It was a critical day for the general classification at the Tour de France and Trek Factory Racing pulled out everything they had to finish in a time of 33:40 for the 28-kilomter team time trial, good enough for 11th place of 22 teams.
Trek Factory Racing was never expected to be a contender for the win, rather the goal was to limit its losses to other GC rivals, and when the final score was tallied Bauke Mollema had dropped from 10th to 16th in GC.
There was no denying it was a significant loss, however, the big mountains have yet to be tackled after nine days of racing, and Mollema has proven to have top form - anything and everything can still happen.
Bauke Mollema: “It was a really hard team time trial with this parcours and the finish on this 2km climb. It was really difficult to finish with 5 guys, but we didn’t start too fast since we knew the second part was really hard. Although we lost some time to the big teams there is a lot of GC guys behind us, so in the end I think we did a good time trial.
“At the bottom of the last climb we had 6 together and the plan was for Stijn [Devolder] to do a really long pull and that Markel [Irizar] would be the 5th guy behind Bob Jungels, Haimar [Zubeldia], Julian [Arredondo] and me, but Stijn was so strong that Markel was dropped! Then in the last 100 meters we had to wait a little for Haimar who was on the limit. I was looking behind to make sure he was not losing any space. He gave everything to the finish, as did all the guys – it was a super hard finish.”
Pre-race favorite BMC lived up to the predictions winning the event in a time of 32:15, only one second ahead of Team Sky whose effort kept Chris Froome in yellow.
The hilly team time trial was run from Vannes to Plumelec in the Bretagne heartland and began with a flat 10 kilometers where the first intermediate time check had Trek Factory Racing in 6th place, 18 seconds in arrears to IAM-Cycling.
At the second split the pinstriped team had clawed back time to move into a provisional 3rd best time, and with the tough climb to the finish (Cote de Cadoudal 1.7km, 6.2%) looming, the team had to successfully implement a strategy to cross the line with five men.
I have also experienced doing a TTT when you don’t have good legs and then it is hell to do this job.
It was important to have a clear, straightforward scheme for the tricky TTT as General Manager Luca Guercilena explained before the start:
“We will try to keep around 95% of top speed in the first 7kms and everyone stay together, with Laurent [Didier] doing more of the work in the first part. Then maintain a good tempo until 8kms to go and then begin to save Markel a little for the last climb so he can be the fifth guy. Both Stijn and Gregy we will use to do more work prior to the climb, too.”
So often with bicycle racing a pre-race strategy does not always unfold as planned, but the beauty of team sports is frequently when one member is not quite 100 percent, there always another that fills in the hole, rising to the occasion to perform beyond expectations.
Sport director Kim Andersen followed the team during the race and commented immediately afterwards: “It was hard, but also a fast parcours, and it would have been a big difference to have Fabian [Cancellara] there for this course. We were expecting Markel to be our fifth guy at the end, but he was missing a little bit on the final climb, and Stijn was just really strong and compensated. Both Bob and Stijn were really, really big forces today. It was not too bad - we were not looking for a placing, but just to not lose too much time – and when you lose 50 seconds to a team like Astana that is not bad at all.”
With the loss of Fabian Cancellara to a stage three crash, Bob Jungels, 22, had the leader role for the TTT. Jungels has shown phenomenal form of late and had little problem riding under the pressure to lead the team with a superb performance in the tough team race against the clock.
Bob Jungels: “I was feeling really good and was excited to lead the team a little bit. We knew that we could do well because it’s not an easy parcours. I had a designated leader role as one of the strongest TT guys here, and I made the start – I had to lead the first 1.5 kilometers to start the pace. We found a really good rhythm I think except a few small issues we did really well.
“I could take long pulls. I was a bit sick before, and I am still not over it, so I was really happy that I could lead the team as I did. In the end, we saw that Stijn was really strong too, and we did well.”
Stijn Devolder: “I felt all week that my condition is growing, and I did as much as possible to help Bauke this week and then save energy at the end of the stages. Today I had a really good feeling from the start already, and I just tried to give my all for Bauke again. The last uphill I gave 100% as I was the person to set it up, but then I found out I was the 5th guy and had to continue to the finish.
“On days like today it was fun, I had good legs; it was a nice feeling to help the team and Bauke. I have also experienced doing a TTT when you don’t have good legs and then it is hell to do this job.
“It was a real stressful first week and we can be happy that we are here and healthy after what you saw happened to Fabian and other riders. Now I hope that I can continue to help Bauke in the next week, especially in the mountain stages.”