Tour de France 2020

Team Time Trial loses its teeth with early setbacks among favorites

Monday’s stage 3 team time trial was meant to be a race-breaker in this year’s Tour de France, but early setbacks to major favorites have muted the stage's significance.

LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France (VN) — Monday’s stage 3 team time trial was meant to be a race-breaker in this year’s Tour de France.

At 35.5km, it favors Team Sky and BMC Racing, with weaker teams expected to bleed minutes. At that distance, the top few powerhouses could expect to squeeze out two, three and even four seconds per kilometer.

They still will, but the edge is taken off of the TTT’s impact following Saturday’s rough and tumble opener that saw some big names give up time.

Crashes and setbacks for riders like Richie Porte and Chris Froome served almost as a “handicap” and re-set what might have been a slaughterhouse.

Instead of gaining minutes, the Tour favorites have to claw back almost one minute before they can start piling on.

“It is what it is,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “We lost a bit of time. Tomorrow is a day to take some back.”

Look at this way: Sky’s Froome, BMC’s Porte and Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates all lost 51 seconds to most of their direct GC rivals Saturday. Instead of taking significant GC gains, they will have switch into recovery mode Monday.

And that’s a buffer others are hoping to defend. A rider like Roman Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) might have ended the TTT nearly two minutes behind Froome. Instead, he might keep the difference to less than one minute following this weekend’s fireworks.

“The stage is important to the overall. We clearly want to limit the losses,” said Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Vincent Lavenu. “We have a balanced team to help Romain [Bardet]. It’s one day more to endure before we arrive to our favorable terrain in the mountains.”

This will be the Tour’s first team time trial with the new eight-man rule. The time will be taken at the fourth rider across the line, with any gapped riders receiving their real time. In TTT’s, you’re only as strong or weak as the rest of your teammates.

Teams like Sky and BMC Racing brought big engines to the Tour specifically for the team time trial expecting to put their respective GC captains in an enviable position. Riders like Sky’s Gianni Moscon and BMC’s Stephan Küng were largely tapped for the TTT effectiveness. Even with those riders, both teams need a big day just to even the table.

“We have done some special training for the team time trial,” said Michel Kwiatkowski of Team Sky. “It is a very important stage. With the team we have, we know we can take a lot of time against some others.”

Of course, not everyone among those favorite teams lost time. Also avoiding trouble Saturday was Geraint Thomas, who sagely picked up a one-second time bonus Sunday to put himself in pole position for yellow if Sky wins the stage.

At BMC Racing, only Greg Van Avermaet and Tejay van Garderen survived the opening weekend equal on time with the leaders. Could van Garderen be in yellow Monday afternoon? It’s possible, and it will be very telling to watch how it plays out between those two because positioning across the line could decide yellow if BMC wins.

At Movistar, a team that can post a good team time trial, Nairo Quintana ceded 1:15, but Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde both are still in the main GC group. Even on a good day, Quintana could cede 30 seconds to Sky and BMC.

“Tomorrow is an important day,” Quintana said. “We need to be concentrated and hope things work out OK.”

Some other teams’ chances were hurt by this weekend’s drama even if their GC riders survived intact. Lawson Craddock, an important engine for EF-Drapac, barely survived Sunday’s stage after crashing heavily Saturday. Though his story is resonating with the larger public, he won’t be at 100 percent Monday to help Rigoberto Urán.

Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang lost a powerful ally when Luis León Sánchez abandoned Sunday following a heavy crash. Three Mitchelton-Scott riders also hit the deck Sunday.

Saturday’s setbacks will have some interesting dynamics not only for Monday’s stage but the overall race. Instead of rolling out of Cholet with big gains, riders like Froome and Porte might be happy with just pulling back to even.

That means this Tour will remain largely knotted up, at least going into the meat of the first week. This Tour is young, but it appears someone like Froome won’t be carrying a two-minute-plus lead on some of his directs rivals after just three stages.

Bad luck for some in this Tour is good luck for others.

“You have to be lucky in everything,” Valverde said at the line Sunday. “I avoided the crashes and could be up front. There will always be crashes.”