It might have been galling for some to witness Aussie hugs and high fives on the Promenade des Anglais, but Dave Brailsford looked like his lottery numbers had come in after watching his Team Sky beaten into third in Tuesday's 25km team time trial around Nice.
"You shouldn't really punch the air to celebrate somebody else's win but I don't think I have been happier," said Brailsford after a day when Chris Froome, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Richie Porte put a few seconds into Alberto Contador without the potential messy consequences of having to defend the yellow jersey so early in the tour. An extra delight was the sight of Geraint Thomas showing that the violent pain in his fractured hip was easing. "We have got nine guys still in the race and we have done a very decent time trial, so we have got to be happier than we were 48 hours ago," added Brailsford.
Not every Englishman was quite so thrilled. "Bollocks!" tweeted Mark Cavendish after he put in several almighty pulls for his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team only for them to miss out on victory by 0.76 sec. Afterwards, Cavendish was given a warm pat from his team-mate Jérôme Pineau. On Wednesday, on the trek to Marseille, he will want a stage win.
For much of the day ladies of a certain vintage tootled along the Promenade des Anglais on bikes with oversized baskets which covered their faces like bridal veils. But then, in the hot flush of mid-afternoon, Nice was taken over by supersonic men in Captain America helmets.
And how they flew. Orica-Greenedge rode the fastest ever team-trial in a grand tour, going out like a slingshot and returning like a boomerang as they rode the 25km circuit in an average speed of 57.8km/h (35.91mph) – beating the 57.6km/h record of Team CSC in the 2006 Vuelta.
Their time of 25min 56.28sec was just enough to beat Omega Pharma, with Team Sky three seconds back in third, and also put an Australian, Simon Gerrans, in yellow. When Gerrans won Monday's third stage, he insisted "it doesn't get any better than this". Cycling's gods quickly and happily proved him wrong.
The yellow jersey has changed hands three times in four days – already more than in 2012 when only Bradley Wiggins and Fabian Cancellara wore it – but Gerrans will feel he can cling on until the mountains.
As the Australians celebrated, Thomas spoke with delight about a performance that surprised everyone, including himself. He was only dropped with a kilometre to go and was even able to put in a pull on the front. "Fortunately I definitely felt better after I woke up," he said. "I was scared of the start as the last two days I have not been able to get out the saddle and I haven't been able to put out the big watts, 400-450watts max.
"But the pain is definitely getting less. The next few days should be easier and hopefully by the weekend it should be 10 times better then.
His mum is still fretting, mind. "She wants to wrap me up in cotton wool but I can feel myself getting better so I am not going to stop just yet," he added, smiling.
Brailsford attempted to put Thomas's performance into context: "He managed to get home with a seated drive, didn't get out of the saddle and that takes some bottle.
"The first three minutes was the big objective, not only did he do that but after three minutes he came through and started pulling as strong as anybody else, which is absolutely unbelievable."
But it was Froome who again looked the coolest man of all. After putting six seconds into Contador and 23 seconds into Cadel Evans he pronounced himself "really happy".
"If we had yellow we'd be on the front doing all that work," he said. "This gives us a few more days to be in the peloton and wait until the mountains where I feel we will really excel."
There was no joy though for David Millar, who would have worn yellow for the first time since 2000 if his Garmin-Sharp team had emerged victorious in the time trial. Instead they finished sixth, 16 seconds back, leaving Millar to rue and stew on what might have been.
"I was the one who let the team down a bit," he said. "I wasn't on a good day. But the team was incredible. It's disappointing but that's racing."
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