Tom Dumoulin gained time on Chris Froome (Team Sky), Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) after they were delayed by crashes in the hectic finale of stage 1 of the 2018 Tour de France. Now he hopes to gain time on other overall rivals in the 35.5km team time trial around Cholet on Monday, and perhaps even take the race leader's yellow jersey.
Dumoulin's Team Sunweb teammates ensured the Dutchman was protected and in the front group on Saturday, allowing him to gain 51 seconds on Froome, Porte and Yates and 1:15 on Quintana. Sunweb is one of the strongest squads for the team time trial, and so could enjoy a second big time-gain day on Monday, further boosting Dumoulin's GC standing, morale and overall ambitions.
Team Sunweb won the world team time trial title in Bergen, Norway, last year, with Dumoulin also taking the individual title. If they can harness the same power and speed on the fast 35.5km course west of Cholet, they could perhaps win the stage and gain significant chunks of time on the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), AG2R La Mondiale's Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa and Alejandro (Movistar), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) and UAE Team Emirates' leader Dan Martin.
Dumoulin is aware of the opportunity in front of him but refused to get carried away.
"I hope to gain time. It's always good when to gain time," he said, cautiously. "I usually make a big contribution in team time trials, but it depends on my legs and how I feel. I have had some good days in TTTs, but also some less good days. We'll see…"
Dumoulin would have to lead Team Sunweb over the line and win the team time trial, beating Bora-Hansgrohe and Peter Sagan by 16 seconds, to pull on the yellow jersey.
If Team Sky win the team time trial and beat Bora-Hansgrohe by 16 seconds, then Geraint Thomas will take the yellow jersey. If Quick-Step Floors win, then Fernando Gaviria could be back in yellow. Greg van Avermaet is the only BMC Racing rider well-placed enough overall to potentially pull on yellow if the US-registered team confirms their ability in team time trials and wins.
Such is the uncertainty of a time trial after two hectic and crash-ridden road race stages.
Like most teams, Team Sunweb and Dumoulin studied and trained on the team time trial course in the final days before the Tour de France's Grand Départ. They don't intend to lose a single second as they travel close to 55kph.
"We did the recon twice in the days before the start of the Tour," Dumoulin said. "It's nice – it's really fast and I think we have a good team for it. We're missing Wilco Kelderman, but we're usually good in team time trials.
"I'm not sure what the time differences will be. The course is not too difficult. It's super fast, but the more difficult it is, the easier it is to create time differences. There will be solid time differences, but who knows how big?"
Dumoulin will play a vital role in any success, but admitted he had been more stressed about the risk of crashing in the opening two stages. Time trials come far more naturally to him. Teams are down from nine to eight riders this year, and even Dumoulin's skill and speed against the clock cannot make up for the reduction.
"It doesn't add up like that," he said. "I'm not worth an extra rider. I have to do longer turns and be a leader. I have to make sure everyone works well together – that's how I can contribute. I have to ride longer, but never faster."
A scientific approach
Team Sunweb have created a detailed plan for the team time trial, with pace notes and riding orders to ensure they set the best possible time.
"Three of these guys are the current team time trial world champions and two others – Nikias Arndt and Chad Haga – have done the Worlds TTT with us before, while Simon Geschke was a reserve," Sunweb's Australian directeur sportif, Luke Roberts, said. "So we've got some experience. I expect our team will be up there with the best: BMC, Quick-Step Floors and Team Sky. I hope we can top them.
"We need to know our limits, where we can go fast and where we have to hold back, so we've tried to take a scientific approach, so all our guys are well prepared for it."
Roberts seems to know every metre of the 35.5km course.
"I think it can open some big gaps. It's a little tricky," he said, somewhat contradicting Dumoulin. "It's only 35km so teams will need to be sharp to limit their losses.
"The start is not easy. There's an early climb that can unsettle a team from the beginning, and if you start a TTT wrong, you can have a disastrous ride. The steep climb at 16km can also be difficult, and you haven't even reached the half-way point there.
"Again, at 25km there's a tricky tight corner leading to a steep climb," said Roberts. "From there, you still need guys to get you to the finish, and stay fast, so it's a tricky one. I hope our plan is a good one, and that we can be one of the teams going for the win."