Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Tour de France Team Time Trial - The First GC Test?

So far the main aim for the general classification riders has been to ensure that they stay out of trouble In the unusually hilly start to the 100th edition of the Tour in Corsica but now the race hits the French mainland and things start to get a little more serious...

The mainland racing kicks off with today's Team Time Trial in Nice which looks to be a largely flat 25 kilometre affair but the relatively short distance isn't the key here. Naturally some teams are far better at the TTT than others and though some of the major favourites find themselves with a especially well equipped team it's certainly not the case for all of them.

The official time is taken when the fifth rider of each team crosses the finish line and this in itself can cause an upset - inevitably some riders will find themselves dropped off the back and there is a fine line between riding at a winning pace and making sure at least five riders are capable of crossing the line together at the end - in previous years we have seen some teams struggle to hold the required number of riders and of course if those at the back are looking a little shaky then it means reducing the pace and potentially creating a time gap amongst some of the race favourites.

Team Sky should be able to handle the TTT pretty well - they have often been touted as one of the best teams in this discipline though results haven't always shown this. Injuries will also play their part here and with Geraint Thomas currently riding on with a fractured pelvis he could be one of the first to exit via the back door. Of course another key ingredient missing for Sky is that powerhouse time trial specialist Bradley Wiggins and along with him a wealth of experience. We all know that the sky train is full of powerful riders though and certainly Chris Froome and Richie Porte are no slouches when it comes to time trialling.

Omega Pharma-Quick-step are also usually well equipped for such a stage and it could be a chance for Mark Cavendish to take that illusive yellow jersey but with Tony Martin their main player and struggling with more than his fair share of cuts, bruises and stitches it could see the difference between a winning time and an average one though riders like Kwiatkowski and Chavanel should be more than able of pulling their weight.

Garmin-Sharp are another team often touted as TTT specialists and they are a strong team in the discipline - with TT specialist David Millar narrowly missing out on yellow in the last two days he is desperate to try and take it here - factor in that Garmin also have three GC hopes in the shape of Hesjedal, Dan Martin and Talansky and they could be odd's on to take the victory today.

Of course their are other teams with a good track record in the TTT's such as Orica-GreenEdge but with no real GC contender it becomes a matter of the stage win for these teams and so they won't evoke much change in the GC stakes should they win.

Movistar have become a bit of a Time Trialling powerhouse since focusing more on marginal gains in a somewhat 'Skyesq' approach and even little Nairo Quintana has become a very good time triallist finishing not so far behing Tony Martin in recent races, it's conceivable that either he or Alejandro Valverde could find themselves in yellow this evening.

BMC should find themselves not too far of the pace either with team leader Cadel Evans being a strong TT riders backed up by the likes of Pip Gilbert and Thor Hushovd which leaves a fair chunk of the main favourites seeing relatively little in time damages between them. Even RadioShack can put in some good times with strong riders like Voigt doing plenty of pulling on the front - struggling in individual time trials Andy Schleck might find himself relatively safe today.

But what about Joaquim Rodriguez and his Katusha squad? Or of course Alberto Contador and Saxobank? Well this is where the GC battle might start to become a little more interesting. There are some strong riders at Katusha but they are not really a squad built for team time trials and Rodriguez himself acknowledges its the weak link in his armour. Saxo's Alberto Contador has been a very strong TT rider in the past though he has struggled to stay with the pace of rivals like Froome this year, losing a lot of time at the Dauphine though with Mick Rodgers, Roman Kreuziger and Nico Roche all lining up alongside him the Saxo team might be able to put in a more relevant time.

If there are any gaps today then they shouldn't be major - time losses are inevitable in the team time trials but depending on the deficit we will start to see just who will have to fight a little harder come the mountains later on and with almost nobody being able to rider away from Froome in the mountains this year there will be plenty hoping that it's Sky who have a bad day today.

The Team Time Trial is unpredictable by it's very nature - off days, weak links and crashes can all play their part and it's difficult to try and pick any winners or losers here. Time will be lost on the road today, the question is how much and by who?

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