More often than not, time trials are not the most compelling television. What will be compelling today, however, are the TV pictures of the spectacular Gorges de l’Ardèche. This 37km time trial from the banks of the Rhône, west to the cutaway cliffs of the gorge and the cave paintings in the grotto of the Caverne du Pont-d’Arc will provide a visual feast.
Don’t let the scenery obscure the action entirely in this case – it could be a belter. The parcours starts with a gradual 7km climb up onto the Plateau du Laoul before descending into the gorge via the Col du Serre to Tourre. It’s technical, with a couple of switchbacks which riders who are on the limit will have to be wary of. The race exits the climb at the town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc and there is 5km of gradual ascent to the finish at the cavern. All told, it’s a testing TT: not as testing as Embrun-Chorges in 2014 but something akin to the helter skelter Besancon TT in 2012, which Bradley Wiggins won by 35 seconds as he started to build a big margin on his rivals.
This is no drag race, so the out-and-out testers like Tony Martin are disadvantaged and we can expect the GC contenders to do well – could this be Tejay van Garderen’s moment to confirm his promise?
More importantly, performances will have to be seen through the prism of what happened the day before on Mont Ventoux. It’s unlikely riders vying for yellow will have spared themselves the day before, where the opportunity to land big blows would have been very obvious. Yet riders who went too deep on the bald mountain may find their Tour hopes cut to ribbons here. Who comes out of this brace of stages with their GC hopes the least damaged will head to the Alps full of confidence.
Bernard Thevenet: A hard time trial, which will suit the rouleurs more than the climbers but a special kind of rouleur. The pure rouleur can hold a very high rhythm for
a long time but this time trial is held on smaller roads, with ups and downs and lots of changes of rhythm. The winner will be somebody who can keep adjusting to those changes. These days, TT time gaps can be bigger than the mountain gaps, so today will be a very important day for the yellow jersey.