Stage one, and the Tour overall, began with the usual desperate bid for doping controversy from the media. It seems that team Astana’s Lars Boom, he of the kick-ass name, was found to have low cortisone levels (in the past this has been associated with doping, but there are a whole range of reasons why his levels might be low. He blames overuse of an asthma inhaler). The media jumped on this, not least because Astana have hardly got the cleanest history in this area. But, of course, it’s a storm in a teacup; neither Boom nor Astana have done anything wrong according to the UCI, cycling’s governing body. The only reason for controversy is that Astana are (or ‘were’?) signed up with an independent organization whose members promote cleanness in cycling by going above and beyond UCI rules — an organization which does frown upon riders starting with low cortisone levels. Astana have essentially ignored the tougher rules they themselves signed up for, which presumably means they’re being kicked out of Club Holier-Than-Thou. They are now on the “thou” end of “holier-than-thou” once again.
Regardless, it was a pretty good race once the coverage left Boom and turned to the course. Short time trials (at 13.8km this was a time trial, and not a ‘prologue’, which is usually 9km or fewer) are usually fairly easy to bet on; you can safely pick a top ten, even if you might not get the order quite right. And with time trial champ Tony Martin present, the bookies thought this was a foregone conclusion.
On the day, all such certainty went out the window. One reason for this is that, with the recent, frequent breaking of the cycling one-hour time-trial record, there are a lot of cyclists who feel they have something to prove on the time-trial course. As a consequence, we saw spirited performances from a number of strong riders. Alex Dowsett felt he had plenty to prove, but failed to do so. Tom Dumoulin put in a blinding performance, showing the sort of form that, in a rider so young, comes as a promise of big things down the line. Probably the most committed rider of the day was Fabian Cancellera, who, I feel, is starting to rue the rise of young time-trial stars, and wants the crown back. He was throwing himself into every corner and giving it his all on every straight. But this was only enough to secure him third place, after Martin’s second. He collapsed into a sweaty heap after dismounting from his bike.
The surprise, then, was the Australian Rohan Dennis. Not a total surprise, of course; Rohan recently held the world one-hour record before Dowsett pawed it off him. But few would have put money on Dennis winning a 13k time-trial ahead of Tony Martin. That’s exactly what he did, and he did so emphatically. Starting earlier than many of the big name riders, Dennis took 15 seconds off the previous best time, riding the course in 14:56 — the only time posted which went under 15 minutes. Even Martin couldn’t break the 15 minute mark. It wasn’t long before someone with a big book of statistics (or, you know, Google) realised that, at over 55kmph average speed, Dennis had just broken the all-time fastest time-trial average for the Tour de France. This was completely unprecedented, and with this in hand Dennis had practically won already. He had a nice long sit down on the winner’s throne as he watched challengers repeatedly fail to match his times. It was an astounding ride, a well-deserved yellow jersey, and a great start to the Tour de France.
Not much to report from Sky, who, as you’d expect, were most likely under instructions to conserve energy for later stages. As a consequence, their strong time-triallists looked for the most part like they were just out to warm up. Froome put in a great ride, but was only looking to match the likes of Contador, and not to expend himself. All remains to be seen in a week’s time, when we hit the mountains. See you tomorrow.