All right, fair warning, this is gonna be a little free-form, and I'm not positive it's gonna end up making sense. But let's try it out.
I started to write a comment in the Andy Schleck thread about his non-participation in the upcoming TDF, crunching the numbers for kilometers against the clock in the Tour and the Vuelta to follow. Made me want to go back and look at Grand Tour chrono performances over the last, let's say
five four (I'm sleepy and I need to go to bed) years, and see how each podium has done in the one element of stage racing we seem to be all about these days.
2012 Giro d'Italia
Winner: Ryder Hesjedal
Second: Joaquim Rodriguez, +16"
Third: Thomas De Gendt, +1'39"
Total distance in individual time trials: 30.9km
Total distance in team time trial: 33.2km
Stage 1 - 8.7km ITT. Hesjedal +29" to stage winner, Rodriguez +43", De Gendt +32"
Team time trial - Hesjedal's team wins the stage, Rodriguez's team is +5", De Gendt's is +1'10"
Stage 21 - 28.2km ITT. Hesjedal +1'09" to stage winner, Rodriguez +1'56", De Gendt +1'01"
Analysis: De Gendt is five seconds better than Hesjedal in the individual time trials, making it essentially a wash. Rodriguez is clearly a step behind, losing about a minute to both men in the ITT's. Katusha's miraculous TTT and Vacansoleil perhaps not knowing they had a GC man to ride for exactly mirrors this fate in the team race. In the end, Hesjedal is easily the strongest of the three when all three time trials are considered.
2011 Vuelta a España
Winner: Juan José Cobo
Second: Chris Froome, +13"
Third: Bradley Wiggins, +1'39"
Stage 1 - 13.5km TTT. Both Cobo's team and the team of his two podium-mates did poorly, with Sky one second the better of Geox, the two taking 20th and 21st of the 22 teams.
Stage 10 - 47km ITT. Cobo +3'02" to the stage winner, Froome +59", Wiggins +1'22"
Analysis: Cobo wasn't terribad by any means (he was 23rd in the ITT), but the Sky boys clearly outclassed him. Which should come as a shock to exactly no one. A more characteristic TTT from them and one of them probably would have won the Vuelta.
2011 Tour de France
Winner: Cadel Evans
Second: Andy Schleck, +1'34"
Third: Fränk Schleck, +2'30"
Stage 2 - 23km TTT. Both teams finish +4" to the stage winner.
Stage 20 - 42.5km ITT. Evans +7" to the stage winner, A. Schleck +2'38", F. Schleck +2'41"
Analysis: This is where the recent emphasis on the time trial started, isn't it? Cadel won this Tour in the time trial. There's no other way of putting it. He was seven seconds off the pace of the rider crowned world time trial champion later in the season, and he didn't get to soft-pedal the mountain stages to save his legs. Cadel was arguably the best time trialist in the entire Tour.
2011 Giro d'Italia
Winner (in the record books): Michele Scarponi
Second: Vincenzo Nibali, +46"
Third: John Gadret, +3'54"
Total distance in individual time trials: 38.7km.
Total distance in team time trial: 19.3km.
Team time trial: Scarponi's team is +24" to the stage winner, Nibali's is +22", Gadret's is +49"
Stage 16 - 12.7km ITT uphill. Scarponi is +4" to the official stage winner Nibali, Gadret +53"
Stage 21 - 26km ITT. Scarponi is +1'28" to the stage winner, Nibali +1'18", Gadret +2'51"
Analysis: Nibali has a better reputation against the watch than Scarponi...but he may not deserve it. They were pretty much equals in the chrono at this race. Gadret is known to be an especially poor time trialist and even in the revised standings doesn't poise as much of a threat to the top step.
2010 Vuelta a España
Winner: VIncenzo Nibali
Second: Peter Velits (after disqualification of Mosquera), +3'02"
Third: Joaquim Rodriguez, +4'20"
Stage 1 - 13km TTT. Nibali's team is +10" to the stage winners, Velits' team, Rodriguez's team is +20"
Stage 17 - 46km ITT. Nibali is +1'55" to the stage winner Velits, Rodriguez is a nightmarish +6'52"
Analysis: His squad won the team time trial and he won the race's lone individual "race of truth" - tough to argue that Velits was the best chronoman in this Vuelta. Nibali was his usual solid, unremarkable self, and Rodriguez turned in the sort of ride that us convinced, at the time, that he would never ever ever have a chance at winning a Grand Tour. When he entered as race leader and dropped five minutes to his nearest overall competitor and seven minutes to the winner, in the race's lone ITT...no amount of climbing could ever make that up.
2010 Tour de France
Winner (in the record books): Andy Schleck
Second: Denis Menchov, +1'22"
Third: Samuel Sánchez, +3'40"
Prologue - 8.9km ITT. Schleck +1'09, to the stage winner, Menchov and Sánchez both +56". All rode quite poorly. For reference, Alberto Contador soundly outrode them all, at +27" to the stage winner.
Stage 19 - 52km ITT. Schleck +6'14" to the stage winner, Menchov +3'51", Sánchez +5'51". Remember this was the day that later starters faced a drastic headwind (or...something) that earlier starters didn't. Cancellara got the favorable weather and easily won the stage - only three riders were so much as inside three minutes of his time (Menchov was 11th, at nearly four minutes down), so these times aren't as ridicubad as they seem.
Analysis: None of them really lit the world on fire. Menchov's 11th place in stage 19 was probably the most impressive 11th place you'll ever see in a time trial you'll ever see (he was 30 seconds better than David Millar, nearly two minutes better than Alberto Contador, roughly three minutes the better of Lance Armstrong, Chris Horner, Ryder Hesjedal, three and a half the better of Klöden). So Cancellara was certainly the best chronoman in this Tour (he did, y'know, win both of them), while Menchov was probably the best of the GC men.
2010 Giro d'Italia
Winner: Ivan Basso
Second: David Arroyo, +1'51"
Third: Vincenzo Nibali, +2'37"
Total distance in individual time trials: 36.6km
Total distance in team time trial: 32.5km.
Stage 1 - 8.4km ITT. Basso +23" to the stage winner, Arroyo +58", Nibali +10"
Team time trial - Basso and Nibali's squad wins the stage, Arroyo's team is a whopping +2'21"
Stage 16 - 12.9km ITT uphill. Basso +1'10" to the stage winner, Arroyo +2'16", Nibali +54"
Stage 21 - 15.3km ITT. Basso +42" to the stage winner, Arroyo +1'18", Nibali +23"
Analysis: Nibali was easily the best time trialist of the three, and had Liquigas ridden with the intention of Nibali winning this Giro he may very well have done so. Basso easily outclassed the anomalous Arroyo, though.
2009 Vuelta a España
Winner: Alejandro Valverde
Second: Samuel Sánchez, +55"
Third: Cadel Evans, +1'32"
Total distance in individual time trials: 62.6km.
Stage 1 - 4.8km ITT. Valverde +18" to the stage winner, Sánchez +24", Evans +19". All finished within the top twelve.
Stage 7 - 30km ITT. Valverde +1'05" to the stage winner, Sánchez +47", Evans +1'02". All finished within the top thirteen.
Stage 20 - 27.8km ITT. Valverde +36" to the stage winner, Sánchez +5", Evans +9". All finished within the top seven.
Analysis: This was sort of a curious race, and one I'm sure tgsgirl hated - none of the top eight finishers overall won a stage. An uncharacteristically chrono-heavy Vuelta featured three legitimately good time trialists on its final podium. Valverde should feel no shame in being determined to be easily the lesser of Sánchez and Evans. While we wouldn't likely dub him as such in this day and age, Sánchez was easily the better of Evans all things considered in the Vuelta '09 time trials.
2009 Tour de France
Winner: Alberto Contador
Second: Andy Schleck, +4'11"
Third: Lance Armstrong (for now), +5'24"
Total distance in individual time trials: 56km
Total distance in team time trial: 39km
Stage 1 - 15.5km ITT. Contador +18" to the stage winner, Schleck +1'00", Armstrong +40"
Team time trial - Contador & Armstrong's squad wins the stage, Schleck's is +40"
Stage 18 - 40.5km ITT. Contador wins the stage, Schleck +1'44", Armstrong +1'29"
Analysis: This was probably Contador at his peak. He beat Cancellara in the long ITT, and in fact, of the top ten riders on this stage, six have won Grand Tour time trials at some point in their career (Cancellara, Larsson, Millar, Wiggins, Zabriskie, in addition to Contador). That's some awfully good company to be beating. It's up for debate whether he or Cancellara was the best time trialist in the whole peloton, but among the GC men? Fuggettaboutit.
2009 Giro d'Italia
Winner: Denis Menchov
Second: uh....Carlos Sastre, I guess...the standings for this race are kind of a total shit-show...+3'46"
Third: Ivan Basso, +3'59"
Total distance in individual time trials: 75km
Total distance in team time trial: 20.5km
Team time trial - Menchov's team is +38" to the stage winners, Sastre's is +49", Basso's is +40"
Stage 12 - 60.6km ITT (undulating terrain). Menchov wins the stage, Sastre is +2'18", Basso is +2'17"
Stage 21 - 14.4km ITT. Menchov skids to his Giro championship +24" on the stage winner, Sastre is +1'26", Basso is +46", although it bears mentioning that on the day they were riding for fourth and fifth places.
Analysis: Menchov is easily the strongest ITT'er of these three, and of the original podium (Danilo Di Luca, Franco Pellizotti) as well. Not really any surprise here. Basso did Sastre a bit better in the traditional time trial, but otherwise it was pretty much a wash between them.
2008 Vuelta a España
Winner: Alberto Contador
Second: Levi Leipheimer, +46"
Third: Carlos Sastre, +4'12"
Total distance in individual time trials: 59km
Total distance in team time trial: 7km
Team time trial - Contador and Leipheimer's squad is +14" to the stage winners, Sastre's is +11". Stage is realistically too short to provide for any meaningful separation in the GC.
Stage 5 - 42km ITT. Contador is +49" to the stage winner Leipheimer. Sastre is +1'30"
Stage 20 - 17km ITT, uphill. Contador is +31" to the stage winner, which again is Leipheimer. Sastre is +1'02".
Analysis: Somewhat atypical result here, as Levi was a good minute-twenty better than Contador in the two individual time trials. If Astana rode for him, he would have won the race even more handily than Contador did, but of course Levi had to be the last match burned on Angliru. This Vuelta was Astana's wrath at their Tour snub, and they exacted great vengeance with furious anger. Sastre did the best he probably could by coming in third.
2008 Tour de France:
Winner: Carlos Sastre
Second: Cadel Evans, +58"
Third: Denis Menchov, +2'10"
Stage 4 - 29.5km ITT. Sastre +1'25" to the official stage winner (Schumacher stripped of his results), Evans +9", Menchov +16".
Stage 20 - 53km ITT. Sastre +2'13" to the official stage winner, Evans +1'44", Menchov +1'34".
Analysis: Rare case of the top man on the podium being notably lesser than the other two in terms of time trial prowess. Speaks to Team CSC's herculean strength and the overwhelming importance of the Alpe d'Huez stage.
So what does it all mean?
Well, it looks like if you want to win a Grand Tour as an average-or-worse time trialist, the Vuelta's your best bet. Of the last
five four Vuelta champions, I count exactly none of them as being the best time trial rider on the podium. Of course, there's a difference between Levi bettering Contador in '08 and Froome taking time out of Cobo in the chrono in '11 - one is an all but immutable state, the other could have gone either way depending on specific form at the time. But still, and we probably expected this conclusion, the Vuelta looks to be the best stomping grounds for the non-chronomen. That's why it was so heartbreaking to see Rodriguez fall to a million pieces in that time trial in the '10 Vuelta - at the time, that appeared to be his best and very possibly only chance ever to win a Grand Tour.
The only other Grand Tours where the winner wasn't the best time trialist on the podium were either cases of his being awarded the championship in a court of law, or that his team had designated someone else to ride for. Being a domestique and still making the podium of course speaks to immense strength on its own.
The oddball is the '08 Tour, and CSC's ride in that Tour was...well, they probably could have put yellow on anyone they pleased. So if you're facing a deficiency in the time trial, you need one hell of a strong team to overcome it.
Like I said at the outset, I'm not sure this is making any coherent point, and I know I'm not reinventing the wheel with these conclusions, but this sure was interesting to research ;)