Bardet vs Uran: The match for second place at the Tour de France

Podium places too close to call ahead of time trial in Marseille

According to raw statistics, the 2017 Tour de France has been one of the closest in the history of the race, with less than half a minute separating the top three overall just a day from Paris. However, as the scores are about to be settled in the Marseille time trial, there is a distinct lack of suspense in the air.

Chris Froome is already in the yellow jersey, and conventional wisdom would indicate that the 22.5km race against the clock in Marseille won't be a question of whether he can hang on, but of how far his margin of victory can be stretched.

Failing a crash, mechanical, or a huge surprise, Froome will secure his fourth Tour de France title, with final flourishes to be added on Sunday on the Champs Elysées, of course.

The real contest, meanwhile, would seem to be for second place, between Romain Bardet, second overall at 23 seconds, and Rigoberto Urán, third at 29 seconds.

While there's little chance of them overhauling Froome, their own podium spots seem secure, with Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru both over a minute in arrears and weak time triallists themselves. It's just who stands on which step that, on the face of it, needs to be decided.

Decrypting Uran

Just how good a time triallist is Urán? It's one of the great mysteries.

The Colombian's 'dark horse' status at this year's Tour has been built on his supposed ability against the clock, but aside from a few flashes of brilliance, he has a pretty lacklustre track record.

His stunning victory at the 2014 Giro d'Italia, on a rolling, twisty, 42km course, is cited as the primary reference, and it came as part of a very confined purple patch. Later that year he was second in a similarly long time trial at the Vuelta a España, quicker than the four-time world time trial champion, Fabian Cancellara, and 1:17 quicker than Froome, who went on to finish second overall. Urán then claimed the Colombian national title early in 2015.

Since then, however, he has failed to hit the same heights, and since joining Cannondale at the start of 2016, he has been particularly poor. He has done 12 time trials in the argyle and his results are as follows: 94, 125, 69, 64, 50, 94, 25, 56, 33, 89, 34, 95.

Jonathan Vaughters, Cannondale-Drapac manager and coach, warned against reading too much into Urán's past – the good or the bad.

"I don't really benchmark past results too much at all. Trying to historically figure that out, I'm not sure you're going to get anywhere," he told Cyclingnews, predicting an unpredictable race.

"It's whether his head is totally in the game or not. His head will be in the game tomorrow."

Head-to-head

  • 2015 Tour de Romandie, stage 6 (17.3km): Bardet 32 seconds faster than Uran.
  • 2015 Tour de France, stage 1 (13.8km): Uran 54 seconds faster than Bardet.
  • 2016 Tour de Romandie 2016, stage 3 (15.1km). Uran 29 seconds faster than Bardet.
  • 2017 Vuelta al País Vasco 2017, stage 6. (27.7km). Uran 28 seconds faster than Bardet.
  • 2017 Tour de France, stage 1 (14km). Bardet 12 seconds faster than Uran.

Bardet's natural weakness

There is slightly less mystery surrounding Bardet's reputation as a time triallist; he's not a very good one, and everyone – himself included – knows it.

The Frenchman's slight frame and aerobic capacity make him a man for the mountains rather than a big-gear churner, and his AG2R La Mondiale team want to keep it that way.

"Romain spends a lot of kilometres on his TT bike at home, and he has progressed each year, but, honestly, we're not looking to progress much more than that. We don't want to denature him," Bardet's DS, Julien Jurdie, told Cyclingnews. "His primary strength is the mountains, and we want to cultivate that ability to attack and create surprises. So while we work on his time trial, it's not an obsession for us."

Bardet's string of time trial results over the past couple of years doesn't bode well, with that poor Romandie time trial last year followed by a time loss of nearly three minutes to Chris Froome on a rolling 37km course at the Tour de France.

This year, AG2R changed bike suppliers from Focus to Factor and Bardet was involved in the development of the company's first-ever time trial bike. Yet he produced a terrible time trial at the Vuelta al País Vasco, which was vaguely attributed to a warm-up error, and his performance at the Dauphiné wasn't a great improvement. He was 63rd on the opening day of this Tour (14km), losing 39 seconds to Froome.

One factor the AG2R team believe tips the balance in Bardet's favour – or at least levels the scales – is that this time trial takes place on the penultimate day of the Tour de France.

"Romain's strength is his endurance, and it's an advantage to have a TT at the end of the Tour, with the accumulated fatigue of 20 days of racing," said Jurdie, pointing to Bardet's 26th place on the penultimate day of the 2014 Tour – when he was 23 – and his fifth-place on last year's stage 18 time trial, albeit one that included a proper climb.

"It's going to be a good match," added Jurdie. "Uran isn't far off. We know that he hasn't done a good time trial for two years. Romain took 14 seconds in Düsseldorf, so the advantage, on paper, is with Romain. We know Uran will give it 100 per cent to take Romain's place and Romain will be well up for it to conserve that second place."

Second place is what both corners are realistically fighting for, but both are aware the ultimate prize is still not yet out of reach. As Jurdie said, "23 seconds is not much – that's just a mechanical problem. We still have the right to dream."

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