Brussels (AFP) – Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma stormed to victory in the Tour de France team time-trial on Sunday with Mike Teunissen tightening his grip on the yellow jersey after the 27.6km second stage around Brussels.
There had been concerns about defending champion Geraint Thomas‘s form after his fall Saturday, but his Ineos team were the best of the rest.
Although they trails Teunissen by 30 seconds in the overall standings, Thomas and Colombian team-mate Egan Bernal gained time on all their key rivals.
Teunissen extended his overnight lead when his team beat Ineos by a handy 20sec Sunday, with the next five teams all grouped within a handful of seconds.
Ineos were the first down the ramp and set a pulsating time, holding the lead until Jumbo, last off the blocks, smashed 20 seconds off the British team.
“We did try to win it,” said a breathless 33-year-old Thomas.
“It was a pretty decent time,” the Welshman added at the finish line by the giant Brussels Atomium, built for the 1958 World Fair.
“I was pretty sore hitting the barriers yesterday, so the good news: I’m totally fine.”
Mitchelton Scott, led by Adam Yates, had mixed fortunes. The team lost only 21sec to Ineos but the other Yates twin, Simon, lost more than three minutes.
The times are taken from the fourth man crossing the line, but dropped riders take their own time and Vuelta a Espana champion Yates was left behind with 10km to race.
Saturday’s surprise winner Teunissen moved further clear of rivals from other teams.
“I barely slept last night,” the leader admitted.
“But here we are again, I hope I get more sleep and I think I can keep hold of the jersey again tomorrow,” said Teunissen.
“Today all eight of our riders win,” said Teunissen, who described having the yellow jersey as ‘life changing’.
In even more good news for Jumbo, break-out star Wout Van Aert took the best young rider’s white jersey, his latest achievement since his conversion from cyclo-cross.
“It’s good for me, good for Belgium and just great for Mike, who is much better than people have been giving him credit for,” said Van Aert.
– Nobody thought we could do it –
Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang, who was left bleeding from the head and battered after a high-speed fall on Saturday, looked strained as his Astana team lost 20 seconds to title rivals Thomas and Bernal.
Belgian outfit Deceuninck Quick-Step came third a single second behind Ineos.
Another rider who could return to the team hotel happy was French climber Thibaut Pinot. His FDJ outfit surprisingly dropped just 12 seconds to Ineos.
“That was exactly what we wanted, we worked really well (together). No-one thought we could do it, but we knew,” said the Frenchman.
The other notable French climber Romain Bardet had a poor day as AG2R were 19th of the 22 teams.
Among the teams of the other leading overall contenders, Colombian Nairo Quintana’s Movistar were 45sec behind Ineos, while Italian Vincenzo Nibali and his Bahrain lost just 16sec on Thomas.
UAE Team Emirates, and Dan Martin, lost 43sec to Ineos but the Irishman was hugely upbeat about limiting losses.
“It seemed quite easy, so thanks to the whole team,” said Martin, a habitual top-10 finisher. “I’m feeling good after what we had expected to be a tough day.”
The small time differences between the main contenders suggest that this will be an open and competitive Tour de France.
Monday’s stage takes the Tour into France where a frantic finish could cause fresh chaos with four climbs and four descents near the end of a long 221km run that may feature disruptive cross winds.