Thor Hushovd, who began the 2011 Tour de France yesterday in the world champion's rainbow stripes and rode today's team time trial in the polka dot jersey, will wear the maillot jaune tomorrow as the new overall leader following a gripping team time trial at Les Essarts. Hushovd's Garmin-Cervelo team won by just 4 seconds from BMC Racing, with Team Sky in third place just a fraction of a second behind. For the second day in a row, Alberto Contador had a torrid time, ceding more than 20 seconds to GC rivals such as Andy Schleck. Britain has two riders in the top four overall, with David Millar second and Geraint Thomas fourth.
It was an afternoon when there was very little to separate the best teams in this discipline - after 23km of racing around the town of Les Essarts, only 5 seconds separated the top five teams, all of them mindful that a win today would almost certainly see one of their riders get into the yellow jersey.
Occupying the last place in the team classification following the crashes that marred the closing kilometres of yesterday’s Stage 1 and cost Contador around a minute and a quarter on his main rivals, Saxo Bank-SunGard found themselves in the unenviable position of having to start first and therefore had no time to aim at.
The Danish outfit went through the first intermediate time check, taken after 9 kilometres, in 9 minutes 13 seconds, and at the second checkpoint at 16.5km, their time was 17 minutes.
With riders being shelled out the back as Contador and the Australian Richie Porte drove hard to keep the pace high, the team somehow managed to get five men together across the line in Les Essarts for a time of 25 minutes 16 seconds.
They looked ragged in the closing kilometres, however, and it was clear that stronger teams, better drilled in the time trial, would go much faster. So it proved, with the 6th team out, Rabobank, going 3 seconds faster than Saxo Bank at both the first and second time checks, but putting in a time 16 seconds quicker at the finish.
Garmin-Cervelo were one of a handful of teams to have specifically targeted the stage win and to have ridden the course multiple times as a dress rehearsal.Faster than Rabobank through all three checkpoints, Hushovd, wearing the polka dot jersey in place of overnight race leader Philippe Gilbert, whose win yesterday also put him top of the poinst and mountains classifications, led the team across the line to set a new fastest time of 24 minutes 48 seconds, some 12 seconds up on the Dutch outfit.
Behind them, Geraint Thomas, in the best young rider’s white jersey, led Team Sky off the start ramp, Bradley Wiggins and Edvald Boasson Hagen respectively in the British and Norwegian national champions’ colours slotting in behind the Welshman.
The British ProTeam swept through the first intermediate time check 1 second ahead of the previous best time set by Garmin-Cervelo, but by the second checkpoint they were 4 seconds down on the American outfit and it was clear that it was going to be a close run thing.
Inside the closing kilometre, the Team Sky squad was down to six riders with Ben Swift holding on desperately at the back, but Thomas’s hopes of becoming only the fifth Briton, and the first from Wales, to wear the maillot jaune were dashed as they crossed the line 4 seconds down on the time posted by Garmin-Cervelo.
Behind them, two of the other favourites for the day had embarked on the stage, Radioshack setting the fifth quickest time at the first intermediate check while further back, HTC Highroad who had hopes of getting Tony Martin into yellow, hit a problem as Bernard Eisel hit the deck early on, watching his team mates speed off up the road as he remounted.
Radioshack finished with the third quickest time at that point but minutes later were pipped to that position by HTC, who lost their shape in the closing hundred metres or so as Mark Cavendish led the charge for the line. Had they been able to count on Eisel’s services throughout, they might well have prevailed today.
Just three more teams were left out on the road now – Leopard Trek, including Fabian Cancellara in the rainbow skinsuit that the four-time world time trial champion has made his own, BMC Racing, whose Cadel Evans sported the green jersey as a result of finishing second behind Philippe Gilbert yesterday, and finally Omega Pharma-Lotto with the maillot jaune himself.
With the Belgian team going through the first time check in 16th position, it was already clear that the race leader’s jersey would be changing hands, though its destination remained, for now, unclear.
Leopard Trek were next to put Garmin-Cervelo and Sky under pressure but just missed out on beating their times time despite a huge effort from Cancellara, and behind them only BMC now had the chance to better Garmin-Cervelo's benchmark.
Evans has possessed a 3-second advantage over Hushovd at the start of today’s stage, eand while BMC squeezed into second place just a fraction of a second behind Sky, it wasn’t quite enough for the Australian to get into the maillot jaune for the third time in a Tour de France. Doubtless he will have other opportunities to do so in this year’s race.
It remains to be seen how exactly Contador’s travails yesterday and today will change the complexion of the race once it heads into the Massif Central next week and the Pyrenees and Alps after that. Last year, the 39 seconds Andy Schleck lost through that infamous dropped chain incident was the same as the gap between the pair by the time the race finished in Paris. This evening, however, Contador is 1 minute 38 seconds behind the man most see as his closest rival.
Assuming Schleck and other overall contenders simply mark Contador over the coming stages, the onus will very much be on the defending champion to attack in the mountains to try and make up the time he has lost, let alone gain any kind of advantage.
The flipside of that coin is that his Saxo Bank-SunGard team is likely to have to do a disproportionate amount of work in seeking to bring back any attacks from his rivals, which will exact a toll on those riders and may well leave the Spaniard isolated, perhaps increasingly so as the race progresses.
While in May’s Giro d’Italia, Contador put the competition to the sword on the climbs on his way to the maglia rosa, the quality of the field he faces this month, lack of time bonuses in this race and possible after-effects of riding both Grand Tours mean that he now has his work cut out if he is to become the first man since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win the Giro and Tour in the same year have been dealt a blow.
We won’t know until three weeks today when the prizes are dished out on the Champs Elysees podium how influential this weekend’s events have been on the outcome of the 2011 Tour de France.
However, those who believe that Contador should not have been racing pending the outcome of the appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport next month will this evening have some cause for experiencing some degree of schadenfreude at how his race has gone so far.
Contador wasn’t the only Spaniard to lose out again today. Samuel Sanchez, fourth overall last year and also held up behind yesterday’s crashes, lost nearly a minute more than his compatriot in a discipline that is never one of the stronger suits of his Euskaltel-Euskadi team – they finished last today, 1 minute 22 seconds down on the winners.
Tour de France Stage 2 Result (TTT)
1 GARMIN - CERVELO 24' 48"
2 BMC RACING + 00' 04"
3 SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 04"
4 LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04"
5 HTC - HIGHROAD + 00' 05"
6 RADIOSHACK + 00' 10"
7 RABOBANK + 00' 12"
8 SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 00' 28"
9 ASTANA + 00' 32"
10 OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 00' 39"
11 FDJ + 00' 46"
12 EUROPCAR + 00' 50"
13 AG2R LA MONDIALE + 00' 53"
14 QUICK STEP + 00' 56"
15 LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 57"
16 SAUR-SOJASUN + 01' 02"
17 LAMPRE - ISD + 01' 04"
18 KATUSHA + 01' 04"
19 MOVISTAR + 01' 09"
20 VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 01' 15"
21 COFIDIS + 01' 20"
22 EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 01' 22"
Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 2
1 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO 5h 06' 25"
2 MILLAR David GARMIN - CERVELO + 00' 00"
3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 01"
4 THOMAS Geraint SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 04"
5 GERDEMANN Linus LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04"
6 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04"
7 CANCELLARA Fabian LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04"
8 HAGEN Edvald Boasson SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 04"
9 QUINZIATO Manuel BMC RACING + 00' 04"
10 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04"
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