In the modern Tour de France, time trials play a huge role in the final outcome of the race. This year is somewhat rare in that there is only one test against the clock. Typically the organizers either start with a prologue and/or put an individual or team time trial in the first 10 days of the race, but in 2014 the sole individual time trial is on the penultimate day of the entire race. So, what do you need to know about Stage 20?
Stage 20 is a 54-kilometer individual race against the clock, and that’s a big task at the end of three weeks of racing. The stage will take well over an hour for even the fastest riders to complete, and at this point it’s been a long time since these guys have been on their time trial bikes.
Performing well in a time trial on the next to last day of a three-week Grand Tour comes down to recovery. No one in the race will ride as fast or with as much power as they could if this same time trial was in the first week, or if it was a standalone event like the World Championship or a National Championship. Instead, success will come down to who has the most left in the tank and the greatest motivation and ability to focus intensely for the whole distance. You might think the focus part is inconsequential because these guys are pros and this is their job, but there’s a big difference between giving 100% for an hour while you’re surrounded by the peloton and giving 100% when you’re all alone in an individual time trial. Some riders thrive in time trials, but others struggle.
The course is difficult
Stage 20 is not a flat dragstrip of a course for 54 kilometers. There are four significant but uncategorized climbs along the route. This tends to favor riders who can cope with changes in pace and cadence well, rather than the big diesel engines who prefer to get up to a very fast speed and hold it steady. With the distance and the fatigue riders surely have in their legs, it will be the hills that are somebody’s undoing. If you hit the early hills too hard and you’re fading too much by the time you hit the final two, you could lose big chunks of time. I think you’ll see the most successful riders on Stage 20 start a bit conservatively so they can finish stronger.
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Nibali’s lead is secure…
Vincenzo Nibali is not known as a master of the individual time trial, though he can hold his own. But with a lead of seven minutes, he can afford to put in a good ride rather than taking risks to go for a great ride or a stage win. That said, the man in the yellow jersey is the strongest man in the race and Nibali may want to make that point with a strong time trial performance. We’ll have to see if the yellow jersey gives him wings yet again. More likely I expect to see him in the top 5 of the time trial but not the stage winner.
…the rest of the podium is not
While Nibali can afford to be conservative, the three (maybe four) men fighting for the remaining two positions on the podium cannot. Jean-Christophe Peraud, Thibaut Pinot, and Alejandro Valverde are separated by 15 seconds, with Roman Bardet about two minutes further back. It’s extremely doubtful that Bardet can pull off a jump up the classification to get on the podium, unless he has the ride of his life and someone ahead of him has some serious misfortune. Peraud has a good history of results on hilly time trial courses and Valverde stormed the Spanish Time Trial National Championship just a few weeks before the Tour de France, so they appear to have a slight advantage over Pinot. Then again, Pinot and Peraud have the entire country of France cheering them on (as does Bardet), so if there was ever a time when inspiration could provide an extra few watts, this would be it.
Just outside the battle for the podium sits American Tejay Van Garderen. A slight miscalculation with calories earlier in the week cost him just enough time that it appears a podium campaign is too much of a stretch. Like Bardet, he would need to have the ride of his life and get some help from massive failures from the riders ahead of him on the GC. It could happen, but it’s unlikely. I think it’s likely that he’ll overtake Bardet for 5th place overall, though, and two top-5 finishes in the Tour de France by the age of 25 (he was 5th in 2012 as well) speaks volumes about his potential in the next several years.
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My pick for the stage win is Tony Martin, the current Time Trial World Champion. He has shown his tremendous engine already in this year’s Tour de France, and I think he’s been somewhat quiet over the past few days in order to be ready for Saturday. By the end of the stage I think the yellow jersey standings will look like this:
1. Vincenzo Nibali
2. Jean-Christophe Peraud
3. Alejandro Valverde
4. Thibaut Pinot
5. Tejay Van Garderen
6. Roman Bardet
Let’s see if I’m right! What do you think?
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