Beware the TTT, they said. It was a slippery banana skin at the end of an obstacle-laden first week. Yet despite the truncation of some teams and the efforts of the first week, the stage 9 team time-trial from Vannes to Plumelec didn’t throw up any significantly surprising gains.
Aside from BMC Racing Team, which squad will be sat on the plane to the Pyrenees feeling most chuffed with their ride?
I’d wager it’ll be IAM Cycling. The Swiss squad rode a cohesive and fast time-trial, holding the best time for a while. Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana squad only edged them out of the hot seats by three seconds.
Ultimately, they placed sixth, just 35 seconds behind BMC Racing Team. The performance put them ahead of the likes of Etixx-Quick Step, Cannondale-Garmin and Trek Factory Racing.
Team time trialling is not just about having powerful, able individuals; it’s ensuring that they divide the effort and pace-sharing duties right and stay together. Go too fast, the pace is uneven and you risk splitting the team or gapping the fifth man. Go too slow and you end up not emptying the collective tank and getting the best result possible.
You can trust the Swiss to be precise. While you may not be able to pick many IAM riders out of a line-up, they nailed their ride, led by Sylvain Chavanel.
“We look anything but ridiculous after this time trial,” Chavanel said afterwards. “We managed our effort very well and no one rode stronger than the other… we are left with very few regrets."
As a result, their GC contender, Matthias Frank, sneaked into the top 20 overall, sitting four and a half minutes down on Froome after shipping considerable time on stages 2 and 3. The 28-year-old will be happy to just get to the first rest day: during IAM Cycling’s Tour debut last year, he crashed out at the end of the first week, fracturing his femur.
That was an ignominious race for the nascent squad, and they've been flying under the radar so far this time round. But going on this terrific TTT, the 2015 race could be a very different story.
2015 Tour de France: Top Banana Winners
Stage 1: Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team)
Stage 2: Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Stage 3: Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal)
Stage 4: Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
Stage 5: Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step)
Stage 6: Perrig Quemeneur (Team Europcar)
Stage 7: Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team)
Stage 8: Cannondale-Garmin
Rouleur's Top Banana is awarded after every 2015 Tour de France stage. It goes to an unsung hero who has caught the eye or deserves recognition for his efforts, rather than necessarily the stage winner or the most attacking rider.