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CHOLET, France (VN) — Up against powerhouses BMC and Sky, Rigoberto Urán and the EF Education First-Drapac squad had their work cut out for them in the stage 3 team time trial at the Tour de France. Delivering the day’s sixth-fastest time, EF came away more than pleased with the result.
Team manager Jonathan Vaughters said the stage was “absolutely” a win for the team.
Although Slipstream’s past iterations were often a force to be reckoned with in the team time trial, the discipline has not been a strong point for the squad for several years now. With Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, David Millar, Ryder Hesjedal all retired, the team has struggled to keep its GC hopefuls in contention when faced with a grand tour TTT in recent seasons.
EF’s Tour selection did include a few big engines, most notably American Taylor Phinney, but up against the firepower several rivals were bringing to the third stage, a significant time loss seemed possible from the outset of the Tour.
What’s more, the squad rolled down the start ramp on Monday with one rider sporting a broken shoulder blade. Lawson Craddock’s Tour campaign became a story of simply surviving each day without abandoning the race when he went down in a crash in stage 1.
Nonetheless, EF finished within shouting distance of the day’s top teams in the 35.5-kilometer test that started and finished in Cholet.
“We did a really good time trial considering the rough shape we’re in,” Urán said. “I have to hand it to my teammates. And to do that with a guy who has a broken shoulder blade, I have to say thanks to him for a job well done. It was a good time trial.”
Craddock has always been strong against the clock and was therefore initially expected — before his crash — to play a significant role in the team’s stage 3 effort.
Urán and Vaughters both gave Craddock credit for not simply hanging on for dear life but taking some turns at the front despite his injuries.
EF has good reason to look at stage 3, and the first three stages collectively, as a victory over expectations.
Thanks to the 51 seconds he picked up on the likes of Chris Froome (Sky) and Richie Porte (BMC) by simply staying safe in the front group in stage 1 and the limited losses in stage 3, Urán is sitting ahead of several major rivals. Well-positioned with one big hurdle now in the rearview mirror, EF finds itself “ahead of schedule” according to Vaughters.
“Rigo is still considerably ahead of Froome and Porte on GC. I don’t think anyone would have said that Rigo would be ahead of those two guys after the team time trial,” he said.
A well-rounded rider capable of performing on the climbs and in the time trials, Úran has proven to be a tactically savvy racer over the years. He has a knack for going unnoticed and then appearing high up in race standings when it matters; he rode to second overall at last year’s Tour de France while mostly keeping his head down in the GC battle.
If he and EF were hoping for a redux of that this season while aiming to land one step higher on the GC podium, it’s all going to according to plan so far. Without much fanfare, he has put himself among the best-placed of the legitimate yellow jersey contenders after three stages.
Then again, there’s plenty of ground to cover yet until the Tour rolls into Paris.
As Urán was quick to point out to Colombian media after the TTT, “The race has only just begun.”