The team time trial is the first hurdle for the GC men, and the first chance for the underdogs to raise eyebrows.
For a race that is defined by a single champion, the teams always decide the winner. With the inclusion of the team trial, more than every does the squad decide the race and the next yellow jersey. With Jan Bakelandts just one second in the clear, he’ll almost certainly lose the maillot jaune by day’s end.
Who will claim it is certainly up to conjecture, though for the race favorites, it may be a bit too soon to latch onto the lead for good. It’s a long three weeks, and any GC man will likely let the jersey go to the right breakaway in days ahead. But taking an early lead over the other favorites is a valuable chance and handicap, and they’ll be racing for a lot more than the stage.
Team SKY is one squad who’ll limp into the TTT. Their two flat-landers this year, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas, suffered the past two days after taking the brunt of the Stage One crash that also put Tony Martin’s Tour in doubt. Sky will rely heavily on Richie Porte to pair with Chris Froome on the day, with big rides needed from Konstantine Sitvsov and Vasil Kirieyenka. With the squad on the ropes heath-wise, Sky might be vulnerable. For the rest of the teams, now is the time to get ahead.
BMC has the firepower in not only Cadel Evans, Teejay Van Garderen and Phillipe Gilbert, but also in Brent Bookwalter. The Michigander is the ace in the hole for BMC, who’ll need both cards in position to play come the mountains later this weekend. Between that foursome and the rest of the team, they should be able to threaten the race win, but possibly put time into others.
For perhaps the first time since 2009, Alberto Contador enters a team trial with one of the strongest teams, and, for the first time, he won’t the strongest rider in the discipline. Mick Rogers spearheads the way for SaxoBank-Tinkoff, with Contador perhaps playing second fiddle to the former time trial world champion. Roman Kreuziger adds some firepower, while Matteo Tossato is also pretty handy against the clock. The team should do well enough to stay on par with the other big squads, though Contador taking time may be a bit too much to expect.
Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang may already be looking over his shoulder at his teammate, Janez Brajkovic. The Slovenian time trial champion was ninth overall last year, and there were whispers before the race started that he may be Astana’s best option. For now, there’s peace, and the pair will have to unite to drive on a team better suited for the mountains than the relatively flat time trials of the 2013 Tour. Both are accomplished time trialists, though it may fall on Brajkovic to keep both himself and Fuglsang in tough for the overall.
The biggest wildcard of the day will be Garmin-Sharp. Once the undisputed team time trial kings, they’ve been much less consistent in recent years. However, entering Tuesday, they could certainly take top honors and propel a dangerous trio of riders into perfect position. Dan Martin, Ryder Hesjedal, Rohan Dennis and Tom Danielson are all dangerous GC men, and all are solid in a time trial. If Garmin can put three or four riders of that caliber ahead of Froome, Contador, Evans and the rest, it could wreak havoc for the rest of the Tour. It’s a perfect chance to set up the squad for a brilliant Grand Tour.
Katusha, Lotto-Bellisol and Europcar don’t look impressive, and AG2R could be in trouble with a squad of mostly climbers. OmegaPharma-QuickStep normally would be an easy pick with Sylvain Chavanel, Mark Cavendish and the ultimate time trialler, Tony Martin. But with Martin nearly in pieces after Saturday’s crash, they’ll be slightly short-handed. Watch for a steady dose of Gert Steegmans in Martin’s stead, with the big German flashing his world champion’s stripes as often as he can manage.
The usual catchphrase applies; no one can win the Tour here, but they can lose it. For Joaquin Rodriquez especially, the time lost here could prove too much.