Friday, July 28, 2017

Bora-Hansgrohe Manager Backs Call for Sprint Video Referee After Sagan's Tour de France DQ

Peter Sagan is still at the Tour in spirit 
Ralph Denk, the manager of the Bora-Hansgrohe team, has backed calls for some kind of video referee to rule on dangerous riding in sprints after Peter Sagan was disqualified from this year's Tour de France.

On Thursday Philippe Mariën, the chief UCI commissaire at the Tour de France, told Het Nieuwsblad that he was in favour of adding a video referee who could watch the sprint on television and make quick, well-informed decisions.

"I'm surprised to read that Philippe Mariën has asked for the introduction of a video judge for the sprints because when we tried to show the UCI commissaires high-definition video evidence during the Tour de France that Peter Sagan did nothing wrong they weren't interested in seeing it," Denk told Cyclingnews in reaction to Mariën's comments.

Sagan was disqualified after stage 4 of this year's Tour de France in Vittel. During the sprint, Mark Cavendish attempted to come through on Sagan's right, close to the barriers, and Sagan appeared to move across and stick his right elbow out. Cavendish crashed into the barriers, fracturing his right scapula, and caused a chain reaction that brought down several other riders.

The UCI race commissaires punished Sagan for irregular riding on the stage, which was won by Arnaud Démare.

However, the team insist that the UCI jury refused to hear from Sagan or view high-definition video evidence produced by the Bora-Hansgrohe team.

"It was a fundamental decision and so they should use television and video images to take any final decision, not only rely on the human eye. They do that in other sports, so they should do it on cycling, too," Denk said

Denk was left trying to explain the UCI commissaires' decision to his team and sponsors. He says that losing Sagan cost his team and sponsors 'millions' in terms of publicity.

"It's hard to calculate but Peter was in great shape and had already won a stage. He could have won a lot more. It was a big blow to the team and to our sponsors when he was disqualified. They were obviously very disappointed and they didn't understand why. We still don't understand why," Denk said.

The German team manager went as far as appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after Sagan's disqualification but ultimately failed to convince the CAS to overturn the UCI's decision. He is still angry about the ruling but now he hopes a video referee and a better disciplinary process with input from the riders involved can be introduced.

"The UCI should use every possible piece of information to make the right decision. I hope we can change the way things are done in the future, and video footage is properly used to make any disciplinary decisions," Denk said.

"Everyone in the sport would benefit and we'd avoid future problems in the Tour de France. We have a lot of sponsors who put millions into our sport and so everyone needs to know that the rules are fair and the best possible rules.

"Look at Formula 1; when there's an incident, they can call in the pilots and they listen to them before making a decision. The UCI commissaires never spoke to Peter or even to Mark Cavendish. He didn't really blame Sagan and he was directly involved. But the UCI didn't hear his opinion. That's wrong."

Meanwhile, Sagan has said he's already forgotten about the incident, and will start the Tour de Pologne on Saturday after launching a line of his own branded clothing.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Transfer Rumors: Quintana to Sky? Aru to UAE? Sure, Why Not

Nairo Quintana's future at Movistar is unclear. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The silly season has begun in earnest.

With many of the peloton’s top stars signing contract extensions and no major team closures or arrivals for 2018, it seemed that it would be a fairly quiet transfer market this year.

Things have quickly heated up in cycling’s annual game of musical chairs.

In a Tour de France that’s seen more rumors than attacks, the biggest thing making waves Wednesday morning in the paddock was a blockbuster report out of Colombia.

Colombian radio reported that Nairo Quintana is unhappy at Movistar and wants to break his contract with one year remaining. Citing “unnamed sources,” Astana and Sky are reportedly courting the Colombian superstar.

As far as rumors go, this is a big one. First off, Movistar has Quintana under contract through 2019, and would not be keen to see its franchise rider leave easily. Most big-name rider contracts have a big buy-out clause written into the deals, so that means it would be expensive. And finally Movistar, the Spain-based telecommunications giant, uses Quintana to promote its brand in the growing South American mobile phone market.

Is Quintana leaving Movistar? Maybe, but not until he finishes out his contract through 2018.

On Wednesday, Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué told ITV’s Daniel Friebe that Quintana “is with us 100 percent for 2018.”

When VeloNews editor-in-chief Fred Dreier asked Sky principal Dave Brailsford about the Quintana transfer rumor, he laughed it off and said, “Brilliant, along with the rest of the peloton.”

“We’re a friendly team and open to all comers. I’m sure Nairo and his agent will be in touch,” Brailsford said. “Everything is for speculation at this point.”

One Sky rider at the center of all kinds of transfer speculation is Mikel Landa. The Spanish all-rounder said this week, “wherever I go, I don’t want to be the second man anymore.”

Several teams have offered deals to Landa, reportedly Trek-Segafredo, Astana, Movistar, and UAE-Emirates. Many see Landa moving to Movistar, where he would take over as the franchise rider from Alejandro Valverde and the possibly-exiting Quintana. In an interview with El País, Unzué did his best to walk the tightrope on Landa, only saying, “any team would be interested in a rider of his qualities.”

The big player this year on the rider market is UAE-Emirates, which has pulled out the checkbook for 2018. Flush with petro-dollars, the new-look team that morphed out of the separation of Lampre-Merida last season is looking to step up. Sources say the team is expanding its budget to $30 million, which would put it alongside Team Sky with the biggest budget in the peloton.

That kind of money attracts attention. La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Fabio Aru, Daniel Martin, and Elia Viviani are all linked to the expanded UAE-Emirates program for 2018. That sounds more like a wish list at this point.

Aru is said to be deep into negotiations to stay with Astana. The Kazakh-backed team will want to keep the budding Italian star in its stable, and is said to be offering a healthy contract to keep him in-house. Jakob Fuglsang will also reportedly stay with Astana.

Viviani is said to be unhappy at Sky after being left off the Giro d’Italia squad, and is shopping for a team that will give him more support in the sprints.

Martin, meanwhile, will be fetching a higher price following a breakthrough Tour de France that is confirming his grand tour capability despite being impacted by a back injury.

The key to Martin’s future is Quick-Step Floors. The entire squad at the Belgian outfit is off-contract at the end of 2018, but team boss Patrick Lefevere is quietly telling riders he has sponsors lined up to continue the team despite not publicly revealing it at this point.

Quick-Step has a bounty of quality riders, but it might not have the money to be able to keep all of them happy. Marcel Kittel, Julian Alaphilippe, and Fernando Gaviria are all demanding more money, and one of them could fly the coop if a nice offer comes along.

Katusha has penned a deal to keep promising Russian GC star Ilnur Zakarin, but the future of classics and sprint star Alexander Kristoff remains unresolved. There are rumors of Kittel moving into a Katusha jersey, but those remain unconfirmed at this point.

Another big talking point during this Tour has been the future of Alberto Contador. Trek-Segafredo sport director Stephen De Jongh told Dutch TV NOS this week that the 2017 Tour is Contador’s last one, something Contador quickly shot down.

“Right now, nothing is settled,” Contador said of his future. “People are talking just to talk.”

Trek-Segafredo wants to exercise its option to keep Contador for a second year, with talk of sending him to the Giro and perhaps a swansong Vuelta a España in 2018. Bauke Mollema, who stepped aside this year to give Contador a clean run at the Tour, wants his top GC position back for next season. The team is said to still be shopping for another GC rider for 2018.

BMC Racing has already extended its contract with Richie Porte, so it remains to be seen what happens with Tejay van Garderen. The team does not reveal the length of its rider contracts, but van Garderen is said to be shopping for a team that will assure him grand tour options. With BMC Racing firmly backing Porte for the Tour, the American might be changing jerseys for 2018.

Orica-Scott already has its trio of emerging talent firmly under contract — Esteban Chaves and Simon and Adam Yates — so what’s not known yet is the future of veteran Simon Gerrans. He was overlooked for the Tour this year and wants to race one more season. It’s hard to imagine the Australians not working something out to make everyone happy.

Cannondale-Drapac boss Jonathan Vaughters confirmed to Business Insider he’s looking for a new title sponsor to take over by the end of 2018. Cannondale wants to reel back its commitment and stay on as supplier but not be the title sponsor. Davide Formolo, the budding Italian star, is said to be leaving. Rigoberto Urán’s asking price, already near $1 million, will surely increase following his impressive Tour ride.

Another rider sure to change jerseys next year is French sprinter Bryan Coquard. Direct Energie left him at home during the Tour, and he’s already indicated he will join a WorldTour team in 2018. The other top French riders are under contract, with Arnaud Démare and Thibaut Pinot staying at FDJ and Romain Bardet staying at Ag2r-La Mondiale. Cofidis continues with its bet on Nacer Bouhanni.

So where do these rumors come from? Many of them are directly from rider agents, who enthusiastically stoke the rumor mill with the hopes of upping their client’s asking price. Team managers will also whisper some news or even riders themselves, especially the ones off a contract for the coming season.

Any rider without a firmed-up contract by the end of the Tour de France will start getting nervous. Teams fill up their rosters early. Every season is a game of musical chairs. There are only so many seats at the WorldTour table.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It’s Been a Tour de France for the Underdogs

Lilian Calmejane claimed his first Tour victory in stage 8. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media |
How can someone root for the heavy favorite? I just don’t understand. No matter if I’m watching cycling, football, or even some obscure Olympic sport (modern pentathlon, anyone?), I cheer for the underdog. I enjoy surprises and fresh faces on the podium. Perhaps that’s why I’ve enjoyed the 2017 Tour de France so much.

Before going any further, my one caveat: During this Tour a number of favorites crashed out. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) didn’t even make it through the first stage. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) departed due to a crash (and an activist UCI jury) after stage 4. Richie Porte (BMC) crashed out in stage 9. And just today, Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step) crashed out while wearing the green jersey.

This string of unfortunate crashes is a true bummer — but hey, crashes are part of racing. The departure of these stars has created a vacuum, and the underdogs have risen to the occasion.

As an American, I’m obligated to cheer for Cannondale-Drapac, the only U.S. team to actually bring American riders to the Tour. The green team’s Tour de France win drought was long and bitter. Rigoberto Urán is the monsoon storm it needed, winning stage 9, the team’s first since 2013 when Dan Martin won stage 9. Plus, Urán is poised to finish on the overall podium, should he keep his bike upright. The Slipstream organization has only reached the Tour podium once prior, with Bradley Wiggins in 2009. Unfortunately, that honor was won years afterward when Armstrong, who was originally third that Tour, had his result stripped.

Dutch team LottoNL-Jumbo also snapped a losing streak that stretched back to 2014 with Primoz Roglic’s emphatic stage 17 win on Wednesday. The Dutch team occupies a similar station to Cannondale-Drapac in the WorldTour — it is aggressive but lacks the big budget and firepower to win everywhere. So it was a treat to see the yellow-and-black kit atop the Tour podium for the first time. And no matter the team, Roglic’s personal story is terrific. He used to be an elite ski jumper. This is his debut Tour. Plus, it was the first Tour win by a Slovenian — ever! “I really feel nice, it’s crazy that I’m the man who can also make cycling history in Slovenia,” Roglic said.

Even a French Pro Continental team had a taste of glory. Direct Energie rider Lilian Calmejane won stage 8, the team’s first since 2012 when Thomas Voeckler won stages 10 and 16 and Pierre Rolland won 11, then under the Europcar marque. Allez les Bleus!

And lest we forget team Sunweb, which has enjoyed more success than most teams at this race. I realize Sunweb is not a true underdog. Tom Dumoulin (yeah, that guy who won the Giro) took two stages last year. Yet the team has never won a classification jersey at the Tour. Now, with poor Marcel Kittel having crashed, Sunweb is poised to win two jerseys. Warren Barguil has the king of the mountains prize all but locked up, and Michael Matthews has a healthy lead in the points classification. This success comes after the team endured a tough 2016 season following a terrible training crash in January. It’s great to see Sunweb animating nearly every stage.

Of course underdogs cannot win every time. Chris Froome looks extremely strong in yellow, and his Sky teammates are imperious at the front of the peloton. No matter how the race for yellow plays out in these final days, the “anti-Froomes” have animated this race. Chapeau to Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet and the other rivals. Plus, after 17 days, this Tour has produced eight first-time stage winners, including Aru.

Froome may indeed win his fourth Tour de France as the heavy favorite. But when I look back on 2017, I’ll remember the underdogs.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Top 5 Sprinting Mistakes To Avoid | GCN's Pro Tips

To help you get to the finish line, or town sign, first. Here are 5 sprinting mistakes to avoid!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Curious George Bennett a Surprise Tour Contender

Climbing with the world's best on Sunday, George Bennett says stage 9 was the best race he's ever had. Photo: Eloise Mavian / / BrakeThrough Media |

PAU, France (VN) — The Tour de France looks different through the eyes of an overall contender. Stages and climbs that were opportunities become potential threats. A chance for a moment of glory morphs into a chance to lose it all. The Tour de France looks different through George Bennett’s eyes, now.

It looks a bit scary, if he’s honest.

“It’s weird,” Bennett said, standing outside his team bus Wednesday morning. “When I first looked at the Tour, as a stage hunter, I was like ‘Ah, this Tour sucks, there are no opportunities.’ But now I look at it for the overall, and it’s like ‘oh, God, there are so many days I have to hang on.’ It’s a matter of perspective.”

The new perspective is that of 10th overall, 3:53 down on Chris Froome’s yellow jersey. Suddenly, the Tour is not what Bennett expected it to be.

Bennett’s Tour began upside down, sliding across wet pavement on his back. If you’d like a way to set expectations low, crashing on the first day works quite well. Yet a week and a half later the young Kiwi finds himself in the rarefied air of the Tour’s top GC men, benefitting from climbing form he’s never experienced before. That form only seems to be getting better. Few are more surprised by this than Bennett himself. He’s almost, but not quite, an accidental GC contender.

“Did I expect this? Not at all,” he said. “I expected to have been in a couple of breakaways by now. Probably be half an hour down. On a day like this, I probably expected to be at the Village getting a haircut, something like that. Drinking coffee and chillin’ out.”

Instead, he’s in full GC mode, riding near the front of the bunch and watching for gaps in the finale and grabbing bottles from teammates, not for them. It’s not a totally new experience: Bennett won the Tour of California this year, wearing the leader’s jersey for most of the race. But riding for GC at the Tour is something else entirely.

The new perspective and new pressure are the results of a good ride on La Planche des Belles Filles and a fantastic one on the road to Chambéry on Sunday. The latter, a massive route with three hors-categorie climbs, has Bennett wondering just how far he can go.

“We’ll see how important Sunday is in my career, but I feel like it was the best ride I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’ve never dropped some of the guys I dropped before or lasted that long with those guys. I don’t know. Maybe it was just one good day, or hopefully, it’s the new level.”

Bennett finished seventh on the day, crossing the line with Nairo Quintana, Simon Yates, Dan Martin, and Mikel Landa. He rode six watts per kilogram for over half an hour on Mont du Chat, according to his coach. Those are the sort of figures Bennett expects to see when he’s fresh. They are not the figures he expects after two hors-categorie climbs and nine days of racing. They’re the sort of numbers that land you in the top 10 of the Tour.

Still, Bennett tries not to read too much into them. He’s not a numbers guy. He doesn’t watch his power meter, doesn’t let it slow him down or force him to speed up. “At this stage in a race, after a couple stages like that, numbers are almost irrelevant,” he said. “As long as you’re healthy, you haven’t crashed, and you’re motivated … You just have to follow the guys. You can’t look down and be like, ‘oh no, this is my lactate threshold’ or some shit. You just go.”

The next two days, stages 12 and 13, are his next test. He doesn’t know how he’ll fare, and maybe that’s for the best.

“I’m as curious as you guys,” he said. “I’m excited to find out. Let’s see.”

Listen to George Bennett’s audio diary in the VeloNews podcast:


Monday, July 10, 2017

Rest Day Wrap Up - 5 Talking Points - Tour de France 2017

Dan & Matt provide 5 talking points from the first week of the 2017 Tour de France

Topics include
1. Nobody is too big to be disqualified, even World Champion Peter Sagan.
2. Pro racing is brutal. We've seen spills & thrills. But this year there seems to have been more than normal, doesn't there?
3. Marcel Kittel can do no wrong, or can he?
4. A new Thomas Voeckler?
5. The unwritten rules of cycling.... - Yep, this again!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Kittel Bristles at Questions in First Tour Sprint without Sagan

TROYES, France — Marcel Kittel’s high-wattage smile turned ice cold as soon as the TV reporter asked him the question everyone wanted to ask: did Peter Sagan’s absence somehow undervalue of your victory?

Thursday’s long, hot 216km stage 6 was the first bunch kick without Sagan and Mark Cavendish. Kittel was in no mood to talk about what everyone is still talking about in the Tour de France.

“No,” he said before pausing. “No, there is no difference. There are now two sprinters less.”

The big German star had just dashed to his 11th career victory — one short of compatriot Erik Zabel’s record German haul of 12 stage wins — yet Sagan’s controversial expulsion Tuesday, coupled with Cavendish’s subsequent exit with a fractured shoulder blade, was still the buzz around the race paddock.

Dubbed “SaganGate” among the Tour’s press corps (what else?!) the departure of two of the peloton’s biggest stars following the horrific finish-line crash in stage 4 left a gaping void in the Tour de France. It overshadowed Wednesday’s first showdown between the yellow jersey favorites, and it continued to churn into Thursday’s flat stage.

“It’s a shame for everybody,” Scott Thwaites, one of Cavendish’s teammates, told CyclingTips. “No one is really a winner, and you’ve got two of the best guys fighting for sprint victories going home.”

Forty-eight hours after the controversial DSQ, no one was happy. Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team had his bike lined up outside the team bus Thursday morning in Vittel, a sign of protest. An unconventional petition to overturn Sagan’s expulsion to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a sort of Supreme Court for sporting disputes, was shot down Thursday afternoon in Europe. The verdict stood: Sagan was out, and Cavendish was home.

‘A no-win situation’

This year’s Tour — with only three summit finales and at least eight flat stages — was supposed to be a year for the sprinters. And Thursday, when the Tour returned to the sprints following Wednesday’s mountaintop punch in the Vosges, the two biggest sprinters weren’t even at the start line.

Let’s go back to what happened: At the sharp end of a frenetic sprint Tuesday in stage 4, budding star Arnaud Démare swept right across the road en route to France’s first Tour bunch sprint win since 2006. Behind him, Sagan and Cavendish fought for his wheel. So far, so good. But in a flash, Cavendish tried to squeeze into a gap between Sagan and the barriers. Then Sagan’s elbow shot out, and then Cavendish was on the ground. Or so it seemed. At first, it appeared that Sagan had elbowed Cavendish violently into the fences in an unsportsmanlike gesture atypical of the affable and popular Slovakian star. The British former world champion crashed horribly into the barriers, and Sagan dashed to second behind Démare.

What happened next kicked off the biggest furor at the Tour in years. Sagan was ejected, and Cavendish was out with injuries. The Tour de France was making headlines again for all the wrong reasons.

“That was a tough one, wasn’t it?” said Quick-Step sport director Brian Holm. “If he wouldn’t have been [expelled], people would have complained. Now they complain when he’s out. For the jury, it was a no-win situation. I know if I had been the sports director of Bora, I would have been mad, blowing smoke out of my ears from anger.”

So what happened? The decision by the UCI race jury seemed extreme, but so was the crash. Riders are occasionally kicked out of the Tour for breaking the rules, for throwing water bottles in a sprint or catching a lift up the side of a mountain, so that’s nothing new. But kicking out cycling’s biggest star?

What got everyone so fired up was that Sagan was ejected for an offense that typically sees an offending rider relegated to last place. Sprints are always a rough-and-tumble dogfight as riders jostle for a clean shot to the line, so relegations are par for the course.

In fact, the Tour’s race jury initially relegated Sagan after Tuesday’s stage. Sagan was bumped from second place to last in the bunch, a ruling that might have cost Sagan a shot at winning a sixth-straight points jersey.

‘A wake-up call’

Coming into this year’s Tour, however, race officials warned teams that the race jury would take a heavy hand in admonishing what was considered dangerous sprinting. So the dramatic images of Sagan’s elbow and Cavendish’s crash urged something more decisive. When chief UCI commissaire Philippe Mariën sternly marched into the pressroom Tuesday evening, everyone knew something was cooking. Citing a rule that allowed the jury to kick out riders for dangerous sprinting, Sagan was out.

If race officials wanted to send a message, it seems to have gotten across.

“They want to show that they are willing to take riders out of the race, no matter who you are,” said Sunweb’s Michael Matthews. “If you have 1,000 wins, or you have one win, they’re not favoring anyone. They’re willing to take out guys if they think it is necessary.”

An uproar kicked off on social media. Incriminations flew on all sides. One Dimension Data sport director accused Sagan on Twitter of “violence,” while some piled on Cavendish, even making veiled threats to his family for forcing the popular Sagan out of the race.

Fans, racers and pundits scrutinized finish-line race video in real time as if it were a crime investigation. By the time the jury revealed its decision to kick out Sagan a few hours later, many had already come to the conclusion that Sagan’s elbow never even touched Cavendish. Instead, it appeared that Cavendish had collided with Sagan, who then shot out his elbow in a defensive move to try to retain his balance at 60kph. Some even laid the blame on Cavendish for trying to squeeze into a small gap between Sagan and the barriers. Others pointed a finger at Démare, who drove the action across the road and toward the barriers. The Twitterati verdict was unanimous: Sagan shouldn’t be kicked out.

“It’s left its mark on the race,” Kittel said. “It’s also a wake-up call for everyone that they jury can take a harsh and tough decision to make sure that the safety is there for everyone else.”

Coming into the Tour, the stakes couldn’t have been higher for both riders. Cavendish was just four stage victories short of Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34. Sagan was all but assured of tying Erik Zabel’s mark of six green points jerseys. Those records are safe for another year at least.

And with a sport short on superstars, losing two of its marquee names in one shot doesn’t bode well for the next two weeks. With Sky’s Chris Froome looking firmly in control in yellow, it could be a long way to Paris.

On Wednesday, the Tour rolled on without them, and by Thursday, Cavendish and Sagan were both back home. Cooler heads seemed to have prevailed, and the cycling bromance between the current and world champions was rekindled thanks to messages to one another on social media.

Unfortunately for fans, the Peter Sagan Show was cancelled after just a few episodes in 2017. Cavendish won’t be chasing Merckx’s record, and Sagan won’t be popping wheelies or dancing the hula after winning stages.

The Tour comes out the loser, and it’s poor Marcel Kittel who has to face those awkward questions.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy 4th of July!

I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him. 
- Abraham Lincoln

Have a Safe and Happy 4th of July!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Who Will Take the Tour’s First Yellow Jersey?

Tony Martin is the top favorite to win the Tour de France's first yellow jersey in Dusseldorf. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media |

DUSSELDORF, Germany (VN) — In a Tour de France where time trials are almost an afterthought, the 2017 edition opens with a chance for the “chrono men” to snag the yellow jersey.

The flat, straight, 14km course through the streets of Düsseldorf is perfect for pure horsepower. The lone wrinkle: Forecasters are calling for rain.

The sentimental favorite is four-time world time trial champion and German star Tony Martin (Katusha). The 32-year-old has won five Tour stages, three of those against the clock, but he’s never won an opening-day prologue or time trial. Saturday will be his best, and perhaps last chance.

“It’s a very fast course and the differences will be very small,” Martin said. “It’s a course that suits me very well. My biggest worry is to do something wrong.”

In 2015, on a similar course in Utrecht, Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) relegated Martin to second. The Aussie claimed the yellow jersey by five seconds. Dennis isn’t racing in Düsseldorf. Prologue specialist Fabian Cancellara, a winner of five opening-day prologues and time trials, has retired. So Martin is the five-star favorite to don yellow again following his 2015 crash in stage 6, which forced him to abandon.

“The pressure will be immense, racing at home,” said Martin. He grew up in Cottbus, in the former East Germany. “I am very much looking forward to the Tour. The ambiance should be incredible. There will be very large crowds, and that makes you want to go faster.”

Other TT powerhouses will be going all-in for their chance at yellow. Favorites include former world TT champion Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), as well as the LottoNL-Jumbo duo of Primoz Roglic and Jos Van Emden. Stefan Küng (BMC Racing), British TT champ Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), and French TT champion Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) could also be challengers.

Rain will be a factor. Forecasters are calling for overnight showers, with the heaviest expected in the morning and slowly tapering into the afternoon. The first riders are off at 3:15 p.m. local time. Curiously, many teams have slotted their GC men earlier in the start list, perhaps in a bid to avoid showers. Some forecasts say the rain should be diminishing as the afternoon unfolds. The later starters could have better conditions.

Martin heads down the ramp at 6:20 p.m. local time, with the field starting at one-minute intervals. Defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) is last at 6:32 p.m.

Among the GC contenders, BMC’s Richie Porte looks strongest against the clock. He could be in the running to upset the TT specialists at their own game. At the Critérium du Dauphiné on a rolling, 23.5km course, Porte took 12 seconds out of Martin to win.

At 14km, the distance will eliminate many of the sprinters who can challenge in a shorter prologue course. Riders like Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Sunweb), however, are surely to give it a strong push, with hopes of keeping Martin on a short leash. They would start nipping away at the jersey via time bonuses in the stages to follow. With an uphill finale already on tap in stage 5 at La Planche des Belles Filles, whoever wins the jersey Saturday likely won’t be carrying out of the Vosges.

Recent prologue/TT winners

2015: 13.8km, Utrecht 1. Rohan Dennis, 2. Tony Martin +0:05
2012: 6.4km, Liege 1. Fabian Cancellara, 2. Bradley Wiggins +0:07
2010: 8.9km, Rotterdam 1. Cancellara, 2. Martin +0:10
2009: 15km, Monaco 1. Cancellara, 2. Alberto Contador +0:18
2007: 8km, London 1. Cancellara, 2. Andreas Klöden +0:13