There will be no easing into things for Britain’s three Tour de France debutants this week.
Alex Dowsett is an outside favourite for the opening 13.8km time trial in Utrecht, Luke Rowe had been charged with looking after 2013 winner Chris Froome in the potentially chaotic first nine days, while Adam Yates will be working for an Orica team who believe they have a contender for almost every stage, before hitting out himself when the race hits the mountains.
“There’s absolutely no room for personal ambition,” Rowe told CW. “I’ve got a pretty big role to play. There’s obviously going to be gaps and splits in the crosswinds and the cobbles and the Ardennes. The first nine days will be key not only in not losing time but seizing opportunities to gain it.”
The Welshman’s job description will see him barely letting Froome out of his sight.
“Between me and [Ian] Stannard, we’ve got to stick with him and be his wingman for the first nine days,” he said. “It’s about making sure he’s in the right place at the right time.
“On the cobbles day [stage 4]: you’ve got to be top twenty going into the sector and just trying to manoeuvre him. The front is essentially where the action happens and the crashes don’t.”
While it was Rowe’s proven ability in such cut and thrust racing that earned him a ticket to the Tour, it’s Yates’ lack of suitability to the terrain that will make him a workhorse early on in the race.
“The first week doesn’t suit me so I’ll be helping the team trying to take a victory,” last year’s Tour of Turkey winner explained. “I’ll be helping out, covering moves, or if I need to, getting in the breakaway.
“When the race hits the high mountains, that’s where I’m best,” he added. “If I can do something there that would be perfect. If not: no stress.”
While the 22 year old is making his debut in the Tour, his brother Simon performed admirably in his own Tour debut last year. Being that they’re twins with similar abilities on the bike, was there much he could take from his brother’s 2014 ride?
“Not really,” he replied. “It’s pretty obvious that the Tour is the biggest race in the world and everyone turns up at 100% and raring to go. So you just do what you can and hope for the best.”
And that’s exactly Dowsett’s approach before the time trial – a discipline the 26 year old excels in.
“Obviously I’d love to come away with the yellow jersey but if you look at the calibre of riders, this is basically the world championship time trial,” he said.
“Everyone is here and everyone is in good shape…there are guys here I’ve never beaten. I will go out there and do the best I can, but realistically my chances are slim.”
Realistically, too, Dowsett’s selection was –like Rowe’s— more about what he can do to help his team’s general classification riders in the opening week than any chance he might have of personal glory.
But as much as all three riders go into the Tour with a workmanlike approach, the magnitude of the event is not lost on them, inducing an intense mixture of excitement and nervousness.
“I hope it’s just scaremongering but riders say everything is a couple of kilometres faster than any other race,”said Dowsett. “Certainly it’ll be more stressful.
“My job is to keep the boys up front and out of trouble. And this is a race where there’s usually more trouble than any other race.”
“Straightaway you can see what it’s all about,” noted Rowe at the team presentation. “Everything is bigger and better and blown up out of proportion. Look at the number of people who’ve come out tonight to watch us step off a boat and roll 500m down the river.
“Now we just need to get the show on the road.”
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