If the race so far has been like a murder-mystery novel with clues as to the rider with killer form, today should reveal their identity, leaving the others to work on their plans to entrap the best rider in the coming days.
A 41.5km time trial, the stage is more technical and hilly than the profile above suggests, although it remains a test for the specialists.
Besançon is the French capital of clock-making and watch manufacture and if Switzerland has the upper hand when it comes to luxury, Besançon still trades on its industrial heritage. This extends to cycling, it wants to appeal to big-boned cyclists in the same way Alpe d’Huez attracts those who want to climb the famous hairpin bends. We’ll see if it works, the area is certainly better suited to more gentle cycling. But if today’s route is for the time trial specialists it is what the French call an effort violent, hardly the stuff of vacations.
The Route: the start is impressive, in a former royal salt mine. Once upon a time salt was a very valuable commodity and you’ll spot the prosperity linked to this with the impressive buildings, hardly what you’d associate with a mine. Once away from the stunning start the course is harder than the profile suggests, with some sharp climbing along the way. The first time check is at Abbans Dessus and dessus is French for “above”, a clue to the fact that this village sits on top of a hill and there’s some double-digit gradients to get here.
Onwards and the course is one where those who have checked the route before will gain as there are some sharp corners and the gradient often varies. The roads are large and many stretches offer fresh tarmac. It’s a course for the specialists. Not just the pure power men but those able to work the derailleur, to carve seconds out of the corners and balance momentum with watts on the gradients.
The Race: for me it’ll be a battle between Bradley Wiggins and Fabian Cancellara for the stage win. The Swiss rider was the fastest in the prologue and perfectly suited to today’s race, he’s even been able to back off a bit since he’s not been defending the yellow jersey. Wiggins is doing “his” event and the distance of 41.5km is very similar to the distance of 25 miles, where many British cyclists ride fixed distance time trials over this length. Chris Froome will be fascinating to watch to judge his form relative to others but he seemed to find yesterday’s stage a little harder, if only when the pace went up on the Col de la Croix; but this is a matter of degree as he was with the front group, it is just he was not at the front of the front group. The biggest test of the day is for Cadel Evans, he is only seconds behind Wiggins today and can’t afford to end up a minute down and we’ll learn plenty more about his form today. The same is true for Nibali and if I expect him to surrender time today but his prologue ride suggests he could crack the top-10 today, a surprise.
We’ll see how Tony Martin fares. The world champion time triallist has been nursing an injury all week but this could mean he’s spent the week in agony and is sapped of energy, it could mean he’s got the freshest legs in the race. Apparently he’s been spotted on his TT bike this morning looking a bit awkward thanks to the sore wrist. Is Sylvain Chavanel a time trial specialist? His prologue result was impressive so we’ll see what he does today, I think the prologue was better suited to his brute power and ability to surf the cobbles of Liège. Otherwise, watch for Dennis Menchov as he is still lurking on GC.
The Rest: after the stage the riders head south to Macon for the next two nights and Tuesday’s rest day. If they are not after a high place on the overall then many riders can ease off today still, nobody can play the tourist. The time cut is one quarter of the winner’s time.
Weather: almost ideal conditions for a time trial. 22°C (71°F) with sunshine and a few clouds, as well as a 10-20km/h breeze from the south-west that will be a three quarters tailwind.
TV: live video from 2.00pm Euro time, Bradley Wiggins is the last stater at and expected home before 5.30pm.
Local rider: Yauheni Hutarovich. The Belarus champion might not be the obvious pick but when he moved to France to join the FDJ team he started to live in the region.
Do: …check the course before. Brice Feillu is the first rider off at 09.45 meaning riders wanting to check the course this morning had to get up very early. But the best will have viewed the course before, for example Wiggins has ridden the route several times since the route was announced. This matters because knowing whether you need to brake going into a corner or should power over a climb instead of shift down a gear saves seconds which add up to minutes.
Don’t: … read too much into Bradley Wiggins words yesterday. Twitter seems full of comment this morning which reminds me of a cat chasing its tale and I can only imagine cycling forums are surging with comment. Wiggins let rip but he’s not a politician who picks his words carefully. We shouldn’t over-analyse the words, phrases or the emotions. Remember he’s been racing for a week and yesterday was one of the hardest stages in the race. A concern is that sections of the media will start to taunt him now in the hope he deploys more choice words, especially since as soon as got it off his chest he put down the microphone and walked out of the press conference.