Sky tightens up its TTT, Nibali loses more time, Orica battles on and more of stage nine's talking points. Photos by Yuzuru Sunada and Graham Watson
Sky’s team time trial preparation pays off
Despite individual members of the squad being strong against the clock, Sky’s team time trial performances are often left wanting – less than a sum of its parts. The British WorldTour outfit finished the Critérium du Dauphiné TTT in June in sixth place and 35 seconds behind BMC. That below-par result must have served as a timely slap around the face.
In the past month, the team has spent time on its TT bikes, organising its formation and recceing out the route of stage nine of the 2015 Tour de France so that all the riders were familiar with it.
The mix of riders in Sky’s team seemed perfect for the course, with powerhouses such as Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe balanced by climbers for the final ascent. Froome himself looked in top shape, taking long turns at the front to keep the pace high.
Sky could not have ridden better, finishing less than a second behind stage winners and current team time trial world champions BMC and its GC hope Tejay van Garderen, and crucially well ahead of both riders’ other rivals. Van Garderen, too, has set himself up as a serious overall contender.
Sky and BMC can both look back on the TTT and a difficult opening week with a huge amount of satisfaction, no matter what happens next…
Nibali and Astana still not looking at their best
After losing bits of time here and there on the preceding stages, defending Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali lost more seconds to his rivals during the team time trial.
The stage started well for Astana, with all nine riders looking well drilled, riding tightly together and all taking turns at the front.
However, right after passing the first intermediate time checkpoint as quickest team, the squad broke ranks, splitting into two groups. Nibali swung over to the left hand side of the road, looking backwards at his team-mates. In just a few seconds they went from team time trial perfection to a ragged mess.
Two riders then failed to rejoin the front group, and the team were left with seven men. Despite that, they continued strongly through the second time checkpoint, but by the finish had slowed to such an extent that they lost 35 seconds to BMC and 34 seconds to Sky and race leader Chris Froome.
Nibali has looked off his best this season, something which appears to have continued thus far into the Tour. He has lost time in places where he shouldn’t, and now sits in 13th place overall, two minutes and 22 seconds down on Froome. Whether Nibali or his team have the form to turnaround the performance in the Pyrenees and Alps remains to be seen.
Brittany loves cycling
The crowds lining the roads of Brittany during the team time trial were some of the biggest seen since the Grand Depart in Yorkshire last year. The short 28 kilometre course meant there was less space for spectators in comparison to a 200km road stage, and there was barely a metre of pavement that wasn’t at least five deep in fans.
Brittany is a cycling-mad region of France, with locals turning out in droves and with their ranks swelled by British fans who made the short ferry journey across the English Channel.
On occasion, this meant that spectators once again spilled onto the roads, leaving less room for the riders. Thankfully, this time there were no instances of riders being bumped into or knocked off by over-eager fans and it added to the atmosphere.
Team time trials are a unique spectacle
Team time trials still divide opinion among cycling fans, with some saying that they are nothing more than a boring procession.
We have to disagree. The sight of squads working together for the common good during a Grand Tour is something that underlines just how much cycling is a team effort – despite the fact that there’s only one man in the leader’s jersey.
It looks good on television and in photos – and is one of the great spectacles of pro cycling… Although we wouldn’t quite go so far as to ask for the reintroduction of the much maligned Eindhoven Team Time Trial.
Orica-GreenEdge battle on
As we’ve mentioned, the team time trial is all about working as a unit, and this was no more apparent than the beleaguered Orica-GreenEdge team, severely reduced in number and ability by a string of crashes during the opening week.
Just two years ago, during the 2013 Tour, Orica-GreenEdge won the TTT, setting a new record for the fastest stage ever ridden. Move the clock forward to 2015, and the team was in full damage limitation mode.
With just six riders left in the race, it was a big ask for the squad to put in a good time – a team’s finish time is allocated to the fifth rider crossing the line. With Michael Matthews currently last in the general classification and nursing painful fractured ribs, the team elected to rally behind him, ensuring that he stay with them and finish within the stage time cut.
They could easily have dropped Matthews and continued on, but instead rode in front and next to him to make sure he survived into the race first rest day on Monday. The team finished in last place, nearly five minutes down on stage winners BMC. The squad’s Simon Yates called it a ‘second rest day’ and now he and brother Adam look forward to riding in their favourite terrain: the mountains.
After all they have been through, it was touching to see such team spirit alive at the Tour.
Video: Pro bikes of the Tour de France – Tejay van Garderen’s BMC Speedmachine