Thibaut Pinot’s words of caution after Saturday’s opening time trial proved to be prescient. After gaining time in Utrecht on the principal contenders for overall victory at this Tour de France, the FDJ man had moved swiftly to put a dampener on French expectations, which haven’t reached such heights, perhaps, since the mid-1990s. “A 20-second advantage means nothing,” he said calmly.
So it proved on Sunday. Inevitably, strong winds and heavy rain buffeted the peloton as it approached the Dutch province of Zelande, made up largely of land reclaimed from the North Sea over the centuries, and even despite all the forewarnings, a period of chaos ensued.
As Etixx-QuickStep made merry at the head of the bunch inside the final 50 kilometres, Pinot was among those caught on the wrong side of the splits, along with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Within five kilometres, the deficit to the front group, which contained Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), was already 30 seconds and despite Astana and Movistar’s attempts to play Hans Brinker, it would increase to 1:28 by the time the chasers reached the finish at the Oosterscheldekering, the Delta Works, the Netherlands’ remarkable series of dams, dykes and storm surge barriers.