There was an atmosphere of slight disappointment at the Team Sky bus after the Cholet team time trial Monday at the Tour de France. Geraint Thomas moved up to third overall, just three seconds down on new race leader Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing), and Chris Froome pulled back time on most of his overall rivals. But everyone at Team Sky was gutted not to win the stage.
Team Sky has never managed to win the team time trial at the Tour de France, and they wanted it badly. However, they had to settle for second place, with the only consolation the improvement in their overall standings.
Team Sky finished four seconds down on BMC Racing, with Quick-Step Floors third at seven seconds and Mitchelton-Scott fourth at nine seconds. Tom Dumoulin's Team Sunweb squad lost 11 seconds, with EF Education First-Drapac at 35 seconds, Movistar at 54 seconds, and Vincenzo Nibali's Bahrain-Merida losing a more significant 1:06.
Froome is back up in 18th place overall, 55 seconds down on Van Avermaet and 44 seconds down on Dumoulin. All of his other rivals are now back within reach.
Froome was not initially keen to speak before heading back to his hotel, but when he realised the first team car heading off was full, he put down his recovery meal, took off his sunglasses and talked about his start to the Tour de France.
"Obviously, it didn't start too well with the crash on stage 1, but that's bike racing," he said. "There is still a lot of racing to come. We're just taking it one day at a time at the moment, just trying to get through the best we can until we get to the mountains."
Despite the downbeat atmosphere, Froome was able to see the positive aspect of their performance.
"Just going on feeling how we rode that, I think we can be pretty happy," he said. "I think we gave it everything we had, and it pretty much went to plan. You can never tell who's going to be on a good day and who's not. All in all, I think it worked out really well for us."
Froome rarely looks back and has already mentally moved on his from his stage 1 crash and loss of 51 seconds to some key overall rivals. Now he has cancelled much of that time loss, knowing that Grand Tour racing can be a game of snakes and ladders.
"That's reassuring," he said of the seconds he has recovered, "It would have been nice not to lose it in the first place, but I think there will be a lot more time lost throughout the GC group before we hit the mountains. One day you gain, one day you lose, that's the nature of the game."
Directeur sportif Nicolas Portal had suggested that Froome was not quite 100 per cent had a stiff neck after his stage 1 crash, but Froome dismissed any problems. Compared to his crash at the Giro d'Italia, he got off lightly, with just a few scratches as memories of going off the road at speed.
"I'm feeling fine after the crash. Thankfully it was a soft landing in the field, not like in Jerusalem," Froome made clear.
Froome was part of the sextet of Team Sky riders that finished together, with the time trial prowess of Geraint Thomas, Gianni Moscon, Michal Kwiatkowski and Jonathan Castroviejo providing the backbone of the team. Luke Rowe and then Wout Poels were distanced, as was somewhat expected, but Egan Bernal managed to stay part of the Team Sky train until the finish. His ride moved him up to second overall in the best young rider white jersey competition, down on Søren Kragh Andersen of Team Sunweb.
Only Bernal, Rowe and Geraint Thomas opted to warm down at the bus, with Thomas disappointed but pragmatic about missing out on the stage victory and even nonchalant about the yellow jersey. His goal is to perhaps pull on yellow in the final stages and wear it all the way to Paris.
"To be honest, I didn't even think about it. It was all about trying to win the stage, and that would have been a nice bonus on top of it," Thomas said.
"We really wanted to try and get that stage today because we've been close in the past in Tour TTTs. We were close again but not quite quick enough, so I'm a bit disappointed not to win."
Thomas admitted he had something left in his legs when he finished, but he knew Team Sky had to ride as a cohesive team on the demanding 35.5km course.
"Altogether we rode well. There was a lot going on there, even though there weren't many corners, there were changes in direction with the wind, climbs and descents and everything. I think we rode decent," he said.
"It certainly favoured the teams that can ride well technically and that are quite even as well. It was decent for us, but it's a bit frustrating because I felt like I could have had a bit more in the tank by the end.
"Obviously there have been a few (TTTs) in the Grand Tours where we've been a bit less than you'd expect, but in the Tour we've always been top three. We're only a few seconds to Richie, and we gained a bit of time on everyone else. We can't complain."