CHOLET, France- Chris Froome was booed by a section of the public on the starting ramp but otherwise enjoyed a great day in the Tour de France team time-trial where Team Sky were edged by four seconds by winners BMC.
Belgian team Quick Step came third at seven seconds but because Fernando Gaviria was dropped along the route he failed to reclaim the race leader’s yellow jersey, which was instead claimed by BMC’s Olympic road race champion Greg van Avermaet.
“It’s a great feeling and very good for the team. I have my chances to win tomorrow too and also at the Roubaix,” said Van Avermaet.
It was also a very satisfying day for Froome, the Kenyan-born Briton ignoring some booing at the start line and making up some of the valuable time he lost on Saturday’s first stage.
Defending champion Froome lost four seconds to Richie Porte, but took five seconds off British rival Adam Yates, eight seconds off world champion Tom Dumoulin of Sunweb, 50 seconds off Colombia’s Nairo Quintana and was a less-than-expected 1min 11sec quicker than French hope Romain Bardet.
While Sky’s top placed rider is Geraint Thomas three seconds off the lead, 2017 Giro winner Dumoulin is just 11 seconds down, but perhaps Bardet is the man with the most to smile about at this stage.
“For God sake don’t sell this as a two-horse race because it’s not, not this year,” a source close to Bardet told AFP.
“But boy we are so happy to get here without having had two minutes stuck into us by Froome,” he said of Bardet’s 20 second deficit on the champion.
Bardet had indeed cut a happy figure on the line after his AG2R team, built for the mountains, came in 12th 1min 15sec behind BMC.
Bardet waited at the finish line to greet each one of the teammates he’d dropped in a mad final push for the line and hug them. “Our team is our strength,” said Bardet.
Porte’s BMC team had been expected to make up for their disappointing first day when their Australian leader fell.
“There was way too much wind for me,” said the slightly-built Porte.
“So taking four seconds off Chris (Froome of Sky) is good and it looks like a minute off Romain Bardet at least,” said the BMC leader.
“We were favourites and it was good to deliver.
“I still regret throwing away those 51 seconds on the first day, but there’s a long way to go to Paris.”
There was no surprises for Movistar’s Quintana, who lost another chunk of time to Froome, to whom he came second on the Tour twice.
“It’s about what I expected, we thought we’d lose a bit to Froome and we lost a bit to Froome,” said the dry-witted Quintana.
Froome put in an imperial performance on Monday showing the kind of power in the saddle that has led him to four previous Tour de France victories where he dominates the time trials and defends his lead in the mountains.
“It was a huge challenge for the team, it’s been incredible for us,” said the 33-year-old Briton who was jeered when his name was announced on the starting ramp.
“Our aim was to take the maximum time out of all our rivals,” he insisted.
“But believe me, this was not an easy day.”
His team principal Dave Brailsford was also looking cheerful and relaxed.
“In this kind of situation you have to focus on the process and not the result. Make sure all the guys are right, forget the race and live the moment,” he said of how they tackled the challenge.
Asked if the Froome whistling was dying down, he said yes.
“It looks like people have just come out for a fun day,” he said.
“Thankfully, because there are families here.”