The Tour de France's riders face their first individual time trial tomorrow to Mont-Saint-Michel, a stage that could be just as decisive as the mountain days last weekend.
Last year, Sky's Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome stomped their rivals in the two time trails, around 50 kilometres apiece. This year the two tests are around 30 kilometres, including one with two climbs, but the gains are still up for grabs.
"The TT tomorrow is very good opportunity to take more time," Froome said in a press conference on Tuesday. "I hope to widen the gap to the others. Valverde is the most dangerous rider right now."
Going in to the time trial Froome leads by 1'25" minutes on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and 1'44" on Bauke Mollema (Belkin). Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) sits at 1'51", Nairo Quintana (Movistar) at 2'02" and Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) at 2'31".
Based on his past performances, gaining 31 seconds in last year's first time trial, Froome should stand with a bigger margin in 24 hours. "We expect him to gain time. It's hard to say what he can gain, so it's just a matter of going as fast as he can," Sky's sports director, Nicolas Portal told Cycling Weekly.
Portal explained that the first half of the 33-kilometre stage is more technical. "It is up and down, nothing really steep. It's good for a TT specialist, but it's also good for a climber. The second part is more for a specialist TT. It's almost flat and with long drags... If you're a pure climber, it won't be so good for you. For Chris, it is quite good."
Rodríguez, a poor rider against the clock is expected to lose time. "If Joaquím loses two minutes, I will be satisfied. If he loses only 30 seconds on Valverde and Contador, it will have been a good TT," Katusha sports director, Valerio Piva said. "Froome is super-strong; we will compare ourselves more to guys like Valverde and Contador."
"The course suits [Froome] more than me," Contador told Spanish media on the rest day. "It's not good for me. I will give it 100 per cent and try to lose the minimum possible."
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) sits in 16th overall at 4-36. He said that the time trial would gauge the favourites' form. "It will be a real test to see how people have recovered from the first half of the Tour," Evans told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"Like always, it's a test of truth... It always is. It doesn't matter whether you are good or bad, or can stay on the wheel; in the time trial you just need the legs."
Richie Porte will take his first test since losing second overall and slipping far behind in Sunday's mountain stage to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Portal said that he would race at full speed.
"I think it's hard for him to go slow, so I think he'll go fast. It's good for his morale. Plus, it's hard to tell him, 'Richie, go slow,'" Porte added. "He asked me. He said that 'Nico, I want to go full gas.' He can give time checks to Chris and gain morale."
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