A team time trial to shake up the first phase of the race before the rest day and the Pyrenees arrive. The “Big Four” all ride for big teams so the fight for the stage win and the GC align. Let’s see if a diminished Orica-Greenedge can still beat some full teams.
Stage 8 Review: an early break got swamped by a faster move with Michał Gołas and Lars Bak with Bartosz Husarski staying for the ride. The presence of the Etixx-Quickstep and Lotto-Soudal riders forced other teams to chase, notably Cannondale-Garmin who used up plenty of riders when Dan Martin could have done with help on the final climb. Hindsight? Well it was rather obvious at the time but good to see the team on the front after an otherwise transparent first week.
On the final climb Alexis Vuillermoz was the first to attack. It looked too early. Chris Froome in person chased, presumably just keen to put out a big effort and ensure he didn’t lose time to anyone rather than hunt down the Ag2r rider. Once Vuillermoz was reeled in the group looked at each other and Vuillermoz attacked again and soloed away for the win with a chasing Dan Martin taking second and Valverde third.
If it wasn’t for Vuillermoz yesterday’s preview would have picked first and second but it’s a good win, albeit unexpected at this high level. As you might know Vuillermoz is an ex-MTB rider but when he turned pro on the road he’d barely had any experience on the road and joined Sojasun thanks to contacts with BH bikes, his MTB sponsor who backed the defunct road team. “Pikachu” (explanation here) was good enough as a neo-pro – Vo2 max 87 – to ride the Tour de France but the Sojasun team stopped leaving him high and dry. He had no team interested until late October. As he told L’Equipe earlier this week he almost stopped but, despite having a masters degree in banking and insurance, wanted to ride on. A retired entrepreneur and keen cyclist Daniel Germond – let’s name him to credit him – stepped in and told Ag2r La Mondiale that if they hired Vuillermoz he’d cover his wages. The rest is history.
Talking of history, so might be Vincenzo Nibali too. He was dropped on the climb and being unable to follow on a 2km is worrying. He blamed a jours sans but he was sans team mates too with the next Astana rider was Tanel Kangert, almost 40 seconds back.
The Route: a 28km team time trial. As the profile shows there’s a flat start until the climbing starts after just 9km. This is hilly route but the gradients are not big, it’s 3-4% climbing through the first time check. As you can see from the map its almost all south-north and exposed to three-quarters crosswind. These are regular roads, wide and at times exposed to the wind, at times sheltered by woodland.
The finish is uphill. When the route first came out nobody seemed to notice this, now it’s swung the other way and become an important thing. It’s a steady climb and will test team cohesion, it has to be climbed at the pace of the fifth rider but the teams will still take it so fast that sitting on a wheel is a big help for the slow man.
The Contenders: it has to be Team Sky and BMC Racing versus the rest. Team Sky are the prime pick, they had a poor showing in the Dauphiné but come with new riders and improved form. The hilly course suits them and once Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Peter Kennaugh have been used like booster rockets on the Space Shuttle the rest of the squad can climb very well. Scan the results in recent days and several riders have been sitting up in the finish, presumably to save energy for today.
BMC Racing are the next pick. The “World Champion” label isn’t as convincing as their win in the Dauphiné last month on a comparable course with rolling roads. They’re well drilled and have some big engines in Rohan Dennis, Tejay van Garderen and Daniel Oss. But climbing together will be the test, can they put van Garderen into the yellow jersey?
Everyone knows Movistar are good in the team time trials but it still surprises. Perhaps it’s just stereotyping of Latin teams that are known for flamboyance rather than discipline, we expect fireworks not formation. However they’ve got their A-team with TT aces Adriano Malori, Jonathan Castroviejo and Alex Dowsett, the latter nursing an injury from Stage 4 but remember he’s a hemophiliac and so wounds take longer to heal.
Astana will hope for a better day. Vincenzo Nibali lost time yesterday but the whole team had a bad time with Tanel Kangert down and the rest of the squad trailing, perhaps some sat up to save themselves for today but Nibali’s bodyguards weren’t around and Michele Scarponi has been ill which matters as he’s a climber who should help on the final part.
Tinkoff-Saxo are still in range of taking the yellow jersey but it looks unlikely. They’ve got a solid team but it’s hard to see the beating the others. They’d surely sign for a top-5 and losing just seconds to Sky, BMC and Movistar.
IAM Cycling could be the surprise of the day. Even team owner Michel Thétaz won’t be dreaming of a win but they’ve had some decent results and form a solid unit together, certainly they’ll be higher than their 15th place in the team classification suggests. Lotto-Jumbo could do a good ride too with Robert Gesink in good form. Etixx-Quickstep will miss Tony Martin but ride hard to help Rigoberto Uran’s GC bid; did Michał Kwiatkowski sit up yesterday or was he blown out the back? Either way it doesn’t bode well as a top form Kwiatek would not have eased up when the finish suited him so well.
Orica-Greenedge might be reduced but they’ll be powered by pride. Watch to see if the six man squad – five and half if you account for Matthews’ injuries – can beat full squads like Europcar.
|Team Sky, BMC Racing
Weather: hazy sunshine and a temperature of 23˚C. There will be a three quarters tailwind for most of the course of 20km/h which could gust at times to 45km/h.