Geraint Thomas looks safe in the yellow jersey, he could even win the stage today but other steps of the podium are in play in today’s time trial with a course that puts the emphasis on trial.
Primož inter pares: a fast start and eventually a breakaway went clear only for Katusha-Alpecin, or what is left of them, to start chasing. It was so Ilnur Zakarin could attack on the Tourmalet and he was joined by Mikel Landa, then Romain Bardet, Jacob Fuglsang and Rafał Majka, all in action with still 100km to go. Soon Landa was virtual podium material in Paris and this incited Lotto-Jumbo to take up the chase and Robert Gesink chomped into the breakaway’s lead but at the same time the breakaways knew they weren’t ought to win the GC, this was for the stage win and they were trying to keep something in reserve for the finish. They tried but it didn’t work, a flurry of attacks from Primož Roglič, Steven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin thinned down the yellow jersey group but Geraint Thomas never wobbled. Chris Froome though was dropped but across the top of the Aubisque he was towed back into contention by Egan Bernal. Come the final descent and Roglič never seemed to lose the front position, he kept trying to open up a gap and finally got one and with it the stage win and the time bonus. All told this was probably the best stage of the race and one of the better stages across recent vintages, what it lacked in total reversals and surprises it gained in seeing big names on manoeuvres with 100km to go.
The Route: make a saccadic glance at the profile and it looks innocuous enough but look closer and you start to wonder, the climb out of the start for instance and all the oddly spelt names. Then go and ride the course and you realise the map is certainly not the terrain. This is a very hard time trial course, uphill from the start and the kind of ascent where a rider will quickly know if they’re on a good day or not and where some can go into oxygen debt and spend the rest of the course defaulting. To help the course has been resurfaced with billiard-table blacktop. The odd-sounding names? We’re in the Basque country and if it’s on the French side it still means steep roads, a roller-coaster of a course. The section from KM4 looks level on the profile but it’s got lots of rollers to work the derailleur and countless bends, a follower in a vehicle could get travel sickness and taking the best line will save significant amounts of time. The descent down to Ustaritz is twisty and steep and then it starts to snake back up to the first time check.
After the time check comes the section to suit the more powerful riders where they can get into a tuck and turn a big gear although still up and down across a ridge and fast across to Souraïde and then an awkward descent, do riders stay on the tribars for speed at the risk of losing control? Then another climb and the second time check.
At Ordotz there’s a left turn and it’s onto a small road, a brief descent and then the “wall”. First the road rears and you think you’ve made it as it levels out by a farm, then it goes up again so if it’s listed as 900m at 10.2%, there’s plenty of 14% each time to the Col de Pinodieta, the last mountain pass of the Tour de France and a sight for sore legs. It’s a fast descent with some more bends before an open road and then a drag up to the line in Espelette.
- The course that wasn’t to be: because the Tour was moved back a week to avoid clashing with the FIFA World Cup apparently the original plan was for a road stage into the Basque Country followed by flatter time trial around Pau, but because of a big festival in nearby Bayonne all the Basque hotels were fully booked meaning they opted for a time trial instead and all the race caravan has stayed put in Pau for the last three nights and returns back for another night before catching a flight tomorrow to Paris.
The Contenders: last year Maciej Bodnar was the surprise in Marseille, he’d saved his energy for the final time trial and beat the bigger names. This year the course seems to hilly for the heavy-set rouleurs like Bodnar, Stefan Küng (BMC Racing) or Yves Lampaert (Quick Step) who have been saving themselves for today.
Among the GC contenders we’re left extrapolating among those in action yesterday. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) has the TT credentials, he won the prologue in Düsseldorf last year and has been the strongest rider in the Tour which makes him a strong pick today. Apparently he’s ridden the course three times already (which puts him on a par with this blog) but as The Cycling Podcast points out says he’s been aiming for this race. Chris Froome could still be close but has been struggling of late on the climbs.
Primož Roglič (Lotto-Jumbo) is the man of the moment, he was all over yesterday’s stage and has won plenty of TTs already and this is a course for him too.
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) ought to be the default pick but if he was active yesterday, he was not incisive and this course isn’t the one he’d design, especially if he could draw the route this morning.
It’s hard to see other contenders. Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) is the French champion and won by a huge margin but has spent the last few days resembling a boiling pressure cooker, Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) has looked smoother but must be equally drained. Bob Jungels (Quick Step) can roll but will be drained from yesterday.
|Primož Roglič, Geraint Thomas|
|Froome, Küng, Latour|
Weather: a top temperature of 25°C with the outside chance of rain for the early starters but the latest forecast says it’ll be dry for all. The rain can make a big difference, these roads are much more awkward in the wet.
TV: live from the start to finish. Lawson Craddock is off at midday CEST with Geraint Thomas starting at 4.29pm CEST.