The race began well for the US-registered team with Rohan Dennis winning the only other time trial on the itinerary this year. Diligence in planning was a key to the Australian’s success.
One of the consultants for BMC is Marco Pinotti. On the eve of the team time trial ( TTT), the Italian explained the approach of the team for this pivotal stage and nominated a few of the main rivals for the 28km stage from Vannes to Plumelec.
“Etixx-QuickStep was one of the strongest teams but it is missing Tony (Martin) who was in good form,” Pinotti said, “they’ll miss a big engine in time trial but I expect them to do a good ride anyway.
“Of the other teams, the favourite is Team Sky which has a very good line-up.”
He also nominated Movistar and Astana as teams to watch. The only team omission from Pinotti’s brief appraisal was Alberto Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo squad, but BMC will no doubt be wary of the Spaniard and his cunning collective.
The starting order is in reverse of position on team classification with one exception - the yellow jersey’s team must start last. This means that Orica-GreenEDGE is the first to roll down the ramp (11.00pm AEST) and Sky the last.
Tejay van Garderen and his cohort lead the teams classification so they will start second last. Some of their riders have sustained injuries; Daniel Oss has his face bandaged up after crashing in stage three and Dennis also has dressing on some wounds.
Pinotti raced as a pro for 16 seasons and was the Italian time trial champion six times. He’s a highly analytical individual who enjoys working with riders to refine their positions. I asked him if he made many changes to the BMC bikes or positions in the lead-up to the anticipated ninth stage.
“No, not necessarily,” Pinotti said. “We tried to have every rider tested in the wind tunnel and to be fitted properly on a TT bike to achieve the optimal position, the optimal compromise between aerodynamics and ability to develop power.
“We’ve been working on tyres, skinsuits and every small detail. I give my input based on experience and we try to find a balance of what is achievable in the race.”
Pinotti’s final two seasons as a racer were with BMC (2012/2013) but before that he was part of the HTC-Highroad team which also included van Garderen in his Tour debut.
The American’s first podium appearance was in stage eight of the 2011 edition of the race, when he won the ‘Most Aggressive Rider’ prize on the road to Super Besse. This year, if all goes according to plan, he'll receive the plaudits as TTT stage winners and the new general classification leader.
Van Garderen’s position is a stark contrast to the set-up Cadel Evans used throughout his career. When riders were asked to do wind tunnel testing after BMC joined the WorldTour, the only rider who insisted he didn’t need to was Evans. “He believes he knows what works,” said a source close to the team, “and he doesn’t want to mess with it – he doesn’t like change.”
But Pinotti says the evolution of time trial positions is constantly evolving and an experiment here and adjustment there can pay big dividends. “It’s not a case of ‘the lower, the better’, especially for tall riders," Pinotti said. "It’s best to consider the individual.
"Normally, if they stay high they can have narrow shoulders and they can settle their head between their shoulders a little more effectively. It’s about the surface area at the front and normally when you go higher you reduce the surface area but it depends on the body type of the rider.”
When Evans last contested the 2013 Tour I asked Chris Boardman who he believed had the best position in the peloton. He shrugged his shoulders and admitted that he couldn’t nominate anyone in particular, “but,” Boardman quickly added, “I can tell you the worst. Cadel Evans.”
This appraisal comes from an observation of the rider, not feedback from the lab or opinion based on the sensations felt while racing.
“My experience tells me that the rider feels when a position is getting faster,” Pinotti said, “especially time trial specialists. They have the feeling if they change their position during the ride if they get faster.”
The aesthetic of a low front cutting the wind makes a degree of sense but the rider also needs to be able generate power and that’s part of the reason we’re seeing positions get higher than they once were at this level. Pinotti agrees with the theory.
“With tall riders we have a trend of going a little bit higher and they gain two times,' Pinotti said. "One is that maybe they don’t get worse in aerodynamics but they can develop more power because the hip angle is more open and they can breathe better.”
The TTT may be a race against the clock but it’s vastly different to the individual time trial. The order of riders, the length of turn in the wind, the notion of ‘sacrificing’ a rider early…these are some of the things that need to be considered for any stage like the one to Plumelec.
Pinotti said he’ll still be working on refining those plans right up to the moment BMC is about to line up for the start.
“I have an idea of the rider order that I’ve been working on for the past week after discussion with riders, but we will finalise this on Sunday, after the recon because now we’re going to see the course exactly – in the conditions as they are on race day," he said.
“There are certain strategies that need to be followed to be sure that a team has the best performance but I can’t go into the details because… well, it’s part of the strategy of the team.”
We wait to see if van Garderen's position on the bike, and on GC, changes on the road to Plumelec.