Janez Brajkovic won the time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné to take the yellow jersey from Alberto Contador, who had a lacklustre race against the clock.
Contador won’t panic because this race is where he intends to iron out any glitches and improve his form ahead of the Tour de France, but sixth place - 1-46 off the pace set by the Radioshack rider - was a surprise.
Last year Contador was fifth in the equivalent time trial at the Dauphiné, 44 seconds behind the winner Bert Grabsch, and we all know what followed. The Spaniard went on to dominate in the mountains at the Tour and sealed the win by taking the time trial at Annecy for good measure. So there is nothing to suggest Contador is behind schedule, although his climbing form will come under extra scrutiny in the coming days to see whether there is a minor chink in the armour.
For Brajkovic, the 26-year-old Slovenian time trial champion, it was an imposing performance, and enough to suggest he fully deserves a place alongside Lance Armstrong in the Radioshack team for the Tour. He covered the 49-kilometre stage from Monteux to Sorgues in just over an hour.
Brajkovic’s career has stalled somewhat since he burst onto the scene in 2006, wearing the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta a Espana during his first season as a professional. In fact, today’s stage win was the biggest victory of his career so far and makes him a very strong contender in this Dauphiné.
The climbing starts tomorrow and he leads Contador by 1-41 overall, a handy cushion to have. Brajkovic will be difficult to dislodge.
Britain’s David Millar was second on the stage, only 26 seconds slower than Brajkovic. That performance also means he’s second overall and if he can climb steadily, Millar can now target a place in the top six.
When he crossed the finish line, Millar set the fastest time, beating the mark set by Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen. The Norwegian time trial champion was one of the early starters and he turned in his best performance since a troublesome Achilles injury blighted the first part of his season. Although it’s early days yet, he may demonstrate by the end of the race that he is fit and strong enough to warrant a place in Team Sky’s Tour line-up. Boasson Hagen was eventually third.
Tejay Van Garderen, the 21-year-old from the United States, was an excellent fourth and, if he can repeat the climbing ability he showed when finishing second overall at the Tour de l’Avenir last year, he could be an outsider for a top five place overall.
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas was a fine seventh on the stage – despite being caught by the man who started behind him, Brajkovix. The Welshman now lies fifth overall and has regained the lead in the points classification.
Denis Menchov, who of all the Tour contenders has had the lightest race programme this year, will be more than content with fifth place in the time trial - particularly as he beat Contador by 51 seconds.
The Spaniard was a little below-par, particularly considering that the public and some of his rivals consider him to be invincible in stage races.
But there is time yet and being off the pace overall may encourage him to attack in the mountainous stages to come.
The race continues tomorrow (Thursday) with stage four, a 210-kilometre leg from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux - Risoul. It’s a steady uphill drag, with a finish at 1,870 metres on top of the 13-kilometre long first-category climb.
Stage three: Monteux - Sorgues, 49km
1. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Radioshack in 1-01-51
2. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 26sec
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky at 43sec
4. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Columbia at 53sec
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 55sec
6. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 1-46
7. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 1-56
8. Christian Knees (Ger) Milram at 2-09
9. Laszlo Bodrogi (Fra) Katusha at 2-14
10. Patrick Gretsch (Ger) HTC-Columbia at 2-15
1. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Radioshack in 10-22-04
2. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 36sec
3. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Columbia at 50sec
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 1-41
5. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 2-01
6. Christian Knees (Ger) Milram at 2-20
7. Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Katusha at 2-45
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 2-47
9. Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2-49
10. Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 2-53
Tejay van Garderen continues to impress
A fourth consecutive top ten stage finish for Geraint Thomas
A solid second spot for David Millar
Janez Brajkovic on his way to winning the TT, and taking the race lead
Criterium du Dauphine 2010, stage two: JJ Haedo sprints to win
Criterium du Dauphine 2010, stage two photo gallery
Criterium du Dauphine 2010, stage one: Bole wins opening road stage
Criterium du Dauphine 2010, stage one photo gallery
Criterium du Dauphine 2010, prologue photo gallery
Criterium du Dauphine 2010, prologue: Contador wins, Thomas fourth
Criterium du Dauphine 2010: The Big Preview