12/07 - Stage 9 (TTT) - Vannes to Plumelec - 28 km

The route
This is the last day in the first block of racing before the rest day. It’s been an extremely hard start to the Tour de France this year. Everybody is tired. Therefore, we can expect much bigger time differences than usually in the team time trials.

From the start in Vannes, the first couple of kilometers take place in the town with a few difficult corners to tackle. As the teams get on to Avenue de Verdun, the following 4.5 km are pretty much straight-out. With just a couple of gentle bends, the riders with big engines will be able to set a high pace. The riders enter Saint-Avé with 19 km to go. Here, they turn right in a roundabout starting on the first ascent of the day. Soon after, they reach the intermediate time check.

The road continues to rise with about 3-4 % for a couple of kilometers. The riders stay on D126 for the majority of the remaining part of the stage. There are barely any corners. A cross/tailwind will make for a fast pace, even on the climbs.

After a short descent, the riders start to climb again towards the second intermediate time check of the day. The following kilometer kicks up with 4-5 %. Then, it evens out a bit before the road kicks up again with 5 % on the last few hundred meters before the top. Afterwards, it’s downhill for about 4 km.

The last part of the descent is very fast. The riders storm into Cadoudal with just 2 km left to go. After turning right, crossing the water, it’s uphill all the way towards the finishing line with an average gradient of 6.2 %. It starts out steep at the beginning. Then, it gets easier before the gradients rise again as the riders start on the last kilometer. Turning right in the hairpin corner, the last few hundred meters have an average gradient of just over 2 %. The riders who took part in Grand Prix Plumelec-Morhiban know this finish very well. It’s the same climb the French one-day race uses on its final circuit. Fun fact. The winner this year was Alexis Vuillermoz, while his AG2R teammate Romain Bardet set the current Strava KOM.

The most important thing today is to balance your effort. If you go too hard on the climbs, you risk losing the heavy riders, who are meant to pull on the flat parts. You can’t afford to be too fast on the first part either, if that leaves your climbers unable to pull on the ascents. It requires a strong team and a very clever sports director in the car to win this stage.

The favorite
I have kept this category singular today. BMC is really the only top favorite to win this stage. They still have all nine riders in the race and all nine of them are very good against the clock. The American team is the current TTT world champion and much will have to go wrong if they don’t clock the best time in Plumelec Sunday afternoon. The riders and staff know they are the top favorites today and usually, they perform quite well under pressure. This is a very important stage for all the GC contenders. Tejay Van Garderen may not be able to follow the best climbers in the high mountains. He needs to gain time on them today. So far, the Tour has been perfect for him. If he can get a head start before taking on the Pyrenees, it would be of huge importance for his chances of making the podium in Paris. BMC won the undulating TTT in Dauphiné last month with a very similar team. I expect them to do the same thing today.

The other contenders
If something happens to BMC, I see Team Sky as the first team in line to take the win. They have a very good team for this course with the right mix of specialists, rouleurs and climbers. Despite having the yellow jersey for a few days, Team Sky doesn’t seem to have used too much unnecessary energy. A good performance today may give you a bigger time advantage than a good day in the mountains will do. Therefore, Chris Froome knows he has to distance his main rivals as much as possible. Team Sky won the TTT in Tour de Romandie in April but they were disappointing in both Giro d’Italia (9th) and Dauphiné (6th). So far, Froome has been very strong. Obviously, he would like to keep the yellow jersey. However, it won’t be a disaster if Van Garderen takes it - as long as Froome gain time on Contador, Nibali and Quintana.

Movistar has an incredibly strong team for this stage. Alex Dowsett, Adriano Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo are all national champions against the clock. Alejandro Valverde is a former Spanish ITT champion and Gorka Izagirre and Nairo Quintana are also able to do very well on a hilly course. Movistar has won the team time trial in Vuelta a España a couple of times within recent years. They have a very homogeneous team. However, both Dowsett and Anacona crashed hard earlier in the race. Quintana too has been down. If the Spanish squad is to compete for a top3 position today, they need all nine riders to bring their A-game. 

Another team who looks extremely strong on paper is Astana. Everybody except for Scarponi has won a time trial in their career. The Kazakh team always performs well in this discipline. However, so far in the race, they haven’t been as strong as last year. It may be a part of a bigger plan of saving energy for today but seeing how Vincenzo Nibali lost terrain on Mur de Bretagne, it will be a surprise if Astana ends up winning this stage. Top3 is definitely within their reach but to beat Team Sky and especially BMC, it will require something extra. Something they haven’t shown yet.

Two days ago, Etixx - Quickstep seemed like the only team able to challenge BMC. After losing Tony Martin their chances of winning more or less vanished, though. Their main priority in this year’s Tour de France was the first 9 days of racing. They have won three stages and had the yellow jersey but they have also worked very very hard. Rigoberto Uran hopes to surprise and do a good GC. To help him do that, Etixx will have to do well today. They still have numerous good time trialists on the team but without a world-class specialist like Martin, I can’t see them win this one.

Usually Tinkoff-Saxo performs very well in this discipline but compared to the other teams, it’s hard to see Alberto Contador gain time today. In the Giro d’Italia, the team might have won without the communication mix-up. This time, however, they don’t have big engines like Chris Juul Jensen and Manuele Boaro to count on. Rafal Majka isn't exactly a reinforcement for time trial. Peter Sagan is strong but he has spent a lot of energy chasing stage wins and points for the green jersey in the first eight stages. If everything works out, Tinkoff-Saxo may be able to make top3 but I seriously doubt they will get close to winning.

My personal super joker today is IAM Cycling. Looking at each rider, the Swiss team could be the big revelation. They finished 6th in the TTT in the Giro two months ago but with a team not nearly as strong as the one they bring to the Tour. With Sylvain Chavanel (multiple national ITT champion), Stef Clement (silver medalist in European Games ITT), Jérome Coppel (current French ITT champion) and the former hour-record holder Matthias Brändle, IAM Cycling might be able to challenge the top teams for a podium place. It won’t be easy but to me, it won’t be a surprise either.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv. To see the complete starting order click here.

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