Lieuwe Westra will be a key player for Astana in Sunday’s team time trial, as they look to gain back some of the time lost in the opening week of the Tour de France. Westra was part of the Astana team at the Critérium du Dauphiné that finished just four seconds behind the stage winners BMC. The Tour’s team time trial is just over three kilometres longer, but Westra believes that the team is even stronger than they were then.
“The team time trial, for the GC riders, is a very important day and also for our team,” Westra told Cyclingnews ahead of stage 8 of the Tour de France. “It seems like it is similar to the Dauphiné team time trial and we finished second there, but now we are in better shape and I have a good feeling about tomorrow.
“I hope that we will start with nine good riders in good shape and I think we have a good chance of making a good day and bringing (Vincenzo) Nibali into a good position in the GC.”
The battle for the general classification is finely balanced as the peloton approach the first rest day, and the team time trial will give the major contenders one last chance to put time into their rivals ahead of the Pyrenees.
While the rolling terrain might not be too dissimilar to the parcours they faced on stage 3 of the Dauphiné there is one glaring difference. The 1.7-kilometre Côte du Cadoudal is the stinger in the tail and, at an average of 6.2 per cent, it could cause a few problems for the GC riders. “I don’t know if there will be big gaps, but maybe 30 seconds or a minute,” he explained.
Westra’s team leader, and the defending champion, Nibali is currently 1:48 down on the race leader and fellow race contender Chris Froome. The Tour’s TTT is arguably tougher than the one the riders faced at the Dauphiné back in June but it is the most recent benchmark for how the teams currently stand. If Astana were able to replicate their performance from June it would put them into a strong position going into the mountains. Of the nine riders that Astana take to the Tour de France all but two have held national time trial titles during their career. Nibali is one of the two who hasn’t but the Italian has shown himself fairly adept against the clock in recent years.
Of their rivals in the general classification, Movistar were also strong at the Dauphiné and will be eager to pull some time back this Sunday, while Sky will be looking to turn their fortunes around after they lost 35 seconds. It has been over a month since that day though, and the form of each team is a relatively unknown quantity
. “It’s difficult to say but it will be nice to see how strong the teams really are. Tomorrow (Sunday) is a real race with the teams and we can really see which teams are strong, Westra said. “A lot of teams have lost riders but the big teams Movistar, Sky and Saxo are complete. I believe in our team though and I think that we can make a good result.”