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Tour Stage 20: Er, Technically, the Race is Still On

Marseille - Marseille (22.5 km)

General Views of European Football Stadiums Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Ah, the decisive time-trial. And for once, it’s decisive, I suppose. For the first time since 2011, a time-trial late on has the power to decide the race outside of farcical circumstances. It’s a race around the seaside streets of Marseille, not too long, not too hilly, but with the GC as close as it is it is still a vital stage to this Tour de France.


Profil de l’étape

It’s a short stage, and reasonably technical, as these things go, but the biggest challenge will surely have to be the short climb to the iconic Marseille sight of the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica. It’s no bump in the road, nine hundred metres at an average of twelve per cent, hitting sixteen in places. That is a huge, huge challenge on a time-trial bike — not enough for a bike change, but really significant nonetheless. I’d have to assume that the narrow-ish roads and corners will have no real impact: this isn’t Düsseldorf and the conditions will be dry and hot. The wind will pick up very slightly throughout the day but it likely won’t be particularly significant.

AmyBC’s Wine of the Day – Chateau Simone Rosé

From the importer: This historic estate, situated in the hills just south of Aix-en-Provence, has been in the hands of the Rougier family for two centuries and holds a virtual monopoly on the appellation of Palette. The grapes in this wine, and there are many of them, hints at the complexity: composed of Grenache and Mourvèdre but its special character reflects the presence of a mélange other grape varieties, albeit in small proportion, including Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Castet, Manosquin, Théoulier, Tibouren, Picpoul Noir and Muscat de Hambourg.

Did you know?

The stage finishes in the Stade Velodrome. Despite the name, it ceased to actually be a velodrome in 1985 after Bernard Tapie removed the cycling track upon being appointed president of Olympique Marseille football club, ironically enough. The finish in a stadium hearkens back to the days of the final time trial concluding in La Cipale velodrome in Paris. It’s a good way of creating a spectacle — I approve, sixty thousand screaming fans is surely a nice atmosphere in which to win the Tour. Or if you’re French, to finish on the podium.

What’s at stake?

The race is still on here, and if Rigoberto Urán could still time-trial like he was able to in 2014 it would be even more on than that. Urán, then, could beat Froome in a Vuelta time-trial, challenge him in the Tour de Romandie and win in his absence at the Giro, but in the past three years his time-trialling prowess has absolutely disappeared. Never was that more apparent than in the Vuelta al País Vasco this year, when Urán started the final time-trial on the same time as the GC lead, but had a torrid time, almost getting caught by the victorious Alejandro Valverde on the way to an anonymous result and ninth on GC. His poor recent performances encourage an aura of pessimism around his chances, but he’s still the only rider about whom Froome will be worried. He has reason to be, but I, and most people, would be shocked to see him lose the race. Urán should beat Bardet to second, but Bardet is safe in third. It’s not written in stone though, not to mention that so much as a slipped chain would completely turn the race upside-down.

Who’s going to win?

There are five people I consider capable of winning this stage, starting with the bookies’ favourite Primoz Roglic. Roglic is clearly on good form, having escaped to a magnificent win over the Galibier and he can climb well enough to power over the ramp to the Basilica. It’s difficult to think of a convincing reason for him not to be at least involved here. He’s not got the pure time-trialling ability of Tony Martin, but Martin has been, for him rather unconvincing in these tests of late, not to mention the hill which may put paid to his chances.
Stefan Küng is another good time-triallist, almost completely invisible during this race. Unfortunately there’s not much of a way to guage whether that’s because of bad form or conservation for this stage. He can climb too, and his first-day time-trial would lead me to believe that it’s the second option. Then there’s Jonathan Castroviejo, who can climb and seems to be hitting his peak in terms of time-trialling, but he was soundly beaten by Froome in a late time-trial during last year’s Vuelta and this one is no better for him.
How about Froome himself then? He has ridden late time-trials well in the past — not to mention that he hasn’t won a stage yet, something that must irk him. He knows the race is his though, so a conservative ride may be more likely. I think this will belong to Roglic, narrowly.