The atmosphere at the Quick-Step Floors team bus on Monday afternoon at the Tour de France was in stark contrast with the good moods from Saturday after Fernando Gaviria won the opening stage and the first yellow jersey.
The team holds a great record in the team time trial discipline, being triple world champions, and a strong performance from the so-called 'Wolfpack' on Monday afternoon was likely going to move Philippe Gilbert into the yellow jersey. The team put in a good effort, but it wasn't enough to get the stage win or the yellow jersey. The Belgian team was bumped to third behind BMC Racing and Team Sky, who were seven and three seconds faster, respectively.
The riders rolled in one by one and weren't in a chatty mood, but team manager Patrick Lefevere wasn't too down-hearted by the outcome of the stage.
"This morning I predicted the result, based on the big engines at the teams," Lefevere said. "I put BMC or Sky for the win and our team in third place, at no more than 20 seconds. I'm good at predicting."
Gilbert showed up late after doing TV interviews at the finish line area and first took a shower once back at the team bus. Eventually, he talked with the few waiting media. He was asked whether he was upset by the narrow loss.
"It's a race," he said. "We gave everything and we can't come back on what we did. We have to accept the situation, even if it's a big disappointment. I saw the time at the last intermediate point and saw that we were six seconds behind. I knew it was still possible. Once we were with only four guys we were not taking any time back. The key is to go as fast as possible and stay together. The roundabouts are very technical. Probably we should've worked on that more often during the recon."
The mood among the riders and the team directors indicated that a race incident was to blame for the time loss that might have cost them the win. The team split into several groups on the short climb, and that might have been crucial. Gilbert was asked about it but he didn't want to blame anybody in public before talking with his teammates.
"Honestly, it's hard to give comments because I haven't seen the footage yet," he said. "We first have to discuss what happened together. We have to analyse it. It's hard to provide comments when it's so fresh. We certainly made a mistake. First we have to talk and everybody has to provide his opinion in order to understand the situation. I was riding in second position and didn't see what happened behind me. I don't want to comment on something I didn't see."
Earlier, Lefevere put the finger on the wound.
"We lose again by a few seconds," team team manager said. "Seven seconds is a lot, and then again not. Everybody saw that there were a lot of teams who struggled to maintain their rhythm. A world champion like Sagan was spotted blowing up his engine. The same happened in our team. First Tim Declercq and then Gaviria, who blew up a bit too early. Bob [Jungels] was super strong and rode five kph faster than the others. That can be a disadvantage, too. We blew up into several groups and that's where – to my opinion - we lost the race.
"In hindsight it's easy to explain what should've happened," Lefereve said. "We try to manage them via the radio, but there's chaos out there; there's a lot of noise and a lot of fans. By the time you know that you need to slow down it's too late. It takes a long time to get back into a rhythm and you lose 10 seconds in no time. If that wouldn't have happened we would've won."
The Quick-Step Floors team missed out on the stage win by seven seconds, and Gilbert missed the yellow jersey by five seconds.
"It's a pity for Gilbert but for the others, too," Lefevere said. "It's easy to point someone with the finger, but it's clear mistakes were made."
Gilbert seemed to be able to switch focus towards the upcoming stages rather quickly. The Belgian rider knows there are more chances coming up.
"We knew this Tour de France would be full of surprises, and that's what's happening," Gilbert said. "Everything remains possible. There's still a lot to come. My legs are really good since a few days. I did a lot of effort for the team. Now I think it's time to go for a stage win for myself. I think the good stages are coming for me."
Gilbert currently stands fourth in the general classification at five seconds from race leader Van Avermaet. The more undulating courses of the upcoming days suit the experienced Belgian, but compatriot Van Avermaet is a tough rival. A journalist referred to an upcoming 'battle royal' with sprints for bonus seconds.
"Much will depend on how the other riders will go the next few days," Lefevere said. "The Mûr de Bretagne will be very important for him and the others. Van Avermaet isn't a rider you're going to drop from your wheel just like that."