The team time trial discipline is cycling's most elusive art, requiring riders to show their combined effectiveness against the watch maybe once or twice a year. Omega Pharma-Quick Step of Belgium, led by individual time trial world champion Tony Martin, won the team event at the World Championships last fall, a title they have waited til today to actually go out and defend.
And defend it they did. For a long while.
Thundering over the streets of Nice at speeds approaching a kilometer a minute, OPQS laid down an early best time, looking to put Michel Kwiatkowski into the maillot jaune, the first Polish rider to don the yellow tunic since Lech Piasecki in 1987. But late in the day, after teams like Sky and Saxo-Tinkoff failed to topple the Belgians, it was the Australian squad who pulled it off, by a mere one second. Simon Gerrans, winner of yesterday's stage in Calvi, in equally stunning form over Peter Sagan, now takes over the race lead and the maillot jaune.
The turnaround from Saturday is remarkable. Orica-GreenEdge gained the cycling world's attention then by having its bus get stuck under the finish line, threatening to nullify or otherwise throw into chaos the Grand Depart, though fortunately the problem was solved with mere minutes to spare. Since then they've won two stages, including the glory of a team victory against the watch. A dramatic statement not only that it's time to forget about Saturday, but that this is a team to be reckoned with, at least until we reach the high mountains. They became the first Australian-registered team to ride the Tour last year, and now have brought home the first two stage wins for an Aussie squad at the Tour.
There were few dramatic moments and technical errors on this flat, relatively straight out-and-back course, apart from the finish. Occasional riders dropped off from their teams. Geraint Thomas, suffering a fractured pelvis on stage 1, stayed with Team Sky until the final kilometer. Ted King of Cannondale, suffering a separated shoulder in the same crash, could not hold the aero position and rode his road bike, dropping off his team's pace as a consequence and awaiting word as to whether he was inside the time cut.
Team Sky, led by Chris Froome, and Saxo-TInkoff, for Alberto Contador, were among the very best on the day, sneaking inside Lotto-Belisol for third and fourth places by three and nine seconds, respectively, meaning Contador lost only six seconds on the day to Froome in the shadow-boxing for ultimate Tour supremacy, to be settled in a couple of weeks. [Katusha were at 28 seconds, putting Joaquim Rodriguez at a very slight disadantage.] BMC, second at the world TTT championships, were back in the pack, 26 seconds down. Garmin-Sharp, perhaps the most consistent TTT squad over the years, finished sixth, fractions of a second behind Lotto-Belisol. Arriving last were Radioshack-Leopard-Trek and the maillot jaune of the last two days, Jan Bakelants, whose dream ride ended with a middle-of-the-pack finish, putting their leader Andy Schleck a minute down behind his overall rivals.
- Omega Pharma-Quick Step, at 0.01
- Team Sky, at 0.03
- Team Saxo-TInkoff, at 0.09
- Lotto-Belisol, at 0.17
- Garmin Sharp, s.t.
- Movistar, at 0.19
- Lampre, at 0.25
- BMC, at 0.26
- Katusha, at 0.28
- Simon Gerrans, OGE
- Darrell Impey, OGE, s.t.
- Michael Albasini, OGE, s.t.
- Michel Kwiatkowski, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, at 0.01
- Sylvain Chavanel, OPQS, s.t.
- Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky, at 0.03
- Chris Froome, Sky, s.t.
- Richie Porte, Sky, s.t.
- Nicholas Roche, Saxo-TInkoff, at 0.09
- Roman Kreuziger, Saxo-Tinkoff, s.t.
Best Young Rider
- Andrew Talansky, Garmin-Sharp, at 0.16
- Nairo Quintana, Movistar, at 0.19
- Tejay van Garderen, at 0.25