Tuesday's team time trial provided for some controversy at the Tour de France, as the route chosen by the organiser around Montpellier was quite a special one. For the first collective race against the clock in four years at the event, Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) designed a short, but very technical circuit course that could hardly please everybody.
Instead of the usual long, wide and straight boulevards on which the nine-rider teams can practice a rotational turn-taking to perfection, ASO picked rather narrow, twisty and bumpy roads for the exercise. The nature of the course - together with some heavy gusts of wind - made many riders hit the deck and triggered discussion: even if a route such as this one needed even more team cohesion to be mastered successfully, did the novelty really outweigh the risk?
Former cyclist and Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon, now a consultant with France Television, did not think so. "I don't understand why this type of course is chosen for a team time trial,” he said. “That's not its philosophy. Whose interest is it to make the riders take so many risks?"
Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) also had some harsh comments. "It was a very atypical time trial circuit," he told Cyclingnews. "I saw Quick Step crashing already before the way to the start on some slippery stone panels. Then, I saw Denis Menchov crashing in the first corner, somebody from Lampre crashing in the second corner and then on those really narrow country roads, four from Bouygues Telecom literally went out into the field - that's just not what we need. I mean, we got all these rules, we have to wear helmets, more security - so why do they send us on a course that has ‘broken bones’ written all over it? I just don't get it. I'm sure there's a million better roads down here.
"We have bikes worth 10,000 Euro, and in the end we can't use them properly because we're just busy trying to hold balance instead of putting our power on the pedals," added the German, who nevertheless wasn't completely upset with the organiser.
"We had really good first two days: big roads, easy, steady, not too many crazy corners, nice finishes,” he added. “But today was just the complete opposite. We tried to keep it smooth, tried to keep the boys together and concentrate our strenghts on the last, flat part. We couldn't make up enough to have the best time, but, at least we didn't crash. That [not crashing - ed.] is an achievement in its own right, regardless of our result."
Cervélo TestTeam’s Heinrich Haussler was happy with the team’s ride, but also noted that the course was designed to break the team's rythm rather than intensifying it. "We tried to ride as smoothly as possible, as far as this was possible," said Haussler. "The course was so irregular that it was very hard to do this. I thought we had a good ride because we sort of achieved it.
"Our sports directors told us that many riders already crashed, so it was decided to give only 99 percent, and to lose a few seconds in the first three kilometres to be able to make it to the finish intact," he added.
The wind topped off the day's difficulty according to Liquigas' Brian Vandborg. "The course was difficult, and hard to memorize all the corners and turns," he said. "You have to figure out how the other guys feel and have to find a steady speed. Nibali, Kreuziger and these guys were pulling hard on the climbs, and we had to shout at them to slow down a bit...it's definitely a hard course.
“We got through without crashing,” he added. “I did take one descent pretty fast and almost went into the ditch. It was definitely too risky for nine people, with the wind."
Rabobank, whose leader Denis Menchov went down in the first curve, had previewed the course only once on Tuesday morning. "It's a very strange team time trial, I've never seen such a course before. It's pretty dangerous," said team manager Erik Breukink.