As Tejay van Garderen and his BMC teammates readied themselves for stage 8 of the Tour de France in Rennes on Saturday morning, Marco Pinotti was already thinking 24 hours ahead. The Italian is the time trial specialist on the squad’s coaching staff, and half an hour before the start, he was climbing into a team car to set off on a reconnaissance of Sunday’s team time trial, from Vannes to Plumelec.
“The directeurs sportifs have gone to see it already but I’ve just seen it on video and studied it closely on Google maps, so I’m going to check it out in person now,” Pinotti told Cyclingnews before he set off. “The riders will do their recon on Sunday morning, but in principal, I think it’s very similar to the team time trial at the Dauphiné [which BMC won – ed.]”
Regardless of the parcours, this team time trial was always going to pose a rather novel problem for participants. ASO had to get special dispensation from the UCI to hold a team time trial so late in the opening week – normally, they must take place in the first third of the race – and the accumulated fatigue of eight days of racing adds a new series of variables to the event.
“It’s different because you don’t know what condition the riders are going to be in. There will be riders you’d expect to go well who might be more tired, and others who have recovered better,” Pinotti said. “It might be the case that within a team, the performances might be different to those you’d expect in a team time trial early in the race.”
The course, too, presents obstacles not typical of Tour team time trials past. Though just 28 kilometres in length, it includes three climbs, the ascent to Monterblanc after 15 kilometres, La Croix Peinte after 21 kilometres and then the final 1.7km haul to the finish line on the Côte de Cadoudal in Plumelec. Like the Boston marathon’s Heartbreak Hill – or the Cauberg at the inaugural team time trial Worlds in 2012, where BMC narrowly missed out – that last ascent could render the intermediate time checks meaningless.
“The roads are good, they’re not a problem, but the key will be getting to that final climb with five riders left who are all capable of going up it well,” Pinotti said. “I think the gaps will be a little bit bigger than the similar time trial at the Dauphiné because it’s a bit longer, although I still wouldn’t anticipate gaps much bigger than 45 seconds between the top teams.”
BMC line up with four of their World Championship-winning team from Ponferrada last year – van Garderen, Rohan Dennis, Daniel Oss and Manuel Quinziato – and, on paper at least, look one of the most cohesive units in the field, though Pinotti warned that the road to Plumelec, both on the day and in the week beforehand, is radically different.
“We’ve got four World champions in the team, so I’d expect Oss and Quinziato to be strong tomorrow too, but as ever in a team time trial, you’ll have riders who are stronger than expected and others who are weaker than expected. And things like that will only be accentuated by the fact that we’re so far into a stage race,” Pinotti said.
“So you can’t compare it to Ponferrada, because that was a longer test, it was just one day and we had a team of just six specialists. On Sunday, there are more variables –above all, it’s the ninth stage of the Tour de France and that’s going to be the biggest difference between this and other team time trials.”
Van Garderen enters the team time trial just 13 seconds off Chris Froome’s yellow jersey, and if BMC were to replicate their showing in the Montagny team time trial at the Dauphiné last month, it would be enough to elevate him into the race lead ahead of the first rest day.
“If Tejay is to take the yellow jersey, we’ll have to go well and rely on the others going badly,” Pinotti said simply. “The time gaps, good or bad, really depend on how the other teams perform, because we can only take care of our own display. I’d certainly expect Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo to be strong, but we’ll just ride our own race.
“It is a stage that we’d have highlighted as a place to gain time on the Tour, but then I imagine Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo are thinking the same. We’re more or less riding with the same aims.”
Van Garderen, meanwhile, was equally cautious when discussing his maillot jaune chances after stage 8 at Mûr de Bretagne. “There is always a chance. I don’t want to jinx myself and think about it too much,” van Garderen said. “We’re just going to go out there. We’ve got four world champions, and we’ll put out the best performance we can.”