The 35.5km Cholet team trial shuffled the deck at the Tour de France, with BMC Racing's stage victory putting Greg Van Avermaet in the yellow, while the good, bad and loss-limiting performances by other teams stretched or reduced the time gaps between the big-name overall contenders for victory in Paris.
The Tour de France is only three days done, but the time gaps are starting to add up for Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), while Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) canceled some, if not all of the time, they lost in the stage 1 crashes.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) started the team time trial wearing the race leader's yellow jersey after his sprint victory on Sunday. However, he will be back to wearing green for Tuesday's road stage to Sarzeau in Brittany after struggling to hold the wheels mid-ride and eventually finishing more than two minutes behind his team, who came in seventh, 50 seconds behind BMC.
Quick-Step Floors rode intensely to try to win the stage and put Philippe Gilbert into the maillot jaune, but stage 1 winner Fernando Gaviria lost contact, sparking a moment of confusion before the team decided not to wait. Gaviria finished 4:47 behind his teammates, dropping like a stone to 110th in the general classification, losing the best young rider's white jersey to Søren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) after Team Sunweb's solid performance.
The big five divided by a few seconds
As expected, the big five of team time trialing in the WorldTour finished within seconds of each other, with no skinsuit, technological edge or powerhouse rider making a huge difference this time.
BMC Racing covered the 35.5km course in a time of 38:46. That was an eye-watering average speed of 54.994km/h, with teams touching 80km/h on some of the fast downhill sections of the course. That takes real courage, or perhaps a hint of insanity, when you are dressed in just a skimpy skinsuit, tucked over a time trial bike on the aero bars with your nose close to the teammate in front of you.
Team Sky were only four seconds slower than BMC Racing but missed out on a Tour de France victory yet again, with Quick-Step Floors at seven seconds, Mitchelton-Scott third at nine seconds and TTT world champions Team Sunweb fifth at 11 seconds. The other 17 teams were scattered across three minutes, with Cofidis slowest of all, finishing 3:23 down on BMC Racing. Fortunately they were well inside the generous 30 per cent time limit.
While the big five were close, several overall contenders and their weaker teams lost more than a minute. They felt the ripple effect of the TTT shuffle, with some now loaded with a handicap of more than a minute after three hectic and intense stages.
Jakub Fuglsang (Astana) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) limited their losses to 50 seconds, but Vincenzo Nibali was not happy that Bahrain-Merida's best rouleurs were soon dropped, with the four climbers obliged to drag the team home. Nibali lost 1:06 to Porte and similar time to Thomas, Froome, Yates and Dumoulin. He had expected significantly better.
Romain Bardet praised his AG2R La Mondiale teammates for finishing 11th of the 22 teams, but he was perhaps trying to look on the bright side after losing 1:15 – the same as Primoz Roglic after his LottoNL-Jumbo team somewhat fell apart. Two minutes for Bardet would have been disastrous, and so perhaps there was more reason to celebrate in the French team.
"We knew weren't going to be able to match Sky or BMC, but we didn't lose too much today," Bardet said. "We rode fast, we were really cohesive, and we proved again that when you work at something, you succeed.
"I didn't gain time on Froome, he lost it," Bardet said of Froome's stage 1 crash. "We await the real gaps and the real sport at the foot of the first mountains."
Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) also tried to look on the bright side despite losing key time trialist Oliviero Troia, who was drafted in for the TTT but then flatted after 10 kilometres.
"That probably cost us 15-20 seconds on the finish line, but other than that we all rode out of our skin," Martin said. "We all rode to the plan, super smooth. With the horsepower we've got available we did a great ride.
"If you'd told me I'd only be 40 seconds off Froomey after the team time trial, I would have been pretty happy. Obviously, I'm 1:40 behind G (Thomas) now, but I'm also ahead of Nairo. Overall, it's not a bad start to the Tour for us. My glass is always half full. The sun's out, it's the Tour de France. All we can do is our best."
Thomas takes the virtual GC lead
The time gains and losses have to added to those of stage 1 when Froome, Porte and Yates lost 51 seconds and Quintana shipped 1:15. The GC has felt the effect of two shuffles and so is even more nuanced and more difficult to understand. The cobbled stage to Roubaix is expected to cause another shake-up, and of course so will the Alps and then the Pyrenees, and then the final 31km individual time trial to Espelette on the final Saturday.
We will only know the importance and influence of the seconds won and lost when the riders roll into Paris on July 29.
For now, Geraint Thomas leads the virtual general classification. He does not have a special jersey but does have the bragging rights in the peloton. His bike skills helped him avoided the stage 1 crash and helped him gain time in the TTT, putting him in the sweet spot: he has avoided the attention and obligations of the yellow jersey but has all of the time advantages.
Greg Van Avermaet will wear yellow on Tuesday, with Tejay van Garderen in the same time but second due to lesser stage placings. However, both the Belgian classics rider and the enigmatic American are riding in the service of Porte and are surely not overall threats.
Tom Dumoulin has quietly risen like finest Dutch cream to the top of the classification, thanks to surviving the road stages and having a good TTT. He is second in the contenders virtual GC, only eight seconds down on Thomas.
EF Education First-Drapac's solid ride in the TTT helped Rigoberto Uran up to 10th in GC and third in the virtual, 31 seconds down on Thomas. His second place overall in 2017, at just 54 behind Froome, should remind us to keep an eye on him.
Also discreetly placed placed are Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 46 seconds down on Thomas, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) at 47 seconds, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Movistar pair Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde, who are 49 seconds back.
Porte lost 51 seconds on stage 1 but is on the rise and is 14th overall now, 48 seconds behind Thomas. Froome is at 52 seconds, with Adam Yates (Michelton-Scott) on the edge of the psychologically important 1:00 edge.
Those caught on the wrong side of the one-minute wall due to poor team time trials and/or crashes are Nibali – at 1:02, Bardet at 1:12, Martin at 1:34.
Nairo Quintana is the virtual GC lantern rouge, bringing up the rear of the overall contenders at 2:05. He faces an uphill battle to be competitive even before the Tour has seen its first real climb.
GC contenders after stage 3 (GC position +/- time to stage 2's top GC rider Geraint Thomas)
|2 (-0:0:04)||Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team||9:09:55|
|3 (-)||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky||0:00:03|
|7 (+0:0:07)||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:00:11|
|10 (+0:0:31)||Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||0:00:35|
|11 (+0:0:46)||Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:50|
|13 (+0:0:47)||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team||0:00:51|
|14 (-0:0:04)||Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team|
|15 (+0:0:48)||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin||0:00:52|
|16 (+0:0:49)||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:53|
|17 (+0:0:49)||Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team|
|18 (-)||Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky||0:00:55|
|20 (+0:0:05)||Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott||0:01:00|
|22 (+0:1:02)||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:01:06|
|25 (+0:1:11)||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:15|
|27 (+0:1:11)||Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo|
|30 (+0:1:12)||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo||0:01:16|
|39 (+0:1:34)||Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates||0:01:38|
|59 (+0:0:49)||Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team||0:02:08|