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EF Education First-Drapac defy expectations, circumstances in Tour de France TTT

BMC Racing took the honours in the team time trial on stage 3 of the Tour de France, edging out Team Sky, Quick-Step Floors, MItchelton-Scott and Team Sunweb in a tussle that followed the predicted script. However, looking past the 'big five', the ride of the day surely went to EF Education First-Drapac.

Many moons ago the American team was one of the strongest TTT outfits in the world, but these days expectations are far more modest. Add into the equation that they had envisaged practically riding one man short – Lawson Craddock's Tour having seemingly been turned into a survival operation by a broken shoulder – so their sixth-place finish came as something of a surprise.

The team clocked 39:21 on the undulating 35.5km Cholet course, leaving them 35 seconds off BMC and 24 off fifth-placed Team Sunweb. However, they beat seventh-placed Bora-Hansgrohe by 15 seconds, with plenty of solid outfits below that.

The result moved team leader Rigoberto Urán into 10th overall, with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) the only general classification contenders above him.

"In the past we usually would lose one minute, sometimes one minute and a half, two minutes," admitted Taylor Phinney, one of the team's big engines.

"We worked really hard before this race. Everyone was committed. I went pretty deep. To lose 35 seconds, considering what happened on the first stage, the time we gained on a couple guys, we're very happy with how today went. It's a small victory."

Urán spoke of the need to keep his feet on the ground and, as ever, to take things 'day-by-day', but he cut an exuberant figure back at the team bus as he joked with the Colombian media.

"We went better than we expected," he noted, but he didn't go far without mentioning one name: Craddock.

The American has become one of the stories of the opening stages of this race, showing the warrior's spirit that has so often captured the imagination of the Tour de France audience over the years. He dragged himself to the end of stage 1 with blood running down his face and made it through stage 2 once his scapula had been confirmed as broken. He has channeled the adversity into a force for good, raising more than $23,000 for a velodrome in his native Houston that was damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

With Craddock barely able to put weight on his handlebars, EF-Drapac were pessimistic about what he would be able to contribute to the TTT. They thought about leaving him on the back to hang on for as long as possible, but then thought it might be even trickier to keep having to open and close gaps.

What happened, no one saw coming. Craddock didn't just hold on, he took turns throughout and was only dropped inside the final three kilometres.

"When we recon'd the course, I didn't have a good feeling after that," Craddock said. "I was in quite a bit of pain after the recon, even during the last 10 kilometers out on course. We really dug deep into my shoulder before the start of the race, and that made the biggest difference today.

"It was still quite painful. I put 90 per cent of my weight on my right forearm, right shoulder. We'll need to work on that tonight now. I'm just really happy to be able to do something for the team today and hopefully take this as a good step moving forward."

The contribution certainly didn't go unnoticed by Urán, who now finds himself 20 seconds ahead of Team Sky's Chris Froome, the rider who beat him to the top step of the podium 12 months ago.

"All the recognition is for my teammate Craddock, who did a remarkable time trial given the circumstances," Urán said. "These are the things that, as a leader, you value highly. The guy who has a broken shoulder but finishes, you have to be grateful for that."

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Patrick Fletcher
Patrick Fletcher

Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.