Race director Christian Prudhomme isn't a fan of time trials. Certainly not long ones, anyway, which can distort the status quo so much that a pure climber finds themself in a losing position before a pedal has been turned.
In 2012 there were 101.4 individual time trial kilometres, and Bradley Wiggins lapped them up like we knew he would. The next year there were 55 kilometres of individual time trials and a 25km TTT, where Chris Froome and Team Sky excelled in both. There was just the one individual time trial in 2014, a 54km time test on the second-to-last stage, but Vincenzo Nibali was already seven minutes ahead of his closest rival, making it somewhat of a non-event. Last year, there was just a 13.8km individual time trial at the Grand Départ in Utrecht and a 28km TTT on Stage 9; Froome showed he could master that kind of parcours, too.
This year Monsieur Prudhomme has gone for something different again: a 37.5km individual time trial in the Ardèche, then, four days from Paris, a 17km uphill time test, part of a four-day Alpine odyssey and borrowing somewhat from this year's Giro handbook.
Today's contre la montre – literally, "against the watch” – comes a fortnight in and the day after the calamitous stage to Mont Ventoux, meaning capable time triallists targeting the overall won't be so fresh and time differences between them and the pure climbers will be mitigated. Still, have a bad day and far more time will be conceded here than on yesterday’s truncated stage to the Bald Mountain. That Froome will start last should serve him well; he’ll know exactly what’s required to keep, and, hopefully for him, extend his lead.
As for the specialists, expect to see a battle royale between Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step), who hold seven elite world titles between them, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing), and the reigning world champion in the discipline, Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky).
Not only does Prudhomme and Gouvenou's proclivity towards shorter time trials mitigate the differences between the contenders; the 21st century way of riding Grand Tours demands that, in order to be a protagonist for the overall, those stronger against the clock must redouble their climbing efforts, and vice versa for the grimpeurs.
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says...
“There'll be a lot at stake for this first time trial of the Tour. Long enough to manage significant gaps, it won't however exclude the climbers who will try to defend their positions on the roads overlooking the Gorges de l'Ardèche. The TV viewers around the world will have the opportunity to admire an incredible panorama.”
Weather: The anticyclone will be back in France for this stage in Ardèche with sunny weather, but still windy. The temperature will change from 20-26°C. The northerly wind will often blow at 60 km/h.