Who will do best in the Giro and Tour team time trials: Garmin or Columbia?

If Obama v McCain was the American contest of 2008, there's no doubt 2009 will be all about Garmin v Columbia. will track both teams in the build-up to the Giro and the Tour.

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1st Slipstream: 26 min 32 sec

Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, Ryder Hesjedal, Julian Dean, Magnus Backstedt

Dropped David Millar (at 19sec) Jon Patrick McCarty, Danny Pate (both at 2-02), Chris Sutton (at 4-25)

2nd CSC: 26 min 38sec

3rd High Road: 26 min 39sec

Marco Pinotti, Morris Possoni, Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Mark Cavendish

Dropped Frantisek Rabon, Adam Hansen, Andre Greipel (all at 2-17)

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Sports journalist Lionel Birnie has written professionally for Sunday Times, Procycling and of course Cycling Weekly. He is also an author, publisher, and co-founder of The Cycling Podcast. His first experience covering the Tour de France came in 1999, and he has presented The Cycling Podcast with Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe since 2013. He founded Peloton Publishing in 2010 and has ghostwritten and published the autobiography of Sean Kelly, as well as a number of other sports icons.