Opinion: First blood to Pogacar in bid for historic Tour hat-trick

Filippo Ganna, Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogacar all leaving the start gate one after the other was always going to provide the key pivot for Friday’s opening 13.2km time trial – although Jumbo-Visma duo Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard had already got their respective Tours off to an assured start in what proved to be fairly treacherous conditions in Copenhagen.

Neither Roglic nor Vingegaard were able to dislodge early leader Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel from the hotseat but both riders – to the delight of the home crowds, in the case of Vingegaard – put in highly respectable times just a few seconds slower than the Alpecin-Deceuninck leader.

World champion Ganna’s ITT was always going to be the main reference for those gunning for glory – and so it proved to be when the Italian debutant ended Van der Poel’s time at the top by three seconds. It could well have been more: it later emerged that Ganna had ridden the last part of the course with a slow puncture which not only slowed him down but would have made cornering in the wet conditions even harder.

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And corners were something this opening time trial had in abundance – 24 of them, to be precise. Just ask Stefan Bisseger, the Swiss specialist driving a 64-tooth chain ring who came a cropper on two of them.

Given Ganna’s plight, it was no surprise in hindsight that Van Aert knocked him out of a winner’s enclosure in which he didn’t even have time to set foot – the Belgian making light of the knee injury he was supposedly carrying into the race.

The third of the stellar starting trio to cross the line was Pogacar. While he did not have enough to pip Van Aert, he finished ahead of Ganna and did enough to stamp his authority on the battle for yellow that will play out over the next three weeks. With it, Pogacar took a white jersey that he probably won’t be wearing for too long this July.

Say what you like about opening Grand Tours with a time trial but they do at least shuffle the pack early on. They create an instant hierarchy that in turn forces riders to go on the front foot rather than defend. There may well be more drama in a bunch sprint, but a time trial creates potentially irredeemable divisions in the battle for yellow that – hopefully – means we won’t have all the favourites riding conservatively until the penultimate day, as we saw in the Giro d’Italia earlier this May.

In the event, Van Aert did not hold on to take the win – beaten as he was by compatriot Yves Lampaert and his extremely high overshoes. Against UCI regulations? Perhaps. There was certainly less of a gap between the top of his socks and his knee than there was down to his ankles. Not that this should detract from a deserved win for someone who described himself as “just a farmer’s son from Belgium” and whose post-race interview was refreshing and poignant for Lampaert’s sheer disbelief and tearful joy.

‘My mind is exploding!’ – Tearful Lampaert on shock time trial win on Stage 1

If Jumbo-Visma managed to put three riders into the top 10 then it couldn’t have gone much better for the man bidding to become only the seventh rider in history to win three consecutive Tours.

Pogacar missed out on the early burden of defending a yellow jersey around Denmark by seven seconds but has already stolen a march on many of his GC rivals – most notably the Spaniard Enric Mas of Movistar, who finds himself almost 50 seconds down after barely 16 minutes of racing.

Here’s how the virtual general classification stands for those riders in with a chance of battling for yellow:

Taadej Pogacar
Jonas Vingegaard +8
Primoz Roglic +9
Adam Yates +17
Geraint Thomas +18
Aleksandr Vlasov +24
Louis Meintjes +28
Dani Martinez +37
Romain Bardet +38
Nairo Quintana +42
David Gaudu +43
Jack Haig +44
Damiano Caruso +47
Enric Mas +49
Ben O’Connor +54
Rigoberto Uran +1:07
Thibaut Pinot +1:14

What does this tell us besides what we already know? Very little. Pogacar, after all, won last year’s opening time trial, just as he did the deciding time trial the year before when wresting yellow from compatriot Roglic’s shoulders at the eleventh hour.

But Jumbo-Visma’s two-pronged attack of Roglic and Vingegaard can take heart from the result. With 10 bonus seconds up for grabs for winners of each road stage, they are both within touching distance of the virtual yellow summit having limited their losses to the best all-round stage racers of his generation.

The likes of Thomas and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Vlasov also did well to emerge unscathed and in a better position than many of the other second-tier GC favourites. In the case of the Welshman, with Ineos Grenadiers teammates Yates and Martinez also in the thick of things; an interesting attacking trident could emerge as they bid to take the fight to Pogacar and his pair of Jumbo rivals. If only Thomas bothered to remove his gilet he could have been celebrating a far better result tonight.

‘Enormous waste!’ – Thomas forgets to remove gilet, squanders ‘£5000 skinsuit’

Perhaps the sweetest music to the ears of us fans was to see Pinot lose time, the Frenchman clearly setting out his stall early on for a push for polka dots rather than a slow, painful and inevitably fruitless struggle to make the top 10.

While a potential banana skin of a wet TT is always more about surviving than winning when it comes to the GC battle, the fact that the overwhelming race favourite survived that much better than anyone else, however, is cause for concern. As Pogacar powered down the home straight of his 13.2km race against the clock a small smile could be detected across his face – and so it might have.

At this rate, third place in the general classification may be the lowest Pogacar goes throughout this Tour. It just remains to be seen if Roglic and Vingegaard can occupy the two places above him come Paris. So far, the Jumbo pair haven’t done their chances any harm.

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