It’s tipped to be one of the most decisive stages of this edition of the Tour de France.
35.5 kilometres of flat and short hills around the Bretagne town of Cholet will severely dent the maillot jaune ambitions of some and raise the stock of others. As the old adage goes, it’s not a stage where you can win the Tour, but it’s one where you can lose it.
The last Tour de France Team Time Trial (TTT) took place in 2015, where the BMC powerhouse just eked a victory by a single second over Team Sky. That stage was held over a similar course to the one the riders will face here, albeit with a finishing climb that made things even tougher last time.
The course is mostly flat with three short, testing climbs on the profile. There are two rises 500m in length at seven per cent gradient in the first half of the course. At the 25 kilometre mark, the teams will come upon the longest climb 1.5 kilometres at an average of four per cent gradient.Â
Ordinarily these sort of climbs would unlikely to distance even the pure sprinters, but the context of a team race against the clock changes things. So much effort goes into a Team Time Trial and it is a very fine balance between working smoothly and everything getting blown apart.
At the 2015 TTT stage for instance, Movistar were looking like they would finish the fastest until an over-enthusiastic turn of pace on the front by Nairo Quintana saw the team split apart on the climb. The small Colombian had to wait for the team to reform, wasting valuable time and effort.
Specialised equipment and bikes are de rigeur in this discipline. The tighest possible skin suits ensure the air finds no purchase on loose fabric to impede the forward progress of the team. Rider’s power outputs are calculated to the watt and they’re assigned shift lengths on the front, designed to maximise power on the road.
It’s important that the shifts are determined by length rather than an increase in intensity. Too much of an increase in pace is as bad as a steep hill, it can simply be too hard to catch back on to the tail of the team as it goes flying past and then you’ve lost another rider.
The favourites for the race will be BMC, Team Sky and Team Sunweb. Each have general classification contenders and will have earmarked this stage from a long way out.
BMC are favoured to post the fastest time here. They have a strong team pedigree against the clock and have been consistently the strongest in WorldTour races. There has been the occasional exception, last year’s World Championships in particular, but a squad with Richie Porte, Tejay van Garderen, Stefan Kung and Greg van Avermaet is going to be tough to best.
Team Sky have a different formline to BMC. While BMC stamped their dominance on the Tour de Suisse TTT, Sky won the Dauphine TTT. With the core of the squad that makes up their Tour team, Sky put 38 seconds into BMC’s ‘B’ team, as well as the rest of the field.
They too have plenty of powerhouses. Christopher Froome, Geraint Thomas, Jonothan Castroviejo, Michal Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon would walk into any TTT squad in the world.
Team Sunweb shape as the other major contenders. Their performance at the 2017 World Championships, was a bit of a bolt from the blue. The core of the Tour squad wasn’t far off the BMC juggernaut at the Tour de Suisse and they’ll add the Individual Time Trial World Champion to that squad.
They’ll be powered by Tom Dumoulin, Michael Matthews, Nikias Arndt and Simon Geschke. It’s not quite the star-studded ensemble the other teams boast, but few teams put it together as well as Sunweb.
Mitchelton-Scott, Quick-Step Floors, Katusha-Alpecin and Lotto NL-Jumbo will all be keen to showcase their prowess against the clock as well, but either lack the recent form or the quality to be outright favourites here.Â Â
23:15 Team Sky
23:20Â Movistar Team
23:25Â Groupama â€“ FDJ
23:30Â BMC Racing Team
23:35 Team EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale
23:40Â UAE-Team Emirates
23:45 AG2R La Mondiale
23:50Â Team Fortuneo â€“ Samsic
23:55Â Direct Energie
00:00 Lotto Soudal
00:10Â Cofidis, Solutions CrĂ©dits
00:15 Team Sunweb
00:20Â Dimension Data
00:25Â Team Katusha â€“ Alpecin
00:30 Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team
00:35Â Trek â€“ Segafredo
00:40Â Astana Pro Team
00:45Â Wanty â€“ Groupe Gobert
00:50 Quick-Step Floors
00:55 BORA â€“ hansgrohe