Tour de France Stage 20 Preview

The only time trial of the Tour de France but the distance compensates for the absence. 54km is long for any race but as the 20th stage it’s going to feel even longer for some.

Tony Martin winning the stage and Vincenzo Nibali staying in yellow seem as certain as the passage of time but the podium places are still up for grabs.

Stage 19 Wrap
The five rider breakaway was never given much room. It’s been a theme in this race that no breakaway is allowed any room. At 50km to go the quintet had just two minutes’ lead. It’s cycling equivalent of playing hide and seek and counting to four before searching for the missing riders.

The Côte de Monbazillac was the lone strategic point on the race. The breakaway broke apart with Tom-Jelte Slager going solo but on the climb he was going to get caught… by his own team mate. It’s easy to see it as one rider chasing a colleague but it’s not the case, Slagter was going to come back so going clear before the catch gave Navardauskas a brief slipstream to aim for. Onwards and there were few riders to chase – Tony Martin was having a rest ahead of today – and fewer still when a crash with 2.5km to go. But ahead Navardauskas had 25 seconds and the lead was hardly falling. It was a strong win rather than a lucky break.

Navardauskas is a curious rider, so strong but with few wins to his name so far. He’s one of those riders who makes everyone’s legs hurt and if he’s up the road the peloton can be in one long line.

The Route
North through the Périgord area. The roads vary with some long fast sections and a few more rural sections. The profile above has some y-axis doping, it’s not as hilly as you might think. The three “hills” you see are more long drags and false flats rather than climbs although there are one or two steeper kicks in places. For example the passage through Villamblard at 22km has a steep ramp. For most of the time riders will merely have to change gear while remaining in their aero tuck.

A typical section of the road… minus the crowds

This is not a technical course but the course twists and turns, just gradually. Bergerac to Périgueux is 42km in a straight line and the race needs another 12km to account for the meandering route. The road snakes its way gradually across the landscape but it makes for a course where the right line is much shorter than the wrong one, it’ll add up to a lot over the day. It’s a land of small cereal fields and sunflowers and gradually changing roads.

The final climb of La Côte de Coulounieix does sting a bit, it’s 1.5km at 6.5% and enough to get riders out of the saddle especially as it gets steeper towards the top. It’s got a suburban vibe with houses marking the approach of Périgueux and its finish line. Coming after 48km it’s a sharp effort and breaks the rhythm, the risk is that some riders might sail through the second time check and look like they’re on to a good time but slip back on this climb and the ensuing descent and run in to Périgueux.

The Contenders
Tony Martin looks unbeatable. He’s won stages before, is the reigning world time trial champion and has as restful an approach to this stage as possible with no injuries nor too much team work.

There are other time trial specialists. Giant-Shimano’s Tom Dumoulin is going to beat Tony Martin at some point but I don’t see it today. Orica-Greenedge’s Luke Durbridge has been almost invisible this race and could emerge.

There’s also Vincenzo Nibali, he’s been insatiable so far and has been working for several years to improve his time trialling. Tejay van Garderen has used time trials before to win stage races outright. If he’s out of contention for the podium he’ll want to show what could have been but it’s just on the edge of possible that he could take four minutes on one of the podium pretenders. But he needs to do this to two of them in order to finish on the podium. Tough ordinarily and especially for a third week of a grand tour.

A fistful of seconds
If yesterday’s stage had a touch of hide and seek then, as L’Equipe says, today’s game is musical chairs with two spots on the podium and three players. The top-10 is going to change again. Jean Christophe Péraud has been good at time trials in the past but it’s a different mattter over54km. It’s been said on here before but worth repeating that Thibaut Pinot has made big gains in his time trialling (he was top-10 in the Tour de Suisse), if he was riding today’s stage two years ago the outcome would be disastrous for him. In the match with Alejandro Valverde most scenarios say the Spaniard wins but it’s far from certain. Yes Valverde is the Spanish time trial champion but this win is a rarity against the watch and like Pinot he’s been in the wind tunnel and training on his time trial bike. But the biggest factor for the final time trial is freshness, who is fast and who has wooden legs. It’s here Valverde has been suffering.

Romain Bardet is roughly were Pinot was two years ago and he’ll worry about being overtaken by van Garderen, especially as he lost some skin in yesterday’s late crash. Otherwise there’s a small battle between 7th-9th place between Bauke Mollema, Laurens Ten Dam and Leopold König, separated by 41 seconds. I think the time trial could entrench their positions. But it matters a lot for points and future earnings.

Tony Martin
Vincenzo Nibali, Tejay van Garderen, Tom Dumoulin,
Ramunas Navardauskas, Michał Kwiatkowski
Svein Tuft, Luke Durbridge,

Weather: sunshine and a few clouds with temperatures of 27°C. A light breeze from the north-west makes for a tiny headwind but the crowds, woodland and tall crops should shelter the riders.

TV: live from 2.00pm with Vincenzo Nibali expected to arrive just after 5.30pm.

Start order: the reverse order of the general classification with riders going off every two minutes followed by three minute intervals later on to spread out the GC riders. Here are the local start times:

10h51 : Cheng Ji (Giant)
14h39 : Tony Martin (OPQS)
15h57 : Pierre Rolland (Europcar)
16h00 : Haimar Zubeldia (Trek)
16h03 : Leopod Konig (NetApp)
16h06 : Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin)
16h09 : Bauke Mollema (Belkin)
16h12 : Tejay Van Garderen (BMC)
16h15 : Romain Bardet (AG2R)
16h18 : Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
16h21 : Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R)
16h24 : Thibaut Pinot (
16h27 : Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

Click for full startsheet in new window

38 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 20 Preview”

  1. How about a blocking award for Garmin? Stellar tactics! One day we may have TV pundits who point out these interesting aspects (I’m on NBC). That being said, the $15 nbc app has been pretty good. Thanks for the blog and twitter updates!

    • Agree, impressive tactics. Garmin should give Wegelius a raise. It seems like he consistently comes up with clever ways to use riders up the road, as in Dan Martin’s Tour stage and LBL win last year. INRNG, was he in charge at this year’s Dauphiné?

  2. I’ve loved this year’s tour! Nibbles in a class of his own but brilliant to see the next generation duke it out for the minor places.

  3. I think Valverde had to dig much too deep to have any reserves left. And it would be understandable if he’d be a bit down mentally. On the other hand he was able (really impressively) to pull himself together at the end of a couple stages and fighting back for some seconds after taking serious hits before from the youngsters on the way. Maybe he has some resistance left? Nibaly will go all out and I think the french will be good, especially Pinot who till now was very determined and fearless (even downhill, all has to be seen in perspective). All in all there will be no surprises, but I would love to be wrong and be surprised!

  4. I don’t know if he still has the energy reserves to do well today, but watch out for Vasil Kiryienka. He could be first choice for second place behind TM. The parcours definitely suits him, but all his breakaway efforts might have left him with too much cotton wool in the legs.

    Sky definitely need to come away with something to show for their sponsors – a strong ride today or an act of seppuku in the breakaway tomorrow are all that’s left.

  5. Sky have had a disaster, no doubting that but I can’t see Kiryienka being in the top 10 today. I think Martin will destroy them but Van Garderen, Dumoulin and Nibali are sure to put in big rides.

    Van Garderen on a good day could put 4 minutes in to those above him and move in to a podium spot..

    I think Dumoulin at 5/2 for a top 3 place is a good bet today though, should like this course and has been taking it easy last few days.

  6. I wonder if Tony Martin will cause some of the slower TT riders to be ‘hors delai’ today….already looking like it might be a nervous afternoon of waiting for Cheng Ji and Marcel Kittel and others.

  7. Sure what’s left in the tank will be relevant, and Pinot is ending his Tour on a high note.

    That said, I’d nevertheless consider quite *strange* a good result against Valverde, since the “improved” Pinot lost a couple of significant tests (significant, i. e., comparable conditions as for the course and relative form of both riders) where a direct comparison with the Spaniard was possible, notably the Vuelta 2013 ITT where he lost about 1″/km and, this same year 2014, the País Vasco ITT where Pinot went on performing more or less on the same level (losing 0,92″/km).

    His top ten in the Tour de Suisse to which we refer to assess his improvements, actually shows that his level this year is quite similar to the one he showed in those previous test. He always lost – with impressive consistence – 3″/km when compared with Tony Martin (in this kind of hilly ITTs: that would be very different on a flat route). The German is a good reference because in all these occasions he was always riding to win, so there’s no doubt about variable levels of form or effort on his part.
    The only other “good” results from Pinot I can remember involved climbing, and often a very short course.

    On the other hand, I find quite unfair not to recall the fact that last year Valverde got a top five (!) in the 17th stage of the Tour – Tour *de France*, I mean – which was a hilly ITT albeit shorter (32km).
    This kind of wavy ITTs always suited the Spaniard, who, for example, got 4th in the 40kms 11th stage of the Vuelta 2012, where only a surprising Kessiakoff, Contador and Froome could beat him (he lost 0,7″/km against Froome and 1,2″/km against Contador).
    Even before he was sanctioned, he had interesting performances when the course was sort of “wavy” (even without climbs) and in the last stages of a GT (e.g. Toledo 2009), while he used to suffer on flat courses.

    All that said, I’d consider surprising (present form included) if Pinot lost less than 25″ against Valverde today (or if he lost more than 1′-1’15”).
    But “surprising” is far from “impossible”, and cycling, especially in TTs, tends to deliver surprises.

    • Well, Pinot finished 3’12” behind Martin, so he lost 3.6″ per km to Martin today. In the end it seems that today’s outcome was more about Valverde running out of gas than anything.

      • That’s it! Valverde really sank… 😀
        Pinot, even if he was apparently pedalling “bad”, had a performance totally coherent with his previous ones.

  8. A couple of weeks ago I thought Nibali’s goal was to get enough time on his rivals so he could sip the bubbly TODAY on the road instead of tomorrow. He seems to have done that, leaving the other steps on the podium to be fought over today. To me, individual time trials are boring, boring, boring, but they had to put one in somewhere just to balance things out and reward the best all-round rider. Nibali’s proven (assuming he doesn’t fall off or get knocked down by some idiot with a phone/camera) to be all that and more this year. BRAVO ENZO! Grazie for spicing up what is way-too-often a contest between those trying not to lose rather than trying to win. Viva LeTour!

    • I think it is primarily the way they DO the time trials that makes them boring. In some winter sports they have that problem too and tried different things to make their contests more interesting, give them more context (cross country has/had different start groups to make sure the best perform together etc.). In theory I find time trialling or the idea of it exciting. But watching it in the chaos of tv coverage makes it exhausting and somehow meaningless. I hope there will be some improvement in the future and of course for the flat stages too: It is really important to give the flat stages more life so people don’t just watch the last 10 min.

    • The time trial, missing tactics, bores many racing fans, but it does have its own drama with the results slowly coming in and riders being dethroned. The general public probably enjoys it. I suspect some knowledgeable people enjoy it too.

      • I don’t know what could make it more interesting to watch. I think there are plenty of tactics (how fast to start out, when to make your max effort, equipment choices, etc.) but especially courses like this one with few technical elements are just, well, BORING to watch, no matter how important they are (and should be) to the GC, so I pay little attention to them as a live viewing experience.
        In a fantasy world where I was king I’d do away with the aero bars and all the wind-cheating stuff. Specialists like Tony Martin would probably still win, but I think it would provide more variables by making the larger guys with their huge engines less aerodynamic than the smaller guys with their smaller engines. With rare exceptions the current equipment rules make the chrono too much of a pure power contest while requiring way too much expensive machinery that is generally otherwise useless.

        • issue no doubt covered elsewhere but more reliable methods of tracking rider times would be a start. The ‘on the road’ gap they were giving between Pinot and Peraud was rubbish, proved by being way out every at split point. Good old Carlton Kirby was perplexed and refused to believe the 3rd split if I recall correctly.

          I really enjoyed yesterday’s TT but I had the results data on my laptop while watching. TV should do this for me. The way TTs are done, it;s a bit like showing a montage of different riders spliced together. There’s no context and therefore minimum drama. There was a race earlier this season when Kirby again got it all wrong when an important split was shown once and then not referred to onscreen again. He missed it and therefore his commentary in the latter part of the race was irrelevant as he had failed to spot the important time differences.

          In some respects, all we have right now that has any meaning at all are the TV shots at any split points and the finish line. You may as well show nothing in-between as it has almost no relevance.

  9. Fixing dossards – seems to me that the dossards of König and Bardet are fixed poorly. Looking for all the little aerodynamic advantages and then having a flapping dossard? Imagine loosing out by just seconds on the guy ahead in GC due to a poorly fixed dossard …

    • Sporza also pointed out how this detail was not ignored by Tony Martin: there is even a designated person to attach it to his suit. He also had his back taped for stiffness and support (you could see through the suit).

      The AG2R mechanics must have been sweating with punctures for both Bardet and Peraud (it cost Bardet a spot on GC).

      And what was Belkin thinking? Mollema is normally more than capable against the clock. He got a new TT bike from Bianchi that he admitted he rode for just 10min on the rest day and in the warm-up today. So after 10km he already had cramp in his leg and gluteus. Ten Dam said he had no problems with his bike and in fact praised it, and he’s normally average in a TT, but I got the impression he was putting on a brave face.

      But honestly, every piece of advice for even the most amateur or recreational rider says: don’t make a significant change to your equipment, diet or routine just before a major ride or race. How do the pros manage to screw that one up so badly?

      • Because they are professionals. They get paid to use certain equipment, and the person who pays determines what equipment they ride.
        Not sure that this was the kind of publicity Bianchi was hoping for though…

        • I understand that lots of new tech is debuted at the Tour, however I don’t think the explanation is that simple or reductive.

          And now I’ve seen the full post-race interviews with Mollema and DS Nico Verhoeven who were both grilled about the unusual choice to ride an essentially untested bike. They both confirmed that there was a choice to ride the ‘old’ bike or the new one, and the choice was made for the new one. Mollema admitted that his choice was obviously the wrong one, and that he probably should have known better.

  10. Rejoice. Valverde fails to make the top three. This has made my tour and restored my faith in justice !

    That’s all, except to thank Inrg for his mammoth contribution to the best site for cyclists and to thank all the knowledgable posters for their three weeks company.

  11. It’s interesting to read the different opinions about this years Tour. I am a little surprised by the number of people who have been raving about it. Look, I am a fan of Nibali, I’m happy for him to complete the Triple Crown of Grand Tours, I love that he attacks when in Yellow, but when a rider wins by nearly 8-minutes and at no point over a three-week race has looked in the slightest bit of trouble then I wouldn’t call that riveting viewing. Yes, the fight for the podium was interesting, especially supporting the young French guys (Bardet and Pinot) but, I don’t know…

    I guess I’m just a little despondent because of what might have been. The battle in the mountains between Froome, Contador and Nibali, especially now seeing what sort of form Nibali is in would have been quite simply epic. So to lose both Froome and Contador before the real race had even started was a major disappointment, with both of them out Nibali was the clear class of the field and he showed it. And of course when you lose Froome and Contador you not only lose the two overall GC favourites but you also lose their teams putting any real pressure on Astana in the peloton.

    It’s interesting but the general consensus I’m getting is that most people preferred this years Tour to the 2013 version. I have to be honest and say I would take the 2013 version over the 2014 all day long. Even though Froome was a class apart last year at least there were points in the race where he/Sky looked vunerable (S.9, Sky team disintegrates with Froome totally isolated with four Cat.1 climbs to come; S.13, where Froome/Sky got completely caught out in the crosswinds; S.18, when Froome blew up on the final climb of Alpe d’Huez and Porte had to illegally get him some gels) and the race for Yellow wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

    Anyway, here’s hoping for a super competitive 2015 Tour. Just imagine a race with Froome, Contador, Nibali, Quintana and then add to that Bardet, Pinot, Uran, Van Garderen, Talansky, etc.

    Finally, I know there is a stage left, but just wanted to thank The Inner Ring for all the TdF coverage, especially the great previews.

    • I don’t really care to compare one year to the next or to a hypothetical scenario (we also never got the promised sprint battle royale except ‘on paper’), but here are a few reasons why this year’s race was good in and of itself:
      UK grand depart, stage 2 especially; Jens Voigt in polka dots after stage 1.
      Stage 5 to Arenberg, a wet mini-Roubaix = epic
      The Vosges
      The Tonys: Gallopin and Martin
      The French: Pinot, Bardet, Peraud, Coquard…it’s not just the Tommy V show
      and last but certainly not least…racing every day, punctuated by repeated SHARK ATTACKS!

      There was something particularly special about his (counter)attack on Hautacam: 1) Nibali has expressed regret for not taking Horner seriously in the Vuelta last year; 2) Nibali is an admirer of Pantani’s style and his ‘rare ability’ to climb in the drops. If you watch, he counters and then drops Horner…while climbing in the drops.

      • You are correct, despite the ease with which Nibali won the overall GC there were of course some great highlights.

        I was lucky enough to be near the end of Stage 2 which Nibali beautifully stole and that was quite the thrill for me and my son.

        Yes, Stage 5 was epic. Truly a day to pencil in and watch with awe at some of the bike handling skills. Nibali again fantastic with help from Fuglsang and Westra to blow the race for Yellow apart.

        Also gotta love Tony Martin, the guy is a machine. Wonderful to see him win a non-TT stage and in such style, something like 50-60km solo to the finish and then the following day did all that work for Kwiatkowski to no avail. Of course as expected he cleaned up the final TT with ease.

        “and last but certainly not least…racing every day, punctuated by repeated SHARK ATTACKS!”

        Probably the one “highlight” I don’t agree with. To use a boxing analogy, when the superior boxer knocks down the over matched opponent once, maybe twice that’s sport, but when he keeps pummeling him over and over again and the outcome becomes predictable, routine then I no longer find it that enjoyable, in boxing they would stop the contest. I think Nibali just needed a bit more serious competition for me to make the race.

        • But if Nibali doesn’t “throw down” so to speak, then you get the other angle of it being a lightweight Tour, since he would then win by a smaller margin, against a ‘lesser’ field, instead of dominating. I’m glad he showed his class, he had to. And besides, le Tour should be about more than just W/kg while crushing the climbs, Nibali put 2+ minutes into the field on Stage 5, while others were hitting the deck and dropping out. Contador had an ‘unlucky’ crash while trying to eat on a descent…but I’ve seen video of Nibali descending, holding a midride snack between his teeth, and he kept it upright no worries. Not all of this is just ‘luck’ while out on the road…the best rider won, the others *literally* fell by the wayside.

          Great Tour this year, great racing and I loved the focus on the guys fighting for the podium, otherwise they would’ve been just footnotes racing for 7th or 8th, and who cares about that, right?

  12. Another vote with Tomi and KB in the “great tour” vote.

    And another huge thanks to IR for really fine coverage.

    The 2014 race has been a shapeshifter for sure – the rain in the wrong places really made a complex and varietal course even harder. The loss of the top cyclists simply opened the door for a focus on up and coming players, and it’s been superb. I felt gutted for Jack Bauer and Martin Elmiger, that was the most frightening attack of a peloton I can recall in recent years, and no wonder the kid was crying afterwards!

    Tony Martin’s effort has been well appreciated, he’s had some rotten luck last few years, so great that he picks up a banner year. The wild card entries through up some promising new talent as well, and seeing Sagan utterly stonewalled in stage after stage was bizarre. The loss of Cav really did unbalance things in the sprints didn’t it?


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