Things didn't quite go to plan for Team Sky on the opening stage of the Tour Colombia 2.1 on Tuesday, where the squad of Chris Froome and defending champion Egan Bernal managed only third in the opening 14km team time trial. EF Education First took the top prize, followed by Deceuninck-QuickStep at eight seconds, with Sky another two seconds back.
The result pushed EF Education First's Rigoberto Uran, third last year, into the overall lead, but Bernal said he was satisfied with his team's performance, and added that the result may work out in Team Sky's favour.
"We're happy with the result," Bernal said in a statement released by the team. "We didn't lose much time to EF Education First, and we're now in a good position because we're not the leaders, so we don't have too much responsibility to control the race. At the same time, we gained time on Astana and Movistar, so I think we're in a really good position. The whole team felt good; we're happy."
The Astana squad of Colombian team leader Miguel Angel Lopez claimed fourth on the day, 22 seconds back from EF Education First, while UAE Team Emirates and their Colombian general classification leader Sergio Henao finished fifth at 35 seconds. Of all the GC contenders, Nairo Quintana and his Movistar team fared worst, dropping to seventh behind Team Medellin, 44 seconds in arrears.
With a GC pecking order set, the contenders will have to keep their powder dry over the next three stages as the sprinters come to the fore over relatively flat terrain. Stage 5 on Saturday takes place on a difficult, lumpy circuit at altitude, and the final day finishes with a long, steep climb up Alto de Palmas, which throws 933m of vertical altitude at the riders over the final 15.5km.
Bernal and Froome are no doubt hoping to use the next three stages to continue to improve their form, as Froome now has only one 2019 race day in his legs and Bernal has just three after competing in the Colombian national time trial and road race earlier this month. The 22-year-old finished 25th in the road race and the third in the 28.2km individual time trial, won by EF Education First's Dani Martinez.
"It's my third day of racing this year and I felt different," Bernal said. "The feeling I had at the Nationals and the feeling I have now is different. It's better now and I hope to get better with the next few days of racing. Maybe I could improve a little bit more, looking ahead to the last two stages."