For some, a Team Time Trial is an affront. A straight jacket of organisation and efficiency designed to strip any free-spirited bike racers of their loose limbs and General Classification ambitions.
Take Thibaut Pinot; the enigmatic French hope.
It’s easy to imagine a stage like today causing a rider like him to leak time.
Surrounded by his FDJ teammates at the start, the TV director lingered over him and we scanned him for clues to his mental and physical state. Laid back and easy, he joked with his fellow riders.
What does that mean? we wondered.
His body language is impossible to read. Relaxed and focussed? Laughingly nervous? Mid-way through an impromptu derogatory Romain Bardet impersonation for the purposes of team morale?
The Team Time Trial, of course, gives us a feel for the personality of each team and a chance to see them as a fully-functioning unit.
Team Ineos, for example, ride happily within that aforementioned straight jacket of organisation and efficiency. Calculating and in control, maintaining gaps of millimetre precision between each rider, their bespoke skinsuits carving a consistent slipstream through the Belgian air.
Movistar are the opposite. Skinny climbers almost to a man they struggle and wobble. Slightly brittle. Ad hoc. They lose forty-odd seconds to Ineos and offer each other congratulations upon this news. Losses – significant ones – and yet they’re happy.
Trek Segafredo are terminally average (helping little Richie Porte to lose more than a minute). Deceuninck Quick-Step, the Belgian super-team, are strong, star studded, and exude the golden glow of cycling celebrity. Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe are big and muscular.
Last team out, with Ineos topping the leader-board, are Jumbo Visma, the Dutch team of current Yellow Jersey wearer Mike Teunissen. If ever a team were in the ascendancy, tracing a long-term curve of improvement for two years and more, it’s them.Embed from Getty Images
In the form of Tony Martin and Wout van Aert, Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett, they scorched from the start ramp. Sprinter Dylan Groenewegen unhitched within mere kilometres on the receiving end of a ruthlessly sustained pace.
Looking vibrant and energetic, and somehow more unified than the rest, even that opinion-dividing colour clash of Bianchi celeste bikes and yellow and black kits failed to dampen the sheen of inevitable victory. They acquired said sheen at around seven kilometres and carried it for the remaining twenty-odd.
Pre stage, I must admit, I’d had my doubts about Jumbo Visma’s professionalism following the glory of stage one.
“There he is,” announced ITV’s Ned Boulting, as Teunissen warmed up pre-stage, “our race leader. He’ll be wearing a yellow swimsuit today.”
Oh no, I thought, this new found fame has gone to his head. A swimsuit? Are we talking budgie smugglers or trunk shorts? Surely not an Eddy Merckx themed mankini? What does he think he is, a triathlete?
I’d misheard, of course.
I called my swiftly banished children back in to the room and allowed them to watch the appropriately pre-watershed conclusion after all. The stage win, by twenty seconds from Ineos, was duly delivered.
But what of Thibaut Pinot, our loose-limbed free-spirited French hope?
Well, the relaxation and pre stage Bardet impressions worked beautifully; losing thirty seconds to Jumbo Visma, and a mere twenty to Ineos and their Thomas/Bernal double team, was an absolute result.
On a day tailor made for Pinot to lose a great chunk of time he did nothing of the sort.