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Tour Stage 20: Oh So Close

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Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Twenty Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

We are oh so close to the end of the Tour de France. We are oh so close to crowning the winner. We are oh so close, also, to having a real race on our hands in this time-trial. If you’ll let me indulge in some pointless, unfounded speculation: Imagine Dumoulin had not punctured back in Brittany — he could be within a minute of the lead and entering his element. Imagine Thomas had not had such a good race — Dumoulin, Roglic and Froome could be within thirty-two seconds of each other, fighting out the win on the roads of the French Basque Country. It’s almost enough to make you wish he wasn’t in the yellow jersey, actually. Anyway, the situation we have of course is that Thomas will win the race unless he crashes horribly in some fashion and there is a smaller scrap for second place.

Here is where that scrap will take place:

I really rather like this stage — it’s very...Basque. Up and down the whole way with a very challenging climb towards the end, this is a very well-designed time-trial. It rules out the pure chronomen, but if it had come to it, this would be good terrain on which to fight out the Tour de France.

One person with whom I would never fight is Amy, when choosing a wine. Here’s today’s choice — Domaine Ilarria Irouleguy

From the importer: One of the appellation’s long standing producers is Peio Espil at Domaine Ilarria. In fact, until 1990, he was one of the two independent producers in the appellation. Peio grew up in the region, a descendent of multiple generations that also inhabited the white stone house where he currently lives and works with his wife Lucie and two growing boys. In this part of the Pyrénées, where the mountains begin to lose altitude as they weave their way toward the north of Spain, large domes of green grass cover the mounds more so than snow that covers the granite peaks seen further east. It is a bucolic environment, with hundreds of sheep graze the hills and where elongated white houses with red tile roofs dot the countryside.

As for the stage, I can name six contenders, starting with the more normal time-triallists there’s the Swiss champion Stefan Küng. He won the test in the Tour de Suisse and will surely be targeting this. I’m just not convinced this is quite the course for him, or indeed for the winner of last year’s test Maciej Bodnar. It will be more up the alley of Michał Kwiatkowski, who has ridden on the front like a particularly dedicated Athenian all race but we know from experience that he’ll be ready to challenge in this time-trial. He’s a major threat for the win, in my opinion, the greatest from among the non-GC contenders.

The GC contenders, however, seem to be the people among whom the stage victory will be fought, with Primoz Roglic touted as the stage favourite. Look: I agree that a GC contender will win the stage — one of Thomas, Dumoulin or indeed Roglic. I can talk here all day about the pros and cons of each but it would be pointless. I would say instead that this stage will be won by whoever has the most left after three weeks of racing. Therefore, Geraint Thomas is my pick to win the stage. He hasn’t had to attack in the mountains for over a week, he looks to have been riding within himself in the Pyrenees and he’s in the form of his life. I think Roglic will beat Dumoulin, but only by five or ten seconds. A third stage win for the yellow jersey, so, to really put the cap on things. The podium should not change.