Sometimes it’s better to go fifth.
BMC Racing stormed to victory in Monday’s team time trial stage, completing the 35.5km course in 38:46, a blistering pace that saw them average nearly 55km an hour (34.1mph). After the stage, riders said that they benefitted from their starting position — BMC was fifth to leave the gate — because it allowed them to mark themselves against their biggest rival coming into the event, Great Britain’s Team Sky.
Sky left the starting gate in second position and finished second overall, just four seconds down on BMC.
“Luckily we had the time of Sky as a reference point,” said Greg Van Avermaet after the stage. “We had every guy going as hard as possible.”
BMC also benefitted from sizable gearing on riders’ time trial bicycles. According to BMC’s Simon Gerrans, the team installed 58-tooth chainrings for the race against the clock, bringing their bikes’ largest gear to a 58×11.
“That’s the biggest gear I’ve ever had on my bike. At points we were doing over 90 K an hour [56 mph] and still pedaling,” Gerrans said. “That’s a really big gear and you have to be going really fast just to be able to pedal it.”
BMC left the starting gate a full 15 minutes behind Sky, allowing the team’s directors to pace the riders off of the early mark left by the British squad. Sky blazed to an early advantage along the course, despite some hiccups. The team lost classics star Luke Rowe just past the course’s midpoint, and then all-star climbing domestique Wout Poels pulled off. Despite the loss of the two, Sky still set the fastest time at the 26.5km time check, crossing the boundary in 29:02.65, nearly four seconds ahead of Mitchelton-Scott.
By contrast, BMC completed that stretch with seven of eight riders — Stefan Kung put in a sizable pull near the base of the slight climb to the time check before pulling off. BMC crossed the 26.5km time check nearly six seconds ahead of Sky. Six BMC riders reached the final kilometer, with Michael Schar pulling off with 900 meters to go. The five riders who finished — Richie Porte, Tejay van Garderen, Gerrans, Patrick Bevin, and Van Avermaet — came across the line with the fastest time.
“Having those other strong teams go ahead of us was good because it gave us benchmarks,” Gerrans said. “These things go really well when everyone fulfills their role and does what is expected of them, plus a little bit more. That’s what we saw today.”
The victory confirms BMC’s spot as perhaps the strongest squad in the race against the clock. The squad won the UCI World Team Time Trial championships in both 2014 and 2015, and BMC has already won two TTT stages this year. American Tejay van Garderen said the squad has given special attention to the discipline throughout the season, going so far as to recon Monday’s TTT course multiple times in the past day.
“A lot of preparation goes into that,” van Garderen said. “We worked in the winter training camp on the formation. We flew out here a day early to recon the course three times. We rode it this morning too.”
The victory puts Van Avermaet into the race’s yellow jersey. Van Avermaet said he intends to defend the jersey as long as possible. The defense of the race lead could put pressure on BMC to expend energy early in the race.
The victory also marks an important high point amid a season of lows for the American squad. BMC Racing’s 2018 season has been dominated by the team’s uncertain future — the squad requires a new sponsor in order to survive. Owner Andy Rihs passed away in April of Leukemia, and since then, manager Jim Ochowicz has been on a search for a new financial benefactor. Rumors have swirled around the team’s marquee riders and their individual plans for 2018 — will they stay with the squad or go elsewhere?
The team’s GC rider Richie Porte — who has been linked to Trek-Segafredo for 2019 — said the result is comparable to the squad’s TTT victory at the Tour de Suisse, which came just weeks after Rihs’s passing. And if the yellow jersey puts more pressure on BMC for the upcoming stages, he believes it’s worth the effort.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have the yellow jersey, for a team looking for a sponsor,” Porte said. “That’s not a bad thing at all.”
VeloNews staff and correspondent reporters contributed to this report.