The third and final Grand Tour of the season got underway this Saturday evening in Barcelona, in rather particular conditions. On the urban team time trial, quite technical, contested in the rain and for some teams at night, the outcomes varied a lot. Although being the youngest squad of the race, Groupama-FDJ perfectly managed this opening stage, even setting the fifth fastest time of the day, just six seconds behind the winners of DSM-firmenich. Back to basics tomorrow with a punchy finish in Catalonia’s capital.
On Saturday, the 78th Vuelta was set to start from Barcelona in the early evening. As a starter, nearly fifteen kilometres were to be covered, as a team, in the Spanish city. The first squad was supposed to get underway at 6:55 p.m. on a course tallying some fifteen turns, and the weather quickly brought its own glitch. “It started to rain around twenty minutes before the start of the first team, and from that point, we told ourselves that it was better to play it safe and not take risks”, explained Anthony Bouillod. “We also adjusted our equipment accordingly, and it paid off.” The Groupama-FDJ team, made up of Rudy Molard, Lenny Martinez, Romain Grégoire, Michael Storer, Lewis Askey, Sam Watson, Clément Davy and Lorenzo Germani, got on the launch pad at exactly 7:47 p.m., under a pouring rain. “We had done two recons, but with the weather conditions, the race changed completely”, explained Clément. “The guys are very strong technically speaking, and we would have gone very fast on a dry road. With the rain, we went for another strategy, because we didn’t want to take any risks and the goal was for us all to cross the line on two wheels and with Lenny in the first five. So we didn’t take any risks, especially in the corners, but we went very fast, nonetheless. We accelerated very hard after the corners, and we did some strong pulls in the straight lines. Once past the technical parts, it was really fun. I noticed that the team was really homogeneous and that we were going fast. We got told we were on time at the intermediate check, but we didn’t take any more risks.”
“It’s only positive”, Clément Davy
After 9.6 kilometres, the Frenchman and his colleagues were five seconds behind the DSM-firmenich team, and they eventually finished with the third provisional time just six seconds behind the Dutch team. After all the squads completed the stage, Groupama-FDJ finally kept their position in the top-5 of the opening stage, where the numerous crashes and the growing darkness also had their impact. “The guys did a very good time trial,” said Anthony. “We did not expect such a good result, but with the particular weather conditions, there were opportunities. Even if we didn’t want to take any risks, the guys were focused and did well. From the car, I saw a united team, and that’s what was wanted from them. We worked a lot on this discipline in training to be ready because it is always important to start a Grand Tour the good way. We had 6 riders out of 8 in Tignes, we already worked well together in this training camp, then we were able to take advantage of the last training sessions on Thursday with the eight riders to perfect the final settings. I think today’s result puts the team on a good track for the rest of the race.” “I’ll remember that we had a homogeneous team, with the best strategy considering the weather conditions, concluded Clément. In addition to that, we’re not so far from winning, just six seconds away. It’s only positive. I had some words and advice for my teammates, but they may be young, they know what they have to do. It’s great to work together because it’s smooth. It was a great day for everyone, staff and riders. We can all be proud.”
Sunday, the riders will finish in Barcelona again after a loop inland and a detour by the well-known hill of Montjuic, usually tackled on the Volta a Catalunya. “The course is quite hilly, and the rain should have an important role in the final”, added Anthony. “We saw today that it had worked pretty well for us today, hopefully it will be the same tomorrow”. The Groupama-FDJ’s men will all take the start with a gap of six seconds behind the leader Lorenzo Milesi overall, with the exception of Lewis Askey (+ 8”), Lorenzo Germani (+ 12”) and Clément Davy (+ 59”).