LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France (VN) — After a pair of sprint stages that have nonetheless seen several yellow jersey hopefuls lose time, the third stage of the Tour de France will shake up the general classification even more.
A team time trial that starts and finishes in Cholet could see several GC contenders take a tumble down the overall leaderboard.
“It looks like a straightforward course but there are some tricky parts,” BMC coach Marco Pinotti said of the route.
The Tour has been nothing if not tricky so far, even with just a pair of flat stages in the books. With the cobblestones and the big climbs still a ways off, the Tour peloton has endured two nervous days of racing that saw numerous pileups. GC favorites Chris Froome (Sky), Richie Porte (BMC), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) all lost significant time on stage 1.
Monday will provide them with an opportunity to claw back seconds — or to fall behind even farther.
The 35.5-kilometer day heads north out of town turning west, then sweeping south, and then heading east back the finish line very close to the stage start. Along the way, teams will face a number of small rolling hills. None of them are particularly long, but a few are deceptively challenging — short, but steep.
“The start in itself is not so easy,” Sunweb sports director Luke Roberts said. Just after the first kilometer of the stage, the road kicks up sharply for nearly a kilometer.
“If you start out wrong there you can have a disastrous time trial. So that’s already an important climb,” Roberts said.
“The steep climb at 16 kilometers can unsettle a team and you haven’t even reached the halfway point yet. Again at 25 kilometers. That’s really tricky with a tight corner right there leading into again, a steep climb. And you still need quite a few guys to get you to the finish there fast.”
In addition to the up-and-down topography, there’s the wind to keep in mind. Sunday’s forecast calls for a hot day that could see a breeze pick up in the afternoon, and given that the route is shaped like a large oval, teams will ultimately face the wind from all sides at one point or another.
Teams with GC hopefuls are taking the day very seriously, reconning it in advance, possibly multiple times, with more recon on tap for Monday itself before the action gets underway.
The big question, of course, is whether the various challenges on the route will lead to sizable time gaps.
The opinions of the team staffers VeloNews spoke to were mixed.
Pinotti said he expected smaller time gaps at the top of the leaderboard than were produced by the team time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Running a very similar length of 35 kilometers, that day saw stage-winning Team Sky take a whopping 38 seconds on the nearest challenger, BMC. In Pinotti’s eyes, the teams set to contend for stage 3 at the Tour are better matched at the top.
Still, teams further down the list of favorites do stand to lose chunks of time if they are not careful, or simply not good enough. Riders without powerhouse TTT squads — like Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) or Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) — could ship minutes to the heavier favorites. Bardet and Martin were among the GC types who made out well in the opening stage, gaining time on their rivals simply by staying near the front of the pack, but that advantage may be short-lived. The specialist squads should be able to carve out a sizable advantage on the 35.5-kilometer course.
Expect the usual TTT suspects to shine brightest in stage 3. Sky currently sits as the oddsmakers’ top favorite, a sentiment Pinotti echoed. BMC, Mitchelton-Scott, Quick-Step Floors, and Sunweb are also near the top off the list. All of them regularly produce big results against the clock. Sky’s squad for this particular TTT looks especially handy thanks to the high concentration of big engines. In addition to Froome, there’s Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe, Michal Kwiatkowski, Gianni Moscon, and Jonathan Castroviejo all in the mix too.
Froome will certainly hope the bookies know what they’re talking about. Stage 3 will be a prime opportunity for the defending Tour champ to right the ship after he crashed and lost 51 seconds in the Tour’s very first stage.