Take It From Carol: Tour de France Stage 2
Every second counts as the team’s race against the clock......
Today’s team time trial is just a short 27.6 km (approx 17 miles) with wide, flat roads (yes there are four “climbs”, but at just 4% grade these guys will barely notice!) so today is all about big engines and solid technique. Given that the top teams ride at an average of 57 kph (35 mph) on courses this short, today will be FAST. Still, there is much at stake. Doing well today is significant for the final outcome of the general classification (yellow jersey, best overall time) and each team with a potential GC man must pack their team with solid rouleurs (strong all around riders especially on the flats, always looking to attack and get into a breakaway, but can still defend in the mountains) in addition to the much needed pure climbers. Why? No matter how strong your team’s GC rider is, today, he will get the time of the fourth man to cross the line. The Tour is a complicated mash of multiple races within the race and consists of 22 teams with different race objectives (some come for stage wins, others for specific jerseys, etc.). Today, if you come to the start with dreams of yellow on the final podium, then your team is either well-skilled in the art of time trialing and looking to gain as much time as possible for you; or, if this discipline fills you with dread, then today your team looks to limit your losses.
Each team comes to the line with 8 men. The time of the fourth man to cross the line is the team’s finish time so mechanicals and staying upright add pressure on an already stressful undertaking. The fourth man also makes pacing key. In other words, if your team has an exceptionally strong time trialist (eg. Geraint Thomas....a former pursuiter on the track) he must know to pace rather than ripping his team to shreds by setting a crushing speed. Speed must be consistent so each each rider’s turn at the front (pulling the team and setting the pace) can be varied based on their ability to time trial. Today isn’t about one man racing against the clock...the team time trial is about ensuring your fourth man has as strong a finish as possible to keep your best man’s ambition alive.
There are two checkpoints to gauge the 22 team’s progress. The first is at 13.3 km with the second at 20.1km. In my opinion, with the profile of the course I think the second check point is the more telling....a hard start might be a team’s undoing.
The weather can be a factor (wind, wet roads, etc) but all reports indicate that today will be dry and calm (I bet records will be smashed and the top teams within seconds of each other).
The order of the team’s start position is based on their overall team GC time from stage 1. From slowest to fastest (yellow jersey wearer team will depart last!). Geraint Thomas’s Team Ineos will tackle the course first (many saying this was a deliberate tactic to be in control...hmmm? Not so sure about that. Riding blind without a reference time to beat seems risky). The teams leave in 5 minute intervals.
Some things to look for today without giving away spoilers from Stage 1:
Team Ineos with Thomas and Bernal are looking for gains today as they are skilled time trialists and more than likely looking for the stage win. Sunweb, with the loss of their GC man Tom Dumoulin prior to the race, are strong contenders in this discipline so will also battle for the stage win to carve some glory out of crushed Tour dreams. On the other end of the spectrum, team Ag2r-La Mondiale will look to limit losses for their GC man Romain Bardet’s (the hope of France). Poor boy struggles in the time trial but man can he fly in the mountains! The same for team Movistar, a team of exquisite climbers.
As all time trials are, today will test the mettle of the men with big ambitions and be a proving ground for the next three weeks.
Last but not least, as I always say in the first week of the tour, DVR today or tune with just the last few teams to finish. Keep it as exciting as possible.