A team time trial to reshape the overall classification. It may not make for great TV but today’s stage should leave a lasting impact on the race, a set-piece stage to define the coming weeks.
La Roche sur Yawn: Sylvain Chavanel enjoyed a what the French call a bain de foule, to literally bathe in the crowd. He was joined by Trek-Segafredo’s Michael Gogl and Wanty-Gobert’s Dion Smith. Smith won the early mountains competition and duly sat up because tied on one point with yesterday’s KoM winner Ledanois the award gets decided on GC and the New Zealander wanted to save energy so as not to lose time later. Gogl then called the race doctor over for a sore knee and Chavanel was suddenly adrift by himself and pressed on with the crowds roaring for Direct Energie, the local team. Back in the bunch there were crashes and abandons, Trek-Segafredo lost Tsagbu Grmay and Astana’s L-L Sanchez is out too, a blow for Jacob Fuglsang’s chances as support rider in the mountains but more immediately as an engine for today, already Astana are down to seven riders.
Coming into the finish and there was a crash with two kilometres to go that took out Fernando Gaviria and others and split the field, leaving a small group to contest the stage win and Peter Sagan won to take the yellow jersey.
The Route: 35.5km and if you saw the Critérium du Dauphiné the distance is similar but the course is not. Those with long memories will remember Stefan Schumancher winning the Tour de France’s individual time trial in Cholet in 2008, it was on similar roads but this time they’ve added a few twists and turns to add in more vertical gain. It’s hilly with a climb straight out of the start in Cholet, a drag up of 10% for a kilometre and awkward for team cohesion. There’s a brief descent and then some undulating and exposed roads on the way to the first time check. There’s more big, exposed roads before another dragging climb up to Romagne. The climb of La Séguinière to the second time check is hard, not quite a wall but real effort with a maximum gradient of 12%. These climbs are awkward for team time trials, the time is taken on the fourth rider so squads have to go at the speed of their fourth rider but who is the fourth rider? The climbs make it easier for riders to go into the red, either on the ascent or the section over the top. Cohesion and pacing count for so much.
The Contenders: BMC Racing and Team Sky are the two prime picks and hard to chose between them. BMC Racing have been near invincible in this exercise for some time now and have their pacing and aerodynamics down to a fine art. Stefan Küng is almost worth two riders but this hilly course isn’t his preferred train. Team Sky have picked Egan Bernal and he’s never done a team time trial in the World Tour although he’s surely done plenty of drills in recent weeks, still he’s a potential weak point but otherwise Sky’s roster looks built for this stage, the likes of Froome, Thomas, Kwiatkowski, Moscon and Castroviejo can take big turns.
Next come Team Sunweb, Quick Step, Mitchelton-Scott and Movistar. Sunweb are strong with the likes of Tom Dumoulin, Michael Matthews and Chad Haga but surely not enough to take on BMC and Sky. Quick Step look cohesive too and will want to ride as fast as possible so that Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe sit high on GC so they can take the race lead in the coming days but the win is a tall order. Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates crashed yesterday and we’ll see how he is today. Team mates Luke Durbridge and Daryl Impey also fell, sustaining some sore injuries which are bound to dent their chances today. Movistar may not have the biggest engines but should work well together and can aim for the top-5. Bora-Hansgrohe won’t just be motivated to defend Peter Sagan’s position, they have some solid rouleurs but a stage win sounds unlikely, as does keeping the maillot jaune.
|Team Sky, BMC Racing|
|Team Sunweb, Quick Step|
Weather: hot and sunny again with a top temperature of 30°C, not ideal weather to wear an aero helmet. A 20km/h wind from the NE means a headwind on the return to Cholet to make things harder.
TV: the first team, Mitchelton-Scott, is off at 3.10pm CEST and the last team, Bora-Hansgrohe, is due home at 5.35pm CEST. This stage may not make for great TV, you could equally read the results sheet later but there is potential for drama with teams cracking en route and battles between the top teams for the win and to take time and the lesser ones looking to limit damage. If anything tune in early because the likes of Sky and BMC are among the first to start.