In a time trial there are no hiding places and certainly no excuses. Whether you're world time trial champion Tony Martin or Tour de France defending champion Chris Froome , reputations count for little when you roll down the start ramp and begin the race of truth.
When the dust settled at the end of stage 4 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, BMC's Richie Porte had put 12 seconds into Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), and an impressive 37 into Froome (Team Sky), who shipped 27 seconds to his BMC rival in the second half of the 23.5-kilometre test.
As the Australian held court after the time trial of his life, Froome had plenty to ponder as he sat in anti-doping and began his recovery. Make no mistake, he has plenty to do if he is to retain not just his Dauphiné crown but the Tour de France as well.
The 37 seconds Porte put into his former team leader were significant and a measure of where the two stand less than month from the Tour de France's Grand Depart. This was not the Tour de Romandie, where Froome could fall back on any early season malaise or a back excuse – this was supposed to be the true test of where the Tour contenders stand in their final preparation race.
"It was a tough time trial and not my best performance, but if anything it shows what great shape some of my other Tour de France rivals are in," Froome said after the stage.
Froome finished eighth on the stage and conceded time to several riders, including an Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) who has constantly stressed that he is at the Dauphiné for training and little more, and an Alejandro Valverde who could prove to be Movistar's most dangerous asset come July.
"Richie and Valverde did very impressive time trials, Contador as well. I knew that the level was going to be high when coming here, but this time trial just proves it. It's tough. I've got my work cut out for me, that's for sure.
"We've got three weeks now after the Dauphine in terms of time trial work, and it's something obviously that I'll have to work on."
As for the Dauphiné itself, Froome sits in sixth place in the overall standings, 1:04 down on race leader Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), who produced a strong ride to retain his yellow jersey. A third consecutive Dauphiné crown looks to have slipped, although Froome put on a brave face and suggested that he would still fight until the end. With three mountain stages to come in this year's race, there are still opportunities.
"It does change the dynamic. If I had gained time today then I could have ridden more defensively on the climbs. Now I've got time to make up, and that could mean I'm more offensive going into the next few days."
Yet the bigger picture suggests that Froome must play the long game. He will have expected to be closer if not ahead Contador and Valverde, and to have narrowed the gap between himself and Porte since late April, but the Australian shows no sign of losing his form or momentum.
"I've done everything right up until now," Froome said. "Now I just keep going up until the Tour. I just keep doing what I'm doing. This is racing. You can't win all the time. I didn't know where I was and I was here to test. We've got three days of climbing and that will be another big test to see where everyone is at."
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