Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tour de France TTT Preview - Can Tejay Take Yellow?


There’s no point in making uneducated guesses about the outcome of any sporting event, and plenty of the professional talking heads end up being wrong.  But I’ve decided to do some serious research for once, and in this post will make my predictions about tomorrow’s Tour de France team time trial.  I’m particularly focused on the question of whether the BMC Racing Team can ride well enough to put their GC rider, American Tejay van Garderen, into the yellow jersey.

Who wins the TTT?

Of course BMC is favored to win the TTT; after all, they’re the reigning world champions in this discipline, and a month ago they won the TTT in the Critérium du Dauphiné.  Tejay van Garderen and Rohan Dennis (who won the only individual time trial in this Tour) obviously have great form right now.  So I predict BMC will win, even if being right about this wouldn’t exactly make me an oracle.

As for second and third, I don’t actually care except as the Tour’s general classification is concerned.  The big question is, can BMC take the GC lead away from Team Sky’s Chris Froome? 

(By the way, when I write “Tejay” I’m not trying to imply I’m on a first-name basis with the guy.  I just can’t handle the lowercase “v” in “van Garderen” when I’m leaving off the first name.  Though this is correct, it looks funny, and I might get arguments from my bike pals.  You may have already seen the swath of rhetorical detritus this process leaves across the Internet.)

Right now Tejay is sitting third on GC, only 13 seconds behind Froome, and only 2 seconds behind Tinkoff/Saxo’s Peter Sagan.  So we need to figure BMC’s chances against Sky and Tinkoff/Saxo; if Orica GreenEdge or Astana sneaks in between these teams in the stage results, I don’t really care.

Size does matter!

My predictions will be based largely on, well, largeness.  Everybody knows that big, tall riders make the best team time trialists.  (No, I don’t mean “Big & Tall” like the clothing chain for fat people.  There are no fat Tour riders.)  So I’ve done a painstaking analysis of which of these three teams has the biggest dudes.  You ready?

Clearly, BMC is going to be the best of these three, followed by Sky.  Not only does BMC have the largest guys on average, but they’ve got the biggest guy, Swiss rider Michael Schär.  As if that kickass umlaut in his name weren’t enough, this dude stands 6’6” and weighs a whopping 172 pounds.  (I know, that’s not heavy by most standards, but for a bike racer he’s Hank the Tank.)

But wait, you’re saying.  Not all the riders need to finish with the team—the little climbers like Tinkoff/Saxo’s Rafal Majka (5’8” and 137 pounds) can get sawed off and it’s all good, since the fifth rider’s time is what matters.  Good point.  Here are the averages for the five largest riders on each team.  The ranking doesn’t change.

But wait, you protest.  This isn’t a flat TTT!  Maybe the biggest guys will struggle!  Well, you’re right about the course.  Over 28 km (17.4 miles), the riders will accumulate about 300 meters (close to 1,000 feet) of vertical gain.  Moreover, they’ll only pile up about 175 meters (~600 feet) of vertical drop, so they’ll end up with a net vertical gain of about 125 meters (~400 feet).  So, we can’t have too many lard-ass sprinter-types in the mix.  That’s why I analyzed the average body mass index (BMI) for each team as well.

No matter how you look at it, BMC will prevail, followed by Sky. 

The tougher question

We still have the thornier matter of Tejay’s chances for yellow.  To judge this, we have to look at any team with a rider close to Tejay on the GC.  Lotto Soudal has Tony Gallopin in fourth overall, just 13 seconds behind Tejay.  And those Lotto Soudal guys ... they’re huge!  As a whole, the team’s average height is just a hair above BMC’s, but their average weight is a whopping 156, fully 7 pounds higher than BMC’s.  And if we look at just the top 5 guys, we get an average of 6’2” and 172 pounds.  Huge!  Their biggest guy, Marcel Sieberg of Germany, stands 6’6” with 181 pounds of pure bike racer goodness to his credit.  (He’s André Greipel’s lead-out man ... that must be  a sweet draft.)

So, Lotto Soudal could beat BMC, right?  Well, not so fast.  We haven’t factored in BMI yet.  Remember that thing I said about having too many lard-ass sprinters in the mix?  Well, this is a sprinters’ team, built around Greipel’s bid for the green jersey.  They don’t even have a GC rider; their highest overall finisher in last year’s Tour was Tony Gallopin in 29th, and the team finished an unimpressive 15th overall.

So, how about Lotto Soudal’s BMI average?  It’s 21.8, higher than all three of the teams I looked at earlier.  Focusing on their five biggest guys, the average BMI is a whopping 22.1.  My god, that’s even higher than mine!  They’re just a bunch of oversized fast-twitch brutes!

Will those big sprint-y bodies slow Lotto Soudal down in this TTT?  Hells yeah!  In the 24.5 km TTT in the Dauphiné last month, they finished only 12th, losing almost a minute to BMC.  When it comes to this kind of race, they’re just the wrong kind of big. I don’t see Gallopin moving up on the GC tomorrow.

Moving on, let’s look some more at Tejay’s GC threats.  Fifth overall right now is Tejay’s teammate Greg Van Avermaet, who by the way is a serious powerhouse (and yes, I’d love to do a TTT with him if he promised not to drop me).  Needless to say, there’s simply no scenario where Van Avermaet (yes, for some reason his “Van” is capitalized but Tejay’s isn’t) would take time out of Tejay.  Sixth on GC after Stage 8 is Rigoberto Uran (who used to go by Rigoberto Uran Uran but he’s evidently dropped the second “Uran,” which makes me wonder if people had been calling him “Duran Duran” and he tired of it).  Uran sits 21 seconds behind Tejay.  Could his Etixx – Quick-Step team take that kind of time out of BMC?

Probably not, because Etixx – Quick-Step was only 4th in the Dauphiné TTT last month, losing 18 seconds to BMC, and that was with their star time trialist, Tony Martin, on board.  Alas, Martin crashed out of this Tour (while in yellow, no less).  With only eight riders to share the workload, and their best guy not among them, I can’t see Etixx – Quick-Step going super fast.  I’m not even going to bother analyzing the size of this team’s riders, particularly because their GC rider, Uran, is just a little fellow (5’8” and 137 pounds) and they have to hold back for him if he falters.

Finally, Alberto Contador sits 7th on GC, but (as I’ve already discussed) his team, Tinkoff-Saxo, won’t beat BMC tomorrow.  The next guy down is Warren Barguil, who is almost a minute behind Tejay, which is too much for his Giant-Alpecin to make up (even if those guys are using caffeinated shampoo).  Astana Pro Team will have a good TTT, but their top guy, Vincenzo Nibali, is over a minute and a half behind Tejay.  No way are they going that fast.

There’s just one problem

Okay, so the riders behind Tejay in the GC are very unlikely to make up much, if any, time on him tomorrow.  And like I said, I’m pretty sure BMC will take time out of Peter Sagan’s Tinkoff-Saxo squad.  But that leaves one big problem:  Team Sky’s Chris Froome.  Sky is almost always good in the Tour, and the time gaps in this TTT probably won’t be that huge.  In the Dauphiné TTT, Astana lost by only four seconds, with Movistar only one second further back.  Tomorrow’s race, though hillier than the Dauphiné TTT, is only a couple kilometers longer, so 13 seconds is a pretty tall order. 

We can also look at the TTT in the 2013 Tour, which was 25 km in length.  It was also incredibly close, with the top three teams within three seconds of one another.  Moreover, in that TTT, Sky (with their third-place finish) took 23 seconds out of BMC (who finished a surprisingly poor 9th).

What’s that, you ask?  How did Sky do in the recent Dauphiné TTT?  Great question.  They totally choked!  They lost 35 seconds to BMC, a deficit which almost cost Froome the GC victory.  Could that happen again?

Well, Sky’s Dauphiné team has almost all the same riders as their Tour team.  But three of them—Wout Poels, Ian Stannard, and Luke Rowe—got dropped early in the Dauphiné TTT, which torpedoed Sky’s ride.  You think they’re gonna let that happen again?  No way.


So where does all this leave us?  BMC will win the TTT, but Froome will keep the yellow jersey, by the skin of his teeth.  Tejay will move up on the GC, but only to second place.

I hope I’m wrong!  Who knows, maybe Tejay and his boys will get ‘er done.  Watch this space ... I’ll be posting a biased blow-by-blow account here on albertnet, first thing tomorrow morning.  SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!  BE THERE!

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