The third Grand Tour of the season is underway, and it’s off to a good start for Groupama-FDJ. In the streets of Utrecht, host of the Vuelta’s Grand Départ, Thibaut Pinot, Bruno Armirail and their teammates put on a superb performance on the 23.3-kilometer team time trial. After having occupied the top spots for a while, the French squad eventually took sixth place in the stage, only beaten by the main favourites.
A most particular exercise made its comeback on Friday, on the opening stage of the last Grand Tour of the season: the team time trial. In Utrecht, the Netherlands, the Vuelta started with a 23.3-kilometer route, quite technical since it included nearly twenty curves and corners. Groupama-FDJ was set to start early, at 6.42 p.m., as the fourth team on the launch pad. For the riders led by Philippe Mauduit, Thierry Bricaud and Franck Pineau, the preparation also proved quite brief. “We worked on it the previous days, because we didn’t have the opportunity to do it in training camps like some teams,” said Anthony Bouillod, one of the team’s coaches. “We worked on it again today during the recon. There was a bit of tension, because it had been a long time since the last team time trial, because the course was technical, and because the rain also came along. However, once the riders started, it was pretty well organized, and it went quite well”. After setting a time of 12’26” at the intermediate point after eleven kilometres, the Groupama-FDJ riders reached the finish line in 25’18”, then taking the best provisional time. A little later, team BikeExchange-Jayco improved the mark by seven seconds, but for a long time, the French champion Bruno Armirail and his teammates remained in second position.
“The highest goal we had set was not that far”, Anthony Bouillod
The team just dropped back a few spots, and obtained sixth place, after the favourite squads arrived a bit later. “Our goal today was both to put in a good performance, but also not to crash,” said Anthony. “With the team we had, we first aimed for the top-10, or to get close to the top-5 at the very best. When you look at the results, the highest goal we had set was not that far, eventually. At the end of the day, we set a good time, and everyone is ok: that is the most important thing”. Groupama-FDJ just missed five seconds to enter the top-5, while Jumbo-Visma conquered victory by completing the course thirty-eight seconds faster. “It’s a very good performance, but we knew that we had a consistent team with engines like Bruno or Miles”, said Thibaut Pinot. “We knew we had the potential. We just had to prove it on the road, and that’s what we did. We might not have the habits of other teams, but it shows that we are in good shape for this Vuelta”. “Starting with a team time trial is always special”, added Fabian Lienhard, who started his first Grand Tour. “You are a little more nervous than before a 200-kilometer stage or a prologue, but it was super nice and there were a lot of people on the side of the road. We needed to stick together, and in the end, we did a good time. It’s a good sign for the next three weeks.”