It was a case of Chris Froome on fire has won the mountain time trial of the Tour de France. There was no stopping the maillot jaune as he won the stage by 21 seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin; with Richie Porte in third place 33 seconds back.
Sallanches to Megève comprised the second and final individual time trial of the 2016 Tour de France, and it was set to be quite a revealing one; especially for the GC contenders. 17km in length, with the climb averaging 5.4% in gradient, with sections kicking up to 10-11% in the early stages. Despite the downhill final section the finale was the most dangerous with a very technical turn in the final kilometre that over the course of the day would bring down a couple of riders.
With riders starting in reverse order it was interesting to see how those further down the GC would fare. Unlike the individual time trial in stage 13, this stage would much more likely be won by one of the top ten; it was just a question of which. Chris Froome went in as one of the clear favourites, given his strong condition, but much was expected of the finding-form Richie Porte. Much would be needed of other riders though, with the likes of Nairo Quintana needing a great ride to stay in contention overall. Riders such as Fabio Aru and Daniel Martin needed to produce a strong ride if they were to hold their positions in the overall standings.
Dumoulin destroys early field
There were a number of strong riders in the early stages of the race with Nelson Oliveira of Movistar set a time of 32.29mins to overhaul the earlier best time of Nicolas Edet of Cofidis. But with just over 100 riders in there were two names who stood head and shoulders above the rest. Jerome Coppel of IAM Cycling was the first to go under 32 minutes. He stopped the clock in 31.58mins, before Ion Izagirre of Movistar bettered that with best times at the second and third time checks. After initially being 6 seconds down on Coppel, Izagirre overturned that deficit to finish the stage in 31.46mins.
Tom Dumoulin of GIANT-Alpecin would be one of the most interesting riders to watch. The Dutch national time trial champion went out of the start house with time trial bike, aerodynamic skin suit, the full nine yards. This was in stark contrast to many of the other riders who had opted to ride road bikes with some adding aero bars or even disk wheels on the back. Dumoulin’s intent was clear, a third stage win was on the cards.
Meanwhile while Tom Dumoulin was out on course, another rider setting a strong pace was Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal who was up on the time of Jerome Coppel at the first time check, and 2 seconds faster than Izagirre at the second time check. Vincenzo Nibali was another rider to leave early compared to the GC challengers; but he too could pose a threat to the stage win. Nibali left with road bike and aero bars, with a disc wheel on the back; a signal of intent perhaps.
Dumoulin though was flying. The Dutch national champion passed through the first time check 12 seconds up, and the second time check almost 30 seconds up on De Gendt; and just before passing the second time check he passed AG2R La Mondiale’s Jan Bakelants who started 2 minutes ahead of him. Thomas De Gendt came towards the finish line, knowing that it would be very close to see whether he would get the better of Izagirre, he succeeded though, bettering Izagirre’s time by just 1 second to sit in the provisional hot seat. But he didn’t last for long at the top as Tom Dumoulin stopped the clock just shy of breaking 31 minutes. 31.04mins was a brilliant time and set down a major gauntlet for even the best climbers to follow.
Nibali, still out on the course, went through the 10km time check in 19.49mins; provisional 6th place for the time being, but with 7km still to go. Nibali careered around the final kilometre or two, taking a couple of risks to stop the clock in 5th place provisionally, 1.02mins down on Dumoulin; with a number of the stage contenders still to come.
GC contenders do battle
Daniel Martin and Fabio Aru were the first two major GC contenders to get underway. It was interesting to note the choice of equipment for each of the GC contenders as they set out on the road. Richie Porte of BMC Racing opted for clip on aero bars on his road machine, as did Fabio Aru.
Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale opted for more of a time trial rig set up as did Nairo Quintana who was a picture of poise and focus as he got set for his race against the clock. Adam Yates opted for the TT machine, with no disc wheel – like Quintana
Up the road Fabio Aru was riding a very strong race against the clock in the early stages, just 16 seconds behind Dumoulin. Meanwhile Daniel Martin of Etixx-Quick Step was pedalling a relatively fast cadence, stopping the clock 53 seconds down on Dumoulin in 7th place for now at the second time check.
Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo decided to go for a road bike option, with clip on aero bars and a disc wheel at the back; while the final rider to go, clad in yellow opted for a time trial rig as well. Chris Froome’s bike came completed with disc wheel at the back and tri-spoke wheel at the front; even more aerodynamic than Dumoulin.
Richie Porte of BMC Racing was flying in the initial stages, going 9 seconds quicker than Dumoulin at the first time check. Fabio Aru was also on form, 23 seconds down on Dumoulin at the second time check, but losing no time to Daniel Martin. At the finish line Roman Kreuziger of Tinkoff posted a good time to place 6th provisionally with 32.03mins. At the 10km mark Richie Porte had dropped a little bit of time to Dumoulin, now sitting second on the stage at 8 seconds time difference; but he continued to look very strong.
Louis Meintjes’ time was a good one at the finish line, crossing the line in 31.51mins; 3 seconds slower than Joaquim Rodriguez and good enough for 5th for now. Back down the road Adam Yates was riding well, third fastest at the first time check; and looking very confident. The same could be said for Romain Bardet who went through the 10km time heck in 19.23; slower than only Fabio Aru for now in the GC battle.
Could Froome bounce back from early time loss?
Daniel Martin finally crossed the finish line in 32.11mins, 20 seconds behind Louis Meintjes, with whom he’d swap places on the general classification. If Daniel Martin wasn’t having a sublime race against the clock, the problems were compounding for Nairo Quintana, who went through the first time check in 12.20mins, way down on Adam Yates, Richie Porte, Joaquim Rodriguez, Fabio Aru et al. At the second time check he went through in 19.52mins, 1.02mins back on Dumoulin; confirming that he was very much out of sorts.
Bauke Mollema went through the first time check in 15th place, 35 seconds down on Porte’s time, while Chris Froome was having a good time, though not a great one. Froome was fifth fastest at the first time check, 23 seconds down on his former teammate Richie Porte. Adam Yates passed through checkpoint 2 in 7th place, in 19.30mins; showing a good pair of wheels. Meanwhile Richie Porte continued to look confident and powerful as he passed 2km to go. Tom Dumoulin looked a little nervous as he watched Richie Porte but he calmed as Porte closed in on the finish line to stop the clock in 31.16 mins; a time that would surely see him advance up the GC.
Down the mountain Chris Froome looked comfortable, knowing that he was definitely doing enough to maintain his lead, but how much time would he gain or lose, and could he pull back 23 seconds? At the second time check he gave an answer as he closed quite significantly to within 10 seconds of the time of Tom Dumoulin, matching the time of Richie Porte. Importantly though while Porte was beginning to lose ground on Dumoulin at this point, Froome was starting to close the gap.
Nairo Quintana had had a bad day on the bike, as he closed in on the finish it was clear he was going to lose more ground to Froome, stopping the clock in 31.53mins, 9th place for the time being. Adam Yates took full advantage in his white jersey, riding a reasonably strong time trial. In the final kilometre he navigated the final couple of turns safely to stop the clock in 32.06mins; slower than white jersey rival Louis Meintjes and slower than Nairo Quintana.
The day was beginning to look like it would belong to Chris Froome though, as he went through the third time check he found himself 13 seconds faster than Tom Dumoulin and 22 seconds up on Richie Porte; and looking likely to take the stage, his first of this year’s Tour. For Bauke Mollema though it was, as for Quintana, a stage to forget. The Trek-Segafredo rider stopped the clock in 32.08mins, just behind Adam Yates; with just the maillot jaune to finish.
Chris Froome flew threw the final kilometre, pushing for 80kph. He finally stopped the clock in 30.43mins; taking the stage in emphatic fashion to win the stage by 21 seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin. After crossing the line Froome punched the air in satisfaction, while Dumoulin could only shrug his shoulders after having sat in the hot seat for so long; only to be denied at the last.
The result meant that the general classification actually didn’t change for the top six overall. However, the gap between Adam Yates in third and Richie Porte in sixth is now just 43 seconds as the mountain stages continue.
For Kiwis Greg Henderson of Lotto Soudal and George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo, it was not stage honours that was the objective as much as it was survival, with Henderson’s next major objective being the final stage in Paris; where he will support teammate André Greipel. Henderson went through the first time check in 13.37. George Bennett went significantly faster though in 12.41mins; just up on Michael Albasini of Orica-BikeExchange. Bennett’s time at the second time check was 21.22mins while for Henderson it was 22.07mins; faster than Ian Stannard and slower than Matt Hayman. At the third time check at 13.5km George Bennett was just 7 seconds slower than the time of Tony Martin of Etixx-Quick Step while Greg Henderson was still just ahead of Stannard. At the finish line George Bennett stopped the clock in 34.37mins, just shy of the time of Michael Matthews of Orica-BikeExchange. 36.06mins for Greg Henderson gave him a time just 6 seconds up on teammate and team sprinter André Greipel.