Stage 13 and after the comic drama on Mont Ventoux, it was time for the first individual time trial of the Tour on a hilly 37.5 km route from Bourg-Saint-Andéol to La Caverne du Pont-d'Arc.
Gabs prepared a special Friday treat, chocolate dessert with chestnuts. No butter and look, I know it’s been a few days and the peloton has started murmuring but you are forgiven just this once because CHOCOLATE!
I do think Gabs is having a bit of a laugh though with the addition of glacé chestnuts as a nod to the old chestnut of complaints about the lack of ‘the butter’ in the recipes. Oh Gabs, you’re such a card!
By the time we were joined by the caravan of commentary team, many riders had already completed their time trial in descending order according to the GC standings.
The ‘race of truth’ requires special bikes with extension bars, HR Giger inspired helmets, and skinsuits. All this is designed to help the rider to be as aerodynamic as possible in their attempt to beat the clock.
In recent years a lot of development has gone into the skinsuit improving a second here, a second there. Yet for all the space age breathable fabrics, experimentation with cut and contouring and hours of wind tunnel testing, what do they do to it? Pin a low-tech bib number to it.
Robbie noticed some skinsuits looked like latex. Well, you know, each to their own.
Inevitably the chaos of Mont Ventoux came up as a topic of conversation. Debate had raged over the judges’ decision to give Chris Froome the same time as Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema at the time of the stack into the moto.
Then there was the question of Froome advancing up the road on foot. Well yes, it is a bike race and not a triathlon but accepted wisdom is that you finish on a bike, in which case he did.
So yes, I agree fully with Robbie that it was the right decision to award Froome the yellow jersey. After all the crash wasn’t his fault and the judges had to acknowledge the embarrassment and humiliation of that omnishambles of a contraption laughingly called a bicycle handed to him by neutral service. In fact if he’d made it to the finish on that bike he probably deserved a time bonus of 30 seconds.
Out on the course Alexis Gougeard set the fastest time to be bettered by Maciej Bodnar. Former Hour Record holder Rohan Dennis set the fastest time until Nelson Oliveira claimed the hot seat and spent a considerable amount of time there.
Then it was Tom Dumoulin’s time to go. He was blistering on the time checks and because Oliveira had perspired so much Mattie advised him to make sure to wipe down the hot seat before he departed.
Strong winds out on the course had to be factored into the choice of which wheel to use. A full rear disc is pretty standard on the back of a time trial bike but what to put on the front?
Going double disc wasn’t even a question - riders would have been blown into the gorgeous Ardèche Gorge by the cross winds. The main choices were Tuff or spoke with variations of rim thickness in between.
While equipment is critical to the time trial, Robbie couldn’t stress more the importance of ‘dosing your efforts’. Err, that’s not legal, is it?
There were more riders to come and Sylvain Chavenel muscled his bike to the finish.
On the course Wilco Kelderman was trying to tack into the wind to avoid being swept off the road. Let that be a lesson – don’t go out on a windy time trial with a Tuff on the front.
Fabio Aru left the start house hoping to get a full service on his time trial bike from the mechanic in the team car.
To use the wheel-pizza base comparison Dan Martin went with deep pan on the back and thin crust on the front. Wasn’t a big help though.
As the start list whittled its way down to the GC contenders, all eyes were on Chris Froome and whether he could beat the 50’ 15” set by Tom Dumoulin.
Earlier the skin suit fitters were around at the Skybot team hotel measuring up Froome and he said, “make it a skinny”. Lulz ensued.
Nairo Quintana was out on the course and cut it fine, or wide I should say, on a left hander that nearly took him into the wall of a building. Quintana looked like he was over-spinning a bit on the pedals but wasn’t doing too bad a job for a pure climber and finished in 20th. Where’s there a neutral service moto when you need it...
Finally it was time for the yellow jersey to go. Froome gained time at each of the time checks to finish 01’ 03” behind Dumoulin but take second place for the stage. Froome increased his GC lead over his nearest rival Bauke Mollema to 01’ 47”. As we enter the final week of the Tour Froome is looking certain to be on top of the podium in Paris.
Presentation time was a solemn affair with respective jersey holders and the day’s winner paying their respects to the victims of the horror Bastille Day attack in Nice.