DUSSELDORF, Germany (VN) — In a Tour de France where time trials are almost an afterthought, the 2017 edition opens with a chance for the “chrono men” to snag the yellow jersey.
The flat, straight, 14km course through the streets of Düsseldorf is perfect for pure horsepower. The lone wrinkle: Forecasters are calling for rain.
The sentimental favorite is four-time world time trial champion and German star Tony Martin (Katusha). The 32-year-old has won five Tour stages, three of those against the clock, but he’s never won an opening-day prologue or time trial. Saturday will be his best, and perhaps last chance.
“It’s a very fast course and the differences will be very small,” Martin said. “It’s a course that suits me very well. My biggest worry is to do something wrong.”
In 2015, on a similar, less-technical course in Utrecht, Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) relegated Martin to second. The Aussie claimed the yellow jersey by five seconds. Dennis isn’t racing in Düsseldorf. Prologue specialist Fabian Cancellara, a winner of five opening-day prologues and time trials, has retired. So Martin is the five-star favorite to don yellow again following his 2015 crash in stage 6, which forced him to abandon.
“The pressure will be immense, racing at home,” said Martin. He grew up in Cottbus, in the former East Germany. “I am very much looking forward to the Tour. The ambiance should be incredible. There will be very large crowds, and that makes you want to go faster.”
Other TT powerhouses will be going all-in for their chance at yellow. Favorites include former world TT champion Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), as well as the LottoNL-Jumbo duo of Primoz Roglic and Jos Van Emden. Stefan Küng (BMC Racing), British TT champ Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), and French TT champion Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) could also be challengers.
Rain will be a factor. Forecasters are calling for overnight showers, with the heaviest expected in the morning and slowly tapering into the afternoon. The first riders are off at 3:15 p.m. local time. Curiously, many teams have slotted their GC men earlier in the start list, perhaps in a bid to avoid showers. Some forecasts say the rain should be diminishing as the afternoon unfolds. The later starters could have better conditions.
Martin heads down the ramp at 6:20 p.m. local time, with the field starting at one-minute intervals. Defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) is last at 6:32 p.m.
Among the GC contenders, BMC’s Richie Porte looks strongest against the clock. He could be in the running to upset the TT specialists at their own game. At the Critérium du Dauphiné on a rolling, 23.5km course, Porte took 12 seconds out of Martin to win.
At 14km, the distance will eliminate many of the sprinters who can challenge in a shorter prologue course. Riders like Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Sunweb), however, are surely to give it a strong push, with hopes of keeping Martin on a short leash. They would start nipping away at the jersey via time bonuses in the stages to follow. With an uphill finale already on tap in stage 5 at La Planche des Belles Filles, whoever wins the jersey Saturday likely won’t be carrying out of the Vosges.
Recent prologue/TT winners
2015: 13.8km, Utrecht 1. Rohan Dennis, 2. Tony Martin +0:05
2012: 6.4km, Liege 1. Fabian Cancellara, 2. Bradley Wiggins +0:07
2010: 8.9km, Rotterdam 1. Cancellara, 2. Martin +0:10
2009: 15km, Monaco 1. Cancellara, 2. Alberto Contador +0:18
2007: 8km, London 1. Cancellara, 2. Andreas Klöden +0:13