Tour de France stage 1: Dennis leads the way as the next generation takes over

Was it just the nature of this shortish time trial, or did the opening stage of the 2015 Tour de France herald a changing of the guard and the beginning of an ongoing narrative that will run for the next three weeks? We’ll have to wait to find out, but while the partisan Dutch crowd saw their home favourite Tom Dumoulin fall short, Rohan Dennis set an early benchmark that saw first Tony Martin and then Fabian Cancellara – with seven World Championship time trial wins between them – fail to match.

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Rider of the day

It was only 11 months ago that Rohan Dennis made an unusual mid-season switch from Garmin-Sharp to BMC. But since then his career has gone stratospheric. Third in the concluding time trial at the Vuelta. A key member of BMC’s winning TTT outfit at the Road World Championships. Overall winner at the Tour Down Under. Holder of the hour record (well, for three months, anyway).

And now this.

Dennis had been open in identifying this stage as a key target for him – he’ll be spending most of the rest of this race shepherding BMC’s GC hopeful Tejay van Garderen – but it’s one thing saying you want to win it and another actually doing it. The 13.8km parcours was ideal for him – long enough for him to stamp his pedigree on the course but also short enough and – just – technical enough to negate the formidable strength and stamina of Martin and Cancellara.

From the young Aussie’s posture on the bike, it was obvious he was 100% committed to his effort, surviving one scary moment when he tried to take the inside line on a tight corner a little too aggressively and pacing himself beautifully, gaining most of his time over his rivals over the latter half of the course. (An apparent shift in the wind that created a slight headwind on the return leg didn’t hurt either.) But his victory was fully deserved, and he became only the seventh Australian rider to wear the coveted maillot jaune.

Four things we noticed

1. The GC battle remains on standby. As expected, there was little to separate the major GC contenders after this relatively short ITT. Of the men who are likely to be still operating at the sharp end when the peloton stares down – or should that be up? – the barrel of Alpe d’Huez three weeks hence, Bauke Mollema, Rigoberto Uran and Thibaut Pinot (respectively, 37, 40 and 41 seconds shy of Dennis’s time) will be most happy with their afternoon’s work. But you can pretty much throw a blanket over the rest of the main men, with only Joaquim Rodriguez (who is a podium contender only in the minds of the most staunch romantics) and Romain Bardet (who can’t time trial for toffee) significantly further adrift.

If we look solely at those who have any significant claim on a top five finish, here is how the major contenders stand relative to virtual leader Mollema.

Bauke Mollema

Rigoberto Uran +0:03

Thibaut Pinot +0:04

Tejay van Garderen +0:05

Vincenzo Nibali +0:06

Chris Froome +0:13

Alejandro Valverde +0:19

Alberto Contador +0:21

Jean-Christophe Peraud +0:22

Nairo Quintana +0:24

Joaquim Rodriguez +0:49

Romain Bardet +0:57

Those few seconds gained or lost today may prove to be important in the final week, but as we stand today no one’s Tour challenge has been significantly compromised as a result of this year’s sole ITT. Game on.

2. Next generation vs old guard? Could this year’s Tour signal a changing of the guard across the race’s key disciplines? Round one – the battle of the time trialists – went to the next generation, with youngsters Dennis (25) and Dumoulin (24) sandwiching veterans Martin (30) and Cancellara (34).

Tomorrow it’s the turn of the sprinters, with 30-somethings Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel battling Alexander Kristoff (27), John Degenkolb (26), Peter Sagan (25) and Nacer Bouhanni (24). Similarly, how will seasoned veterans Contador, Froome, Nibali, Rodriguez and Valverde (all aged between 30 and 36) fare against Quintana, van Garderen, Bardet and Pinot (all 24-26)? We will have to see, but we could well be looking back in three years’ time as this being the year the balance of power in the peloton changed irrevocably.

3. Keeping the home fires burning. Tom Dumoulin couldn’t deliver victory on home soil in front of an enthusiastic and at times deafening crowd, but Dutch riders showed their strength in depth, with six placing in the top 16, including Trek’s Bauke Mollema, who has finished sixth and tenth in the last two editions. Also a nod to the Brits, who put three men – all current or past Sky riders – in the top 13, including an impressive tenth for MTN-Qhubeka’s Steve Cummings.

4. Boom! Shake the room. The story surrounding Lars Boom‘s low cortisol reading – note, not a doping issue! – will run and run throughout this Tour and beyond. It’s easy to tar Astana with the label of ‘black hats’ given their not exactly whiter-than-white history but the reality is that Astana did what I suspect any other team would have done and opted to turn their back on the MPCC’s (Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible) voluntary code and point to the fact that Boom’s participation does not contravene UCI regulations.

The Dutchman will be a crucial wingman for defending champion Vincenzo Nibali over stage four’s cobbles, and the last thing any GC team needs is to start the race a man down given the difficult team time trial that looms a week tomorrow. There are a lot of reasons to brand Astana as villains, but this isn’t one of them. It’s surely a dagger in the heart for an increasingly toothless MPCC, though.

Stage 1 result

1. Rohan Dennis (BMC) 14:56

2. Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) +0:05

3. Fabian Cancellara (Trek) +0:06

4. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) +0:08

5. Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:15

Link: Official race website

3 thoughts on “Tour de France stage 1: Dennis leads the way as the next generation takes over

    • Essentially a prologue in all but length but an intriguing day’s racing. Give or take a few seconds either way, perhaps the only real surprise was Dowsett’s (lack of) performance.

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