LES ESSARTS, France (VN) – A close look at the results in Sunday’s stage 2 team time trial at the Tour de France shows a remarkably close and erratic change in fortunes over the three separate legs of the 23km course. Although Garmin-Cervélo’s nine riders deservedly took the victory, they were fastest on only one leg (the middle one), after being second to Team Sky on leg 1 and dropping to only seventh fastest on the final leg.
2011 Tour de France, stage 2, Dean drives it early
Yes, no fewer than six teams went faster than the winner in the final 6.5km that included the tricky turns through the streets of Les Essarts!

Clearly, given the short distance of the TTT, Garmin gambled everything on riding as fast as it could for as long as it could and then hang on at the end with its six remaining men. In sharp contrast, Team RadioShack started slower than all the other top teams (conceding 15 seconds to Garmin in the first 16.5km), but came through with an extremely fast final leg (second fastest to HTC-Highroad) — and given their “diesel engines” (as Leipheimer described himself, Chris Horner and Andreas Klöden) they would probably have continued to the top of the stage result if the TTT had been, say, two or three times the distance.

But it wasn’t the 67.5km it was in 2005 when RadioShack’s predecessor Team Discovery Channel set a record speed for a Tour TTT at 57.32 kph (compared with Garmin’s 55.64 kph this year). Incidentally, the only rider from that winning 2005 Discovery team who is still on manager Johan Bruyneel’s team is Yaroslav Popovych, while the only one from Team CSC (which finished just two seconds behind Discovery six years ago) is Dave Zabriskie (who was such a key element in Garmin’s stage 2 victory).

From 0km to 9km
1. Sky, 9km in 9:02 (59.78 kph); 2. Garmin at 0:01; 3. BMC at 0:02; 4. Leopard at 0:07; 5. Astana, s.t.; 6. Rabobank, at 0:08; 7. HTC, at 0:09; 8. RadioShack, s.t.; 9. Saxo Bank, at 0:11; 10. Quick Step, at 0:16.

From 9km to16.5km
1. Garmin, 7.5km in 7:42 (58.44 kph); 2. Leopard, at 0:02; 3. Sky, at 0:05; 4. BMC, s.t.; 5. HTC, at 0:06; 6. Saxo Bank, s.t.; 7. Rabobank, s.t.; 8. RadioShack, at 0:07; 9. Omega, at 0:10; 10. Astana, at 0:13.

From 16.5km to 23km
1. HTC, 6.5km in 7:54 (49.36 kph); 2. RadioShack, at 0:04; 3. Leopard, at 0:06; 4. BMC, at 0:07; 5. Rabobank, at 0:08; 6. Sky, at 0:09; 7. Garmin, s.t.; 8. Omega, at 0:13; 9. Europcar, at 0:20; 10. Saxo Bank, at 0:21.

Another survivor from the winning 2005 Discovery team is George Hincapie, who rode brilliantly again on Sunday in captaining BMC Racing toward being the day’s biggest surprise and its most consistent over all three legs. Inspired by the leadership of Cadel Evans (who remains at the head of our virtual GC), marshaled by team manager Jim Ochowicz and cajoled by sports director John Lelangue, BMC was third fastest over the opening 9km (one second slower than Garmin), equal third on leg 2 (five seconds behind Garmin) and fourth best on the last leg (two seconds better than Garmin).

Beside Evans and Hincapie, BMC relied on the horsepower of strong classics riders Marcus Burghardt, Michael Schär and Manuel Quinziato, and the TT skills of Brent Bookwalter. What’s significant is that the BMC team also has climbers Ivan Santaromita, Steve Morabito and Amaël Moinard to help Evans in the mountains coming up later in the race.

The most unfortunate team on Sunday was definitely HTC-Highroad, which lost Bernie Eisel to a crash on the first sharp corner, causing enough disruption for it to concede eight seconds on the opening leg to Garmin (a loss of almost one second per kilometer), lose another six seconds to the winner on leg 2 (where Eisel’s speed would have been vital), but prove the very fastest on the difficult final leg in pulling back nine seconds on Garmin (a gain almost 1.5 seconds per kilometer!).

As for the favored Team Sky, boasting Olympic pursuit gold medalists and some of the strongest time trialists in the world, it started the fastest (a second up on Garmin after 9km), but slowly faded (third-best on leg 2 and sixth fastest on leg 3). It still came home third (after Garmin and BMC), but it was hoping for much better.

What we can see from all these ups and downs is that BMC, Leopard-Trek, Sky and RadioShack have come out of the first two days in the best shape — especially on our virtual GC, where the Schleck brothers and Wiggins sit only three seconds behind Evans; and RadioShack has its three diesel engines all in the top 10, nine seconds back.

Contador’s fortunes continued to dive, despite his Saxo Bank team fighting hard in the TT (two seconds behind RadioShack on leg 1 and level with HTC on leg 2) but dropping 17 seconds to RadioShack in the finale. So the defending champion goes into the troublesome Brittany section of the Tour 1:41 behind Evans. That’s gonna be hard to catch up!

VIRTUAL GC (after stage 2)

1. Cadel Evans, 5:06:26
2. Fränk Schleck, at 0:03
3. Andy Schleck, s.t.
4. Brad Wiggins, s.t.
5. Tejay Van Garderen, at 0:04
6. Andreas Klöden, at 0:09
7. Chris Horner, s.t.
8. Levi Leipheimer, s.t.
9. Jani Brajkovic, s.t.
10. Robert Gesink, at 0:11
11. Alexander Vinokourov, at 0:31
12. Jorgen Van den Broeck, at 0:38
13. Nicolas Roche, 0:52
14. Ivan Basso, 0:56
15. Ryder Hesjedal, at 1:13
16. Alberto Contador, at 1:41
17. Christian Vande Velde, at 1:48
18. Roman Kreuziger, at 2:20
19. Samuel Sanchez, at 2:35
20. Jérôme Coppel, at 2:50