After three weeks of uphill sprints and summit finishes this the only individual time trial with the start and finish in Grenoble. A student town with some high tech industries in the valleys near by it is surrounded by high mountains. There’s even a cable car from the town centre to the Bastille fort that sits high on the Chartreuse cliffs above. But the place has its ugly sides too, it’s quite the idyllic tourist destination and more a useful crossroads on the edge of the Alps.
If the 2011 Tour de France has the least amount amount of solo time trials for many years, the course today is a decisive test to settle the result of the race. The course is demanding and suits all-round riders. There’s no serious climb but it features gradients and descents, curves and a variety of roads.
If it’s familiar it’s because it was used in the Critérium du Dauphiné stage race in June. Also organised by ASO the Dauphiné was a dress rehearsal and also a clever move from the race organisers to attract some bigger name riders. Tony Martin won.
But if the course is the same, the context is not. Instead today’s stage comes after three weeks of racing whereas the Dauphiné TT was three days into the race. By now recovery plays a big part. It’s not just about being able to power around the course, it’s how you’ve got around France so far. We’ve seen all the contenders for the win putting in huge efforts in the past two days. Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador, Thomas Voeckler and Cadel Evans in particular have done big solo efforts at times. As such we’ll see two races today, the one for the stage win and the won for the overall.
For the stage winner we should see Tony Martin and Fabien Cancellara disputing the honours but they’re both going to be tired from toiling for Mark Cavendish and the Schlecks. David Millar finished last yesterday and seems too fatigued to repeat his Giro d’Italia stage win. In June Edwald Boasson-Hagen did a great ride and maybe Levi Leipheimer’s been sitting tight waiting for this stage?
For the overall I think Evans is in the best placed. He’s sometimes mentally nervous and can struggle to deal with stress but this time he just has to go and ride hard to win. Better still for him, he rode this course in July and he’s also visited again with his team. By contrast I don’t believe Andy and Frank Schleck have seen the course before. But in 2009 Evans “only” put 31 seconds into Andy Schleck in Stage 18 of the Tour de France, although he took about two minutes in Stage 20 in 2008′s edition. That year everyone expected him to overhaul Carlos Sastre and he didn’t. What I’m saying is that we’ve got an afternoon of suspense and possibly surprise.
Keep an eye on the battle for third place between Frank Schleck and Thomas Voeckler… and possibly Alberto Contador.
Tech: the UCI has given a warning to the teams not to push the rules. Before the Stage 2 team time trial tempers flared when the UCI ensured teams followed the rules to strict letter of the law. The UCI did contact me to say they’d warned teams well in advance, suggesting the drama by some team staff was unnecessary, but I’ve also heard from riders that if rules had been enforced before things never went as far as insisting on a precisely level saddle.
Timing: the first rider is off at 10.26 then riders go every two minutes until the final 20 riders go at three minute intervals . Andy Schleck will leave last at 16.18. By 17.15 we should know the winner of the 2011 Tour de France.
Weather: sunshine for all the riders, with a wind coming from the north-east at around 20km/h. Temperatures reaching 25°C (77°F).