The Tour de France has nearly reached Paris. Can you believe it? Three weeks, they've flown by so fast. But the race is not done yet. Still, the riders face 53 kilometers of racing against the watch. And that, my friends, is a very long time trial indeed.
Saturday's stage 19 runs from Bonneville to Chartres. The course is flat with a slight climb to the finish. The specialists, the riders who like nothing more to strap on a 55 tooth chainring and a pair of disc wheels, will enjoy this course. Everyone else will just want it to be over. The official Tour site predicts two to three minute gaps at the finish.
Because the general classification needs wider time gaps. I suppose we can't entirely blame the Tour organizers for failing to predict the truly dominant strength of Team Sky during this year's Tour. But I do think we can blame them for weighing down the race with 100 kilometers of time trials. People! Know when to say when!
The climbing stages have also done little to balance the time trials in this year's Tour. The biggest mountains came far from the stage finishes, and the hardest stages had descending finishes. Why do you hate climbers, Christian Prudhomme? There wasn't much for the climbers to work with here. On the bright side, Team Sky's defensive riding did allow for some new faces on the podium. Thibault Pinot's win in the first week was certainly a highlight of the race.
With the 53 kilometer time trial left to ride, Bradley Wiggins leads his teammate Chris Froome by 2:05. Vincenzo Nibali sits third at 2:41. It seems unlikely that this order will change by the end of Saturday unless one of the top three riders has a truly dreadful day. That kind of thing does happen, just ask Bjarne Riis. But in the normal way of things, I don't think Froome will be two minutes faster than Wiggins, and in the first long time trial, Froome was considerably faster than Nibali.
Behind Nibali, Jurgen Van Den Broeck sits at 5:53, more than three minutes behind the Italian. A bad day from Nibali and a good day from Van Den Broeck could reverse their places. I mean, 53 kilometers, that's a long way to race. Things start to yawn right open after Van Den Broeck. Tejay van Garderen, wearing the white jersey of best young rider, is in fifth. Van Garderen is 8:30 behind Wiggins and 2:30 behind Van Den Broeck. Evans is in sixth at 9:57. The way van Garderen has ridden this Tour, he looks likely to hold off Evans for a top five finish.
Farther down the classification French climbers Pierre Rolland and Thibault Pinot will be looking to hold on to their top ten finishes. Nicholas Roche looks threatening for Pinot at less than a minute back. Zubeldia in seventh should hold off Rolland in eighth, but either or both could fall to Brajkovic in ninth. Got that? Really, I think we should just watch the bike race and see what happens. Math is hard.
With only the Paris parade left after Saturday, the time trial will decide the final general classification. After tomorrow, it's all over but the crying. Start chilling the champagne!