The Tour de France decided to put a TTT early in this year's race. Does it make the battle for yellow more exciting?
To the casual observer, cycling doesn’t look like a team sport, but it is. A team time trial is one of the few times when this becomes perfectly clear. Well-drilled squads with deep talent prosper, while those with thin rosters or injured riders falter.
The Tour de France decided to put a TTT early in this year’s race. Does it make the battle for yellow more exciting? Who fared well — or didn’t — in the 37.5km run around Cholet in stage 3? Let’s roundtable!
Team time trials have a bad reputation when it comes to stage races (hello Critérium du Dauphiné fans!) So did stage 3 improve the Tour de France or make it worse?
Fred Dreier, @freddreier: I have mixed feelings on the TTT. On one hand, it is the ultimate expression of cycling’s economic divide. The richer teams can buy the advantage in the form of strong rouleurs, while the poorer teams must race with less expensive riders. That said, I like it when poorer teams that have targeted the TTT are able to upend the economic model. This year it was Sunweb and EF that rode ahead of Bahrain-Merida, Katusha, and Trek-Segafredo. So, if and when these instances occur, I like the TTT. When the result is chalk, I dislike it. I know — I’m selectively in favor of it.
Chris Case, @chrisjustincase: After the crashes of the first two stages, this particular TTT should make for a better race in the long-term. Some of the contenders that had lost time were able to claw their way back into contention. Now there is a larger cluster of GC contenders, and that should make for a more thrilling race … Should.
Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegs: In theory, the team time trial is a nice way to foil one-dimensional climber-centric teams (ahem, AG2R). Yet in practice, I don’t like how the team time trial quickly puts some exciting riders out of the GC conversation (again, looking in your direction, Romain Bardet). It just proves to be an undramatic way for some riders to lose nearly a minute in the overall.
Which rider or team overperformed in the team time trial and why?
Fred: I tip my cap to EF Education First. On paper I would have put them in the 10-15th place range, maybe losing a minute or so. The team lost just 35 seconds, and that must be considered a big victory.
Chris: EF Education First manager Jonathan Vaughters said it himself: The team’s performance was a victory. It’s not every day you come in sixth place and have your boss tell you won, so they all should don yellow bar tape tomorrow.
Spencer: Are we all going to say EF? OK, I’ve got another pick: Astana. Why? Because the team lost Luis Leon Sanchez to a crash yesterday an still ended up 51 seconds back, in the top-10. I give them the award for best damage-control with Jakob Fuglsang hoping to ride for GC.
Now, which rider or team really looked like a sack of potatoes out there?
Fred: Poor AG2R — on paper they should have one of the strongest squads, with Silvan Dillier, Tony Gallopin, and Pierre Latour. Injuries to those three meant they were off. Also, alarm bells are ringing for Nairo Quintana. Movistar has historically excelled at the TTT, but today they were far off the pace, and that means Nairo is more than two minutes down.
Chris: As far as GC riders go, Romain Bardet was the biggest tater tot of them all. The virtual lead he held over riders like Froome, Porte, and Yates has now been reversed into a substantial deficit. No amount of ketchup, or mayo for that matter, can make him feel good about that performance.
Spencer: I’m going to put UAE Team Emirates in the hot seat. They hired Dan Martin to take a run at GC, and he lost more than 90 seconds to Froome and Team Sky. Heck, they were only seven seconds faster than Fortuneo-Samsic.
Greg Van Avermaet was bound to get yellow based on results, but would you rather Tejay van Garderen take the lead?
Fred: I’m biased here: I wanted Tejay to wear the jersey, and for us to bask in American glory. But Van Avermaet has had higher finishes thus far, which gives him the go-ahead to wear the jersey. Plus, Van Avermaet excels in the flat and punchy terrain, meaning he could conceivably hold the jersey until the race enters the Alps on stage 10. Should BMC have seven days in yellow, that is better for the team’s sponsorship hunt.
Chris: If they had to decide between the two, how would they do it? Is it merit-based? Van Avermaet wins that duel, given his monument and Olympic titles, not to mention his previous stint in yellow and stage wins at the Tour. Is it based on the likelihood of holding it over the next few stages, up to and including stage 6 on the Mur de Bretagne? GVA again. Is it based on Euro popularity? GVA. Is it based on an arm-wrestling competition? I’m going GVA all the way.
Spencer: Definitely better for GVA to have the lead. Imagine if Van Avermaet wins the Roubaix stage in yellow on Sunday!