Though the Mûr de Bretagne did indeed prove to be decisive in the outcome of Stage 8, many are likely to have expected greater fireworks amongst those aiming to contest the overall win at the end of the three week tour of France. Alexis Vuillermoz proved to live up to expectation after Spokenforks highlighted him as a real threat for the victory on Stage 8, edging out Dan Martin for the win after the Irishman struggled to find the space to follow his attack late on. The general classification riders all crossed the line safely together, though Vincenzo Nibali did concede 20″ on the Mûr de Bretagne, despite the fact it actually eases considerably in the second half of the climb. Today’s stage is a totally different offering altogether, a Team Time Trial which many have cited as a likely turning point in the battle for the maillot jaune. Several squads have already lost riders, Orica-GreenEDGE already having had three depart 2015’s Le Tour de France; making this already attritional affair an even greater challenge.
An unexpectedly hilly course for the Team Time Trial, it is placed just ahead of the peloton’s first venture into the mountains and will have no doubt already caused anxiety to spread through the ranks. This testing discipline is hard enough to ensure that at least five riders cross the finishing line together at the best of times, but with its placing as Stage 9 and in the wake of many abandonments, we could see some teams suffer a nightmare afternoon here.
A 28km course brings the riders from their starting point of Vannes and over the rolling terrain to the day’s finish in the town of Plumelec. Its lumpy nature begins almost immediately once they have made it out of the starting gate, negotiating a moderately technical beginning, before then opening up the legs and laying down some speed on parcours which may have been underestimated in regards to the average speed of the teams here.
The first checkpoint will offer little insight as to the possible winner, positioned ahead of the first real climb, it is after this 10km marker where we will begin to gauge the strength of each team. At 4km long and averaging around 2% – 3% gradient, this extended drag should not prove too difficult on paper, but with the mission to cover this course in the fastest time possible, cracks could already begin to form. A long plateau follows this initial ascent, a good opportunity to pick up the speed and take it into the following descent which leads to the next climb and checkpoint number two. Approximately 20km will have been tackled by this point, meaning the time check here will begin to signal who exactly is flagging with almost 10km still to tackle in this race against the clock.
A short 1km climb (avg 4.2%) will be summited with 21.5km chalked up, subsequently sending the teams down a long and gradual descent which could offer recovery for some or provide more stress as riders struggle to stay together on the downhill section. The finale itself is what will have been the main focus for the riders heading into today, the 1.7km Côte de Cadoudal sustaing a tough gradient which fluctuates between 6% to 7% for the most part; it is here the stage will be decided. Even the pure climbers will find this difficult when tasked with completing this climb as rapidly as possible, ensuring that not too much time is lost here late on. The road does flatten out with approximately 200m to go, offering some possibility of a straggling last man being able to reduce any gap to his teammates before the line.
Ultimately, this stage looks underestimated in speed for the most part and the same once again in regards to the difficulty of the climb to the line. Teams will have to be incredibly well organised to ensure they cross the line with the prerequisite amount of riders to take a solid time, if they fail to do just that, then large time gaps can be expected here.
BMC enter this as the big favourites to win the stage and take the yellow jersey into the first rest day on the shoulder of Tejay Van Garderen. They are World Champions at this discipline and bring a similar squad to the one which won them the title last season into Stage 9, their alterations in personnel here are those who will cope well with this hilly terrain too. They have a huge engine in Rohan Dennis to help maintain the pace throughout the course, while team leader Tejay Van Garderen is obviously no slouch either when tasked with battling against the clock. All of this contributes to a brilliant chance of a stage win on Stage 9 for a BMC team in great shape and with no injuries right now.
Though they have been relatively quiet up to now, Movistar could possibly cause a stir here on a course which favours their climbing prowess well. They possess time trial specialists in the shape of Alex Dowsett, Adriano Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo; while riders such as Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Gorka Izagiree have a strong blend of TT skill and climbing talent to help put in a strong time here also.
Astana are often strong on this type of short, rolling team time trial and should be confident of being in the mix for the overall win on Stage 9. The Kazahk outfit have fantastic depth here, riders who are solid in time trials and are bound to only get stronger on the parcours which allow them to utilise their climbing talents to really hammer home any advantage; Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang, and Tanel Kangert being such riders who fit the mould.
Team Time Trials have not always seen Team Sky gain much in the way of rewards for their preparation and efforts ahead of such a tough discipline. Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte are a potent trio who should ensure that they do not get bogged down on the uphill sections, while the rest of the squad appear to be in good condition currently. They lack the real big engine of a time trial specialist, but the terrain will allow them to compensate for this, though the ability of riders such as Peter Kennaugh and Wout Poels to stick the pace is uncertain right now. It is unlikely he will be greatly disappointed by it, but Chris Froome looks certain to hand over the maillot jaune by the end of the day.
Albert Contador will have to limit his losses on Stage 9 as his team appear to lack the real depth of strength and specialism in this team time trial compared to the likes of Movistar, BMC and Astana. Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger are strong riders, though their potency is ailing somewhat currently, while Daniele Bennati is the closest thing they really have to a powerful engine to maintain the pace on the flatter sections. Though versatile, the Tinkoff-Saxo roster lacks enough specialist talent on Stage 9 to remain competitive and Alberto Contador could be staring at a loss to his general classification rivals by the end.
IAM Cycling and Etixx-QuickStep could both push to a podium placing with reasonably fresh squads which offer a blend of time trial riders and strong climbers to finish well on Stage 9. The former will call upon Sylvain Chavanel, Matthias Brändle and Jerome Coppel to get up to speed and then maintain this over the rolling terrain which will see some riders suffer early on. Etixx will have to look upon the likes of Rigoberto Uran and Michal Kwiatkowski to do the brunt of the work here, as with Tony Martin crashing out, they are now severally lacking in the power required to dominate Stage 9. The riders present in the squad to support Mark Cavendish in the sprints could also mean the team suffer badly here if they misjudge the pacing poorly.
BMC are the clear favourites and should win given how close the yellow jersey now is to being on the shoulders of Tejay Van Garderen. Team Sky and Astana could both mount strong efforts here and make BMC day’s a little harder than expected, though the reigning Team Time Trial World Champions should emerge victorious and in yellow. Perhaps the biggest threat on the day comes from Movistar, the Spainish team are a threatening blend of time trial specialists and mountain men who should all combine well to set a solid pace and finish strongly too.
1st BMC 2nd Movistar 3rd Team Sky