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Tour Preview: Stage TTTwo

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Brussels - Brussels, 28km

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Stage two sees the Tour repeat the stage one dose of “Brussels and environs loop” but that’s about the end of the similarities. The second of three days in Belgium is a team time trial over 28 mostly flat kilometres, from the Royal Palace to Atomium.

If you read our draft of stages, you’ll know that Conor picked this stage as the fifth most exciting, in the second round. He said that “Any stage where it is possible, even likely that the Ineos riders will take a minute or more on their rivals in the first week, striking a practical and psychological blow that will have lasting consequences is a stage that cannot be left…This stage won’t be the fifth-most exciting but I will be watching to see what the damage will be. Of course, you’ll also know that Shawn described it as “Not only a TTT but a TTT that wastes a day in Belgium.” There’s truth in both statements.

Let’s get the practicalities out of the way first. It isn’t the flattest or straightest of TTT courses, but there isn’t anything in there that should make a massive difference to anyone. The weather is scheduled to be a non-factor and there shouldn’t be an advantage to being early or late down the ramp. No, this one will come down to team cohesion and power, plus a degree of crash-avoidance and recovery from stage one.

Who wins (and by how much)?

The first thing to say is that the winning team probably won’t have a huge gap on the next couple over the line. However, the gaps are likely to appear as we move through the classification. The best starting point is probably last year’s Tour stage three, which was a marginally longer stage (at 35km) and saw the top five teams separated by just eleven seconds, but ninety or more seconds to the final seven teams across the line. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect something similar here.

I miss these guys
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There are a few riders who’ll be struggling to stay with their teams, and that’s the biggest risk for any of the GC hopefuls who were banged up on stage one – Jakob Fuglsang, in particular, must be hoping for healing sleep and good sensations tomorrow – but for those who do this is unlikely to be a dreadful day.

The uninjured riders who should be most worried about losing significant time are, in my opinion, Romain Bardet and (if you consider him a GC hope) Warren Barguil. I’m sure that the likes of Dan Martin and Nairo Quintana will be glad when this day is over, but in truth there’s enough TT power in most of the GC squads to keep it tight enough – by which I mean anything less than a minute.

None of that answers the question of who wins. The safe answer has always been BMC (alas, no more, and CCC don’t look the same force) or Mitchelton Scott, who I think are more of a mountains team this year. Decueninck haven’t brought all their engines, either. There are teams like Bora and EF-Education First who are showing ability, and Sunweb will I think be tomorrow’s surprise package, as they have quietly put out a team with chrono-competence throughout, and Nicolas Roche. The winner, though, will be Ineos.

If Jonathan Castroviejo really was the last man selected, this is one of several days where they’ll be grateful for him. Geraint Thomas is excellent in this format (as befits a gold-medal winning team pursuiter) and all six of the remainder are more than capable of taking good pulls. With no obvious injuries from day one, and a well-drilled team where all can contribute, I don’t see them being beaten.

Also, yes, well-drilled was an Ineos joke. Keep up.

Jersey Watch

Well, my predictions weren’t dreadful yesterday. Wrong, but not dreadful. Jumbo-Visma did indeed grab their first win, but it was the Tuna super-sub that took it. With Groenewegen apparently struggling and then being involved in a crash, his erstwhile leadout man Mike Teunissen took the stage and will be in a different shade of yellow tomorrow. Peter Sagan finished second and will wear green on Tuna’s behalf, whilst Caleb Ewan finished third and leads the white jersey competition. I was also right to call a Belgian polka-dot wearer, but picked the wrong man. Greg van Avermaet will don the spotted jersey, which should clash dreadfully with his gold bike.

Who saw the Big Tuna winning? Not me!
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Sunday’s stage will certainly see a shake-up, and the question is whether Jumbo can protect a ten second lead for Tuna (smaller gaps to Sagan/Bora and Ewan/Lotto Soudal). I don’t think they can. Monday should see Tuna in green, and the winning team taking white and yellow. Based on my predicted winner, let’s give the jerseys to Thomas and Bernal, with Sagz lurking uppermost of the non-Ineos riders. He could grab yellow with bonis on Monday or Tuesday.

Is it April already? Did I oversleep?
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