Greg Van Avermaet beat Geraint Thomas to the yellow jersey but Team Sky used Monday’s team time trial at the Tour de France to eradicate many of the losses Chris Froome suffered on the opening day.
What had once been viewed as an opportunity to make time had become a chance to gain it back after Froome’s excursion into a field on Saturday cost him 51 seconds on his main rivals.
And though Van Avermaet’s BMC squad pipped Sky to victory by four seconds – denying Thomas yellow by just three seconds – Sky did enough to put four-time winner Froome firmly back in the general classification mix.
BMC completed the 35.5km circuit around Cholet in a time of 38 minutes 46 seconds, four ahead of Sky, seven up on Quick-Step Floors and nine ahead of Adam Yates’ Mitchelton-Scott team.
With Froome, Yates and BMC’s Richie Porte three of the four big losers among the general classification riders on Saturday, this stage did much to level the playing field.
“Just going on the feeling, I think we can be pretty happy,” Froome said. “We gave it everything we had and it all went pretty much to plan. You can never tell who is going to be on a good day or not, but all in all it worked out well for us.
“Obviously the (Tour) didn’t start too well with the crash on stage one but that’s bike racing. We’ll take it day by day.
“It’s reassuring to take back some time. It would have been nice not to have lost it in the first place. But as I say, that’s bike racing. I think there will be a lot more time lost throughout the GC group before we hit the mountains.
“One day you gain, one day you lose. That’s the nature of the game.”
Tom Dumoulin was about the only general classification rival not to concede significant time to BMC and Sky, with his Team Sunweb team finishing fifth, 11 seconds down.
After that, the gaps became more significant. Rigoberto Uran’s EF Education First-Drapac team gave up 35 seconds in fifth, Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana’s Movistar 54 seconds in 10th, and Vincenzo Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida team 66 seconds in 11th.
Romain Bardet’s AG2R La Mondiale were 12th, 75 seconds down, while Dan Martin’s UAE Team Emirates team were down in 15th, 1:39 off the pace after key man Oliviero Troia suffered an early puncture.
“We rode out of our skin and super smooth and with the horsepower that we have did a great ride,” the Irishman said.
“If you had told me at the start that I would be only 40 seconds off Froome after the team time trial I would have been pretty happy.”
Sky were second off the start ramp and set off to a mixed reception one week after the UCI announced it had closed its anti-doping investigation into Froome.
Midway around the course first Luke Rowe and then Wout Poels dropped off the back of their train, and it perhaps proved key as BMC carried more speed through the second half of the course.
“We knew it was OK to lose Luke and Wout,” Thomas said. “We didn’t plan where or whatever but we knew the time was taken on the fourth guy over the line. If they could just go as long as they could and if they didn’t feel great then just commit anyway, and that’s what they did.”
Thomas, who is set to sign a new three-year deal with Sky, said the prospect of wearing yellow had not been on his mind before the stage, and the bigger disappointment was missing out on a good chance to claim Sky’s first team time trial stage in a Tour.
“You probably won’t believe me but I didn’t even think about it,” he said of yellow. “It was all about trying to win the stage. That would have been a nice bonus on top. We just wanted to get that stage. We’ve been close in the past in Tour team time trials. We were close but not quite quick enough.”
While Sky missed out, victory was a boon to Porte – a year to the day after he was hospitalised by the serious crash which ended his 2017 Tour – and the BMC team whose future remains uncertain as they seek a new title sponsor.
“A team time trial is always a something special when the whole team makes efforts for the same goal,” Van Avermaet said. “We are masters in it and I’m happy to be part of it.”