Team time trial likely to throw up new Tour leader

Les Essarts, France: Philippe Gilbert`s reign as Tour de France leader may be brief, with a 23-km team time trial featuring in Sunday`s second stage.

The Belgian first-stage winner`s Omega Pharma Lotto team are not among the favourites for Sunday`s timed effort and the yellow jersey is likely to change hands.

World champion Thor Hushovd of Norway, third overall after Saturday`s first stage, looks a likely candidate to take it, with his Garmin-Cervelo squad considered one of the strongest and most cohesive in the peloton and including time-trial specialists David Zabriskie and David Millar.

Hushovd`s team seem to be threatened only by American team HTC Highroad, whose leader is German Tony Martin.

"It is clear that the (team time trial) is a major goal for us," said HTC team director Allen Peiper.

Team Sky, with pursuit specialists such as Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas, can also hope to shine on the Vendee roads.

"We come from team pursuit and this is very similar. Obviously we have this team time trial at the back of our minds," said team manager Dave Brailsford.

However, most experts believe the stage is too short for huge gaps to be made.

Rabobank sports director Adri Van Houwelingen, who was one of the best specialists with the invincible Raleigh team in the 1970s and 1980s, said on Saturday: "You`re not going to see major time differences tomorrow. Yet a good performance in the team time trial is always a great boost to the team morale. As such, it is essential."

Defending champion Alberto Contador, who rides for SaxoBank, is unlikely to get the chance to make up for the 80 seconds he lost in Saturday`s first stage after getting caught behind a crash but should at least not lose much more time.

Bureau Report

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