WHEN Sir Bradley Wiggins won last year's tour he owed a lot to Team Sky's dominance in the mountains.
However it was his performances in the
Individual Time Trials that were arguably the main reason for his success.
Wiggins took a total of 1.51 out of Chris Froome in last years two stages,
over half of his final advantage.
Stage 11 sees the first of this year's
tests against the clock and Froome will be hoping to emulate his team mate
by putting major time gaps into his rivals.
The route is straight out of the minds
of the French Tourist Board. Travelling 33km it heads from Avranches in
Normandy to the second most visited tourist attraction in France, Mont-Saint-Michel.
It is an almost flat route and the biggest
natural threat to the riders could be cross or headwinds.
Froome will go into it defending a 1.25
lead over Movistar's Alejandro Valverde but he will be expecting to stretch
that advantage somewhat. Valverde is not the best time-triallist in the
world and this course will not suit him.
Of the other GC contenders it will be
interesting to see how Alberto Contador goes. He has won a Tour time-trial
before in 2009 the past but admitted that his legs weren't the best over
the weekend. He will have had two days to recover though so won't be too
far off the pace but I do expect him to lose more time to Froome. That
said he should still move up the standings.
Bauke Mollema is an interesting one.
Currently third in the overall standings he isn't bad against the clock.
In the recent Tour de Suisse he finished second overall after a great ride
in the final ITT. He could well move ahead of Valverde after this stage.
The man who beat him in that time trial
and to the Suisse title was Rui Costa. The Portuguese man is currently
10th, 2.45 down on Froome and 1.20 on Valverde. It is not inconceivable
he could catch Valverde in the overall standings.
Roman Kreuziger has looked one of the
strongest men at this race and could have been higher in the GC had he
not followed team orders and helped Contador through the mountains. A former
U19 World Champion at this event, he will be able to post a decent time,
which could move him into a podium position.
Also don't count out the BMC duo of
Cadel Evans and Tejay Van Garderen either. Both lost time in the Pyrenees
but both, if they have recovered enough, can set good times.
Of course the time-trial is not just
about the overall positions. Their will be a battle for the stage win and
the white jersey for best young rider.
It is currently on the shoulders of
Nairo Quintana with the young Colombian holding a 1.23 lead over Michael
Kwiatkowski. Behind these stand Romain Bardet at 5.07 and Andrew Talansky
at 7.33. Thibault Pinot is next but he is over 29 minutes down.
Quintana can time-trial as can Kwiatkowski,
although the young Pole just about has the advantage. It will mean he should
close the gap and could herald a very interesting contest moving into the
Alps. Both could feature in the top 10 here, definitely the top 20. Talansky
is a good time trialler but has not looked on form so far this tour. He
will need some effort to get close to the jersey.
For the stage win you would be hard
pushed to look beyond Tony Martin. The Omega Pharma Quickstep man is the
current World Champion at this discipline and the course will suit him.
He suffered a big crash on stage one but has been quietly nursing his wounds
for a week now and I still see him as the big favourite.
Outsiders for a Top 10 finish on the
stage will be Sylvain Chavanel, Peter Velits and Maxine Monfort.
Individual Time Trials, or the Race
of Truth as it is sometimes known, is where the big technological advances
in cycling have been most keenly noticed.
Specialist machines and solid disk wheels
were already in use when American Greg Lemond arrived at the Tour in 1989.
Wearing an aero helmet and with triathlon
bars attached to his machine he managed to overturn a 50 second deficit
to Laurent Fignon in the final stage, winning by just 8 seconds, the smallest
winning margin in history.
Just five years later Chris Boardman
arrived with his Lotus Carbon Fibre machine that had steered him to Olympic
glory in Barcelona.
From then on advances have been made
in every aspect, from the machine itself to the specialised skinsuits of
the athletes. Sky for example have spent hours in the wind tunnel perfecting
the perfect suit, looking at everything from the material to where the
stitching should go.
Sky have even used the wind tunnel to
help modify and improve Froome's position on the bike, anything to eke
out a few more seconds.
But despite all these changes it still
boils down to one thing. You against the clock. Speeds reached are incredibly
fast, the average speeds for both of Wiggins victories in last years Tour
was 48.4 kph and 50.0 kph.
Speeds will be high again, especially
if the wind is behind the riders as forecast. Riders adopt the most aerodynamic
position possible and will rarely be seen out of the saddle. The smoother
the pedal stroke the quicker they go. Or so the theory has it!
Expect many changes in the overall standings today and even more advances in the next few years.