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Might we see the future of team time trials on Tuesday?
Stage times will be taken based on first rider across the line, rather than the historic tradition of a team receiving times based on its fourth or fifth finisher.
What sounds like a small shift could bring some big changes to what happens on the road Tuesday with riders like Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, and Simon Yates.
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Pack your popcorn for full-gas leadout-style finals, domestiques pedaling themselves into a dizzy, and a no-hiding test of GC leaders’ legs.
“The team time trial, for sure it’s important, we have to discuss it because the rules are different, we might have to use different tactics,” Vingegaard said ahead of the race this week. “We have to see about it.”
⏱ L’étape 3 de #ParisNice marquera le grand retour du contre-la-montre par équipe sur la Course au Soleil ! Compte tenu du règlement, quelle stratégie sera la meilleure ?
— Paris-Nice (@ParisNice) February 13, 2023
Organizers stated the change was made in “the desire to do something different,” and to stop squads sweeping the GC standings.
Teams with eyes on overall victory in the Côte d’Azur will have to think hard how they race the pan-flat 32km test Tuesday.
A series of full-steam sprints until only one rider remains, or a cohesive TTT before unleashing the leader for the final?
And if the latter, does the team captain sit and save in the rotation – potentially putting a brake on the average speed – or get dirty in the engine room?
“More or less all the teams will race a similar time trial as a normal team time trial, as you’re faster with more guys around you anyway,” Pogačar previewed earlier this week. “But I won’t tell you how we’re going to race. You will see on the day.”
Logic and a luddite-level understanding of aerodynamics and time trial tech suggest – like Pogačar says – a team will keep around five riders in the rotation through to the final kilometers.
The protected rider (or riders) will be unleashed within range of a kick for the line, freeing domestiques to soft-pedal to the finish and accept their lost time.
Where could ASO take the new TTT?
Could the timing change bring a fresh future to the discipline?
For even the most fervent of time trial haters, the new tweak should sure bring fresh intrigue to the event.
And with the ASO holding the keys to the Tour de France, there’s the mouthwatering possibility of it being rolled into the biggest race of the year, albeit after buy-in from dozens of stakeholders across the sport.
No matter how unlikely they are, the longer term possibilities for the shifted TTT style are endless.
Could we see a “Hammer Series”-style paired race for example? Jumbo-Visma vs. UAE Emirates, Total Energies vs. Uno X? Or to load it up further, a French faceoff with Ag2r-Citroën and Groupama-FDJ, and a Belgian brawl between Quick-Step vs. Lotto?
The idea of seeing Pogačar and Vingegaard, or Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel racing all alone in each other’s wheel through the final kilometers should get anyone stoked.
But on the flipside, there is a lot to love in the traditional TTT.
For many, there’s just as much satisfaction in seeing a well-drilled squad rolling through in practiced perfection as there is watching in horror when a ragged crew can barely keep it together.
The voyeuristic fascination of watching a spindly climber hanging onto a bunch of burly rouleurs with chainrings bigger than their buffet plates is a pro cycling gift that just keeps giving.
🇩🇰 Jonas Vingegaard in 2023 : 4 race days, 4 wins
🇸🇮 @TamauPogi in 2023 : 6 race days, 5 wins
— Paris-Nice (@ParisNice) March 2, 2023
It’s likely there will be little finesse in Tuesday’s race around Dampierre-en-Burly.
Lack of preparation time for a race that is prestigious yet still early means teams might only be making plans a few hours before they roll down the ramp.
“Team time trial is a really special exercise, I don’t really know what to expect. I know it’s going to be interesting and painful, ” Pogačar joked of Tuesday’s stage.
“We don’t often have the opportunity to work on it during the year. To tell you the truth, we only started working on it Friday. But I have good riders by my side, I think we’ll manage.”
The Paris-Nice TTT could be a gimmick or a game-changer.
But either way, it should serve a fascinating few hours in front of the TV.