If Fabian Cancellara doesn?t win today?s Cholet time trial, we?re tearing up our betting slips and going home. The 29.5km course is a rouleur?s dream, with rolling hills and drags.
The course is roughly in the shape of a triangle to the north west of Cholet. There?s a 12 kilometre ride north west, followed by seven kilometres south, before the final 11 kilometres east back to Cholet.
The wind is going to be a factor today ? it?s been blowing hard from the west all morning, and the riders will spend the first 12km with it right in their faces.
The course is also not as flat as it looks on the profile. One long drag is followed by another virtually the whole way round. At the halfway point, between St Andre de la Marche and La Romagne, there?s a tough hill which is about 1,500 metres in length.
In the best tradition of British time trialling, CW was up at the crack of dawn to ride the course. It?s not likely that the riders themselves will encounter the same intransigence from the gendarmerie as we did ? there was no way they were going to let us ride down the start ramp.
So we ambled along the first kilometre or so on the outside of the barriers, before spotting a gap in the fence and accelerating onto the course itself.
Out of Cholet, about three kilometres into the course, there?s a drag which will put fast starters straight into the red. It certainly put us into the red. Combined with the headwind in this first section, the constant up and down terrain is going to make pace judgement difficult.
While we struggled into the wind, it struck us that even at eight o?clock in the morning, the crowds were impressive. Hundreds of camper vans lined the route all the way round ? no need to follow the arrows, parts of the course are a virtual tunnel of white high-sided vehicles.
The course turns south just after St Andre de la Marche, and the headwind becomes a crosswind. This is also where the road turns upwards for the longest uphill stretch of the race. It?s not steep, but following a long downhill, the road rises for a kilometre, flattens briefly, then climbs up for another 500 metres to the turn east, just before La Romagne.
The final 11 kilometres follow straight roads up and down the drags with a tailwind, although we sensed less benefit from this than we anticipated, given the difficulty of riding into the wind earlier. There?s a fast and slightly twisting descent into Cholet, and a slight rise to the finish line.
The course has got Cancellara written all over it. The Swiss rider has got the power to get up the drags, and he?ll make short work of the headwind and crosswind sections. It?s frightening to imagine how fast he?ll be going along the final tailwind section, but he?ll already have gained his time by then.
Expect the wind to make time gaps bigger than might normally be expected over 29.5km. And hope that Romain Feillu enjoys his day in yellow ? it?s probable that he won?t be wearing it tomorrow.