Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) lost over a minute in the opening time trial of Paris-Nice, but the Luxembourg rider claimed that the 9.4km test was too short and too early in the season to offer a reliable indicator of his progress against the watch.
Time trialling has long been the glaring Achilles heel in Schleck’s armoury and he lost the yellow jersey in the penultimate day time trial of last year’s Tour de France. In spite of his insistence that he has trained assiduously on his time trial bike since the arrival of Johan Bruyneel as manager, the fruits of their labour were not in evidence in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse on Sunday.
“I didn’t have such a good feeling in my legs today but don’t take this as a reference,” Schleck told his team’s website. “This is my first big competition of the season.”
Schleck finished the day in 142nd place, 1:01 down on winner Gustav Larsson (Vacansoleil-DCM). The 26-year-old explained that he began well on the course’s early climb, but struggled to keep a big gear turning over thereafter.
“On the top of the climb I had same time as Maxime [Monfort, who was 15th – ed.] but then I didn’t have the forces to push the big gear. This was a TT for the big engines. This is not a real test for me. The distance was too short and it’s too, too early.”
Schleck’s brother Fränk fared little better, coming home 54 seconds down in 121st place. Their teammate Andreas Klöden was among the last riders to start, just as the rain began to fall, and he took few risks in the treacherous conditions to finish 36 seconds behind Larsson.
Nonetheless, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) also had to perform on rain-soaked roads, but the Briton put in a fine showing to finish just one second off Larsson’s winning time. RadioShack-Nissan directeur sportif Alain Gallopin expects Wiggins to be the man to beat over the remainder of the week.
“Wiggins showed that he is the big favourite of the race,” he said. “Without the rain he would have won by 15-20 seconds.”