On paper, the stage 3 team time trial would have seemed like the perfect place for Bob Jungels to lay the foundations for his general classification bid at the Critérium du Dauphiné. A former junior world champion, in a team that has thrice been TTT world champions, the 35km course would offer a chance for him to bank some time on most of his rivals ahead of the mountain stages in the second half of the race.
However, though Quick-Step Floors finished fifth of the 22 teams, they were more than a minute down on stage winners Team Sky, who are now in a commanding position with Michal Kwiatkowski and Geraint Thomas at the head of the overall standings.
As he warmed down in Louhans, Jungels seemed perfectly content, explaining that Quick-Step's squad for the Dauphiné is a shadow of that with which they've won their world titles, and – unlike Sky – very different to the one with which they'll tackle the TTT at the Tour de France next month.
"Of course we knew that Sky would probably be the strongest team here, they have TT specialists here," Jungels said.
"Regarding the team we have, we did really well. Personally, I can say my legs felt very good. I think the other three guys who arrived at the same time at the finish could say the same. I think at the Tour we'll have a slightly different squad and we'll hopefully be closer."
Quick-Step set the third best time at the first checkpoint, after 14 kilometres, but by that point they were already down to five riders, losing James Knox and Fabio Jakobsen, both first-year professionals. Jakobsen, a sprinter, was the first to go, while Knox, a climber, was distanced, got back on, but then lost the wheel for good. Pieter Serry was then dropped before the second checkpoint at 24.5km, with Jungels, Julian Alaphilippe, Niki Terpstra, and Laurens De Plus bringing it home.
"It was mostly tailwind, so there was no place to hide. It was just all-out from the start," Jungels said.
"Of course, the young guys, the neo-pros, they've never done such a big TTT. I remember my first one, it was a tough one as well. So no regrets. We've proved our shape is good."
Eyes on the Tour
After two stages against the clock and two that have ended in mass sprints, the Dauphiné now changes in tone with four back-to-back stages in the high mountains, all with summit finishes.
It's not Jungels' strongest terrain, naturally, though improving his climbing has been a major objective as he looks to develop as a Grand Tour rider. Top-10 finishes in the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Giro d'Italia – winning white jersey as best young rider on both occasions – were evidence of the Luxembourger's potential, and this year he will target the Tour de France for the first time.
"First of all I have to see a little bit where I stand on the long climbs," said Jungels, who has spent two weeks training at altitude in the Sierra Nevada in the gap between the Dauphiné and his victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Like many of his rivals at the Dauphiné, he is cautious about being at his very best, with a month still to go before start of the Tour, which has been pushed back a week due to the football World Cup.
"It's still a very long way until the Tour. I made the experience last year, being a bit too motivated before the Giro, doing too much, and I just want to avoid that this year. So I'm just going to try and see how it goes, see how the legs turn, and yeah, take it easy at home, a lot of build-up just before the Tour and be ready."
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