While it's understandable that the high mountain tests in the Critérium du Dauphiné's final days are the principal focus for attention at the race, Wednesday's 16.4km time trial between Firminy and Roche-la-Molière is set to provide a very intriguing test of the GC contenders' credentials.
It's described by BikeExchange directeur sportif Marco Pinotti as "a typical Dauphiné TT, in as much as the riders won't spend a lot of time going in a straight line. There's a lot of variation, lots of turns to the left, to the right, ups and downs. It's a nice course, I really like it, it's a proper test," he told Cyclingnews having looked over the course on Monday.
"It's not for the pure specialists, not like the time trials that were recently at the Giro. They won't be able to ride at threshold and hold that speed. The riders will spend half the time above threshold and half their time below. That's how variable the course is. The second half of it is the toughest because it climbs quite a lot up to the line," said Pinotti, who predicted that the riders would post times in the range of 21 to 23 minutes.
"I don't expect there to be very big gaps between the GC guys who are strong in TTs, but they could be quite significant between those riders and the pure climbers. I suspect the climbers will lose at least a minute and maybe as much as 90 seconds," said the Italian DS.
"It's the kind of course where the more times you ride it, the faster you're going to go, because you'll get to know all of the corners, and there are a lot of them."
Pinotti predicted UAE Team Emirates' Brandon McNulty and Ineos Grenadier Geraint Thomas would be the favourites, "assuming McNulty's in the form he was in at the Basque Country." The American finished a very close second to Primož Roglič in the 13.9km TT in that race and will be able to call on the very useful and precise insight that teammate Mikkel Bjerg can provide, the Dane having spent a two-day recon on the TT course prior to the start of the Dauphiné.
"I've looked at the TT course a bit on VeloViewer, but Mikkel was there for a couple of days before the Dauphiné and he's given some good insights," McNulty said after taking third place in the uphill sprint into Saint-Haon-le-Vieux on stage three. "We'll also be able to ride it two times tomorrow so by then I'll know it quite well."
Having lost more than four minutes on the opening day and all hope of overall victory, McNulty said his legs have felt better the last two days.
"Today was a good omen for tomorrow. The legs were good and it was nice to have a good finish at the end of it. I'm not going to make up four minutes on the climbers tomorrow, but I should be able to make up a minute and a half or even two, and then if I have some good rides in the mountains a top 10 is still possible," said the American.
Thomas said he felt good going into the time trial. "We'll ride it in the morning and decide how we'll pace it." He described it as "a hard TT."
"There's a lot of drags in it, we finish 100-odd metres higher than we start. It's a little technical at the start, there's a lot to think about. I think you've got to pace it well, that's the main thing, obviously as well as having good legs," added Thomas.
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