It wasn’t exactly the start he wanted, but 2018 winner Geraint Thomas ticked off the first stage of the Tour de France without any serious drama in the Copenhagen rain and only lost a handful of seconds to his main rivals.
There was plenty of anticipation around his Ineos Grenadiers team's TT push as the project, now lead by aerodynamicist Dan Bigham, has brought together new Pinarello Bolide TT frames and wheels from US brand Princeton CarbonWorks. Despite this, and hours of testing producing reams of data, Thomas’s ride was a reminder, if one was needed, that it’s all down to the rider.
“I think that’s the worst first half of a time trial I’ve ever had.” he told the gathered press after a long warm down. “I wanted to start quite conservatively power wise, going easy on the corners. [But in] the first few corners it just got in my head. I cornered like my wife, and she hasn’t ridden a bike for 12 years! It was unbelievable.”
He then realised he still had his gilet on from his warm up. “I’d zipped it up and it was nice and snug.” He said laughing at his mistake. As funny as that may seem, there was a risk that things were about to unravel. He went through the time check after just 6.6km 18 seconds down on Primoz Roglic
"Once I went through the first time check and saw that I just took the pin out and thought, ‘ah, sod it.’ And then I actually went all right. My legs were good, which was the main thing, but cornering was absolutely terrible, it just wasn’t flowing. The best thing you can do in the wet is let it flow and carry your speed nice and smooth. You don’t have to go quick but you have to maintain your speed.”
18th place and 25 seconds behind winner Yves Lampaert won’t be where he expected or wanted to be, but he eventually finished just nine seconds down on Roglic, having pulled back half his deficit over the second half of the course. Defending champion Tadej Pogačar who started 20 minutes after Thomas, was faster still, and has an 18 second advantage over the welshman going into tomorrow’s second stage.
Thomas was one of four Ineos Grenadier’s riders to finish in the top 20. Time trial world champion Filippo Ganna was fourth, ten seconds down on winner Yves Lampaert, Adam Yates put in a solid ride to finish 13th and Tom Pidcock, one of the last riders off today was 15th, one second faster than Thomas.
Bigham did have the team well prepped, even for the rain that according to the forecasts earlier in the week wasn’t due to come in until later in the day, which is why so many of the main GC riders went off in the first hour.
“We’re very lucky with our connections at Ineos sport and our connection to Ineos Britannia the sailing team.” Bigham explained. “They’re fairly switched on with the meteorology stuff. That said we were caught out a little bit, we expected rain to come around about five o’clock. In a way I’m quite happy because [the rain] is consistent across the time trial, whereas it’s disappointing in such an important race if we were to have a dry block for say an hour and then rain.
The weather meant adjustments were made to kit choices, mainly tyre type and the air pressure. But if anything adverse weather shifts the onus away from the tech, and onto the rider. “It brings out the best riders.” Bigham said. “You can draw a parallel to motor sport where the better drivers come to the fore in wet conditions.”
“The better riders are able to extract more performance out of the tyres and through the corners, so it does change the effort and shows who the good bike handlers are.”
In the end, though, neither Ineos's tech nor its riders were enough to bring the team a win, and much like Yves Lampaert winning in an older Specialized helmet rather than the recently launched S-Works TT5 with inbuilt 'head sock' balaclava, the stage shows that despite all the innovation, winning a bike race remains a test of a rider’s ability.
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