26/06 - Stage 20 - Bergerac to Périgueux - 54 km

It’s time to settle the overall podium. A lot of time can be gained - and lost - in this very long time trial on the penultimate day of the Tour de France.

The route
First of all, this is a very demanding time trial. The first part takes place on country roads. After 11 km, the riders enter Le Bost. From here, the road kicks up for the following 4 km. This part isn’t very steep - about 2 % - and shouldn’t ruin your rhythm. After reaching the top in Lagudal, it takes another 4 km before the descent starts. This is also where the first intermediate time check is located. For the first 20 km of this stage, the rule is: every time you are in a forest area, it’s either up or down.

The weather forecast shows rain for the early starters and a light headwind. Combined with the length and the rough asphalt, which most of this stage takes place on, this will be a very tough day on the bike.

Upon entering Villamblard, the following 5 km are uphill. Again, the gradients are steady but not very steep. The following descent is fast and includes a couple of tricky corners in the forest. After 34 km, the riders enter Manzac-Sur-Vern. As they pass the church on the right side, the road starts to kick up again for about 400 meters. A short descent and part of a false flat is followed by 3.5 km uphill towards the second intermediate time check in Font-de-Meaux. After a bit more than a kilometer, the descent starts in Les Meynichoux. This downhill section is perfect for riders like Tony Martin who are able to push big gears.

The finish
After the descent, the riders cross over the highway and immediately after it, in Les Crouchaux, they start on the final climb of the day. The following 1.4 km have an average gradient of 6.4 %. It starts out steeply, which will kill your good rhythm. Then it evens out a bit before it kicks up again with steep gradients near the top. Despite its short length, it’s very important to save some energy for this climb. The final descent starts with about 4 km to go. The final 2 km are flat and technical with roundabouts and tricky corners. After passing under la flamme rouge and turning left, the road kicks up a little the following 500 meters. This is a very long time trial and, this late in the race, even this short uphill section will take its turn on the riders. Only the last 300 meters are flat.

The favorite
Today, there is only one favorite. Tony Martin is aiming big at this time trial and he shouldn’t have any problems taking his second stage win of this year’s Tour de France. After the race presentation, Tony Martin was disappointed only to find one time trial on the program. Therefore, he decided to make up his own when he won stage 9 after a nearly 60 km solo ride. In the Pyrenees, Martin didn’t want to take it easy and just join the grupetto. The plan was not to start too early and therefore, Tony Martin spent a little extra energy on not losing too much ground on the climbs. This means the strong German will start in the last third group of the riders. As mentioned, the weather forecast shows rain for the early starting riders. This is what Tony Martin is trying to avoid by starting late. The profile is very demanding but Tony Martin has proven to be extremely strong this year, even on the climbs. I would be very surprised not to see the triple world champion winning this time trial. Zipp has made a new set of rainbow-colored wheels for Tony Martin for this time trial. Click here to see them.

The other contenders
While Tony Martin is in a league of his own today, the riders fighting for the podium places today are very equal. Luke Durbridge, Michal Kwiatkowski, Geraint Thomas, Jan Barta, Tejay Van Garderen, Sylvain Chavanel and Tom Dumoulin all have a solid chance of making top3.

The same goes for Vincenzo Nibali. He has already proven to be the strongest rider - by far - in this year’s Tour de France with four stage wins so far. The most impressive thing is that, until he started on Hautacam, he hadn’t really pushed himself for real. He did so on Hautacam and nobody was even close to keeping up. Nibali is obviously still relatively fresh and this means a lot on the penultimate stage of the race. Had this time trial been in the first week, I doubt Nibali would have been able to fight for a top result. However, at this point in the race, seeing how strong he is, I’m sure Nibali will put in another great performance, honoring the yellow jersey. This would also be a warning to Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, showing that it’s not only uphill that he’s aiming to match them next year.

The fight for the overall podium
Before this time trial there are only 15 seconds between Thibaut Pinot in 2nd place and Alejandro Valverde in 4th place. Jean-Christophe Peraud is two seconds in front of the Spaniard in 3rd place.

On paper, Jean-Christophe Peraud should be the strongest of the three against the clock. As a former mountain biker and French time trial champion, Peraud seems like the prime pick for the 2nd place overall. Last year, Peraud saw his overall chances disappear as he crashed in the final corner of the last time trial. Today, he can take revenge and make the biggest result of his career.

To me, the real fight is between Thibaut Pinot and Alejandro Valverde. Many don’t think the young Frenchman can time trial but he’s actually quite good against the clock. He proved this in Tour de Suisse just a few weeks before the Tour when he finished 9th in the final time trial. Pinot has worked hard to improve his time trial skills but I doubt it will be enough to keep his place on the podium. Alejandro Valverde is not a specialist against the clock but he’s very very strong. Last year, Valverde put in 1:16 minutes on Pinot in the long time trial in the Tour and 40 seconds in the Vuelta a España. A week before the Tour de France started, Valverde had won the Spanish national time trial championship nearly one minute in front of number two. He hasn’t been feeling well the last two days in the Pyrenees but he’s still aiming to take back his second place overall. I don’t think he will be able to beat Jean-Christophe Peraud, but I’m confident he will finally make the overall podium in the Tour de France. On the contrary to Pinot, Valverde knows this is his last chance to go for the GC in the Tour. He’s very determined not to let this opportunity slip away.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.