Tour de France Stage 20 Preview

A time trial or a wine trial? Today sees a stage win up for grab among the TT specialists, a prestigious win and a pre-Tokyo test too while the top-10 can move too, and all amid some of France’s finest vineyards.

Siesta: anyone viewers hoping for a siesta on the sofa had their day ruined. A lively start, crashes and then waves of attacks ruined a 200km procession to a sprint. Only the middle section of the stage fell into a lull, but for viewers only as the pace was still high for the riders, this stage did its bit to propelling the 2021 Tour to a likely record average speed in Paris. The large breakaway started the attacks with over 50km to go and it was like watching a points race on the track as riders tried to get a lap on each other. Matej Mohorič hit the group over the top of a small climb as Nils Politt and Franck Bonnamour hesitated and Slovenian quickly took 30 seconds while behind there was a classic stand-off, everyone was rolling through but not everyone was giving it 100%. With Mohorič’s win every long breakaway has ended with a solo triumph, nobody has had to sprint for the win. This gave Mohorič time to sit up and make a “hush” gesture with a finger on the lip, then a “zip the mouth” gesture both of which invited more questions about the Bahrain team’s police raid rather than using the win to distract from this.

The Route: 30.8km amid some of France’s most celebrated vineyards, there’s wine is almost more exciting than the course but you haven’t come here for tasting notes. It’s largely flat and without anything too technical but there are some small roads through the vineyards combined with some sharp corners, it’s a course requires riders to brake and accelerate several times, a rider can’t hold their cruising speed for long, especially in the early part. The second time check at Montagne (“mountain”) sits atop a small drag up. The Laval TT earlier in Tour had several hills, drags and even a late spike, this is much flatter.

Ride this course on a normal day and it’s like browsing Decanter magazine as you pass Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, Grand Corbin, Pavie, Laroze, Les Jacobins and many other châteaux that leave oenophiles in rapture… and often deeply out of pocket, the exchange rate between a recent bottle of Pétrus and a team-issue bike is about two bottles for one bike. Each to their own but like anything there’s value whether it’s finding a bike or local wine you may like.

The Contenders: Tadej Pogačar (UAE) won in Laval but the hilly course helped him over the specialists and he had a dry run when others went in the wet, so he should be close today but it’s advantage to the bigger TT specialists, his team mate Mikkel Bjerg could be close but seems a lighter rider than the past and has been working. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has been targetting today and it’s both a big goal and a pre-Tokyo test. Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) has been hauling himself around France with today’s stage on his mind after being narrowly beaten in Laval. Stefan Bissegger (EF-Nippo) was off the pace in Laval but rode in wet and lost control on a corner, today should give him more of a shot. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuincnk-Quickstep) has a great chance too. Ineos will have a harder time on a flatter course but Richie Porte has been quiet, has been saving something for today?

Among the GC riders the top-10 isn’t set yet. Wilco Kelderman has had a very consistent Tour, except for a bad TT in Laval but can hope to overhaul Ben O’Connor if he has good day for fourth place; while Alexey Lutsenko can hope to take sixth place from Enric Mas and Pello Bilbao eighth from Guillaume Martin.

Stefan Küng, Wout van Aert
Kasper Asgreen, Tadej Pogačar
Bissegger, Lutsenko, Bjerg, Porte, McNulty

Weather: warm and sunny, 27°C and a light NE wind.

TV: the first rider, lanterne rouge Tim Declerq, is off at 1.05pm and the last rider, Pogačar, should arrive 5.55pm CEST.

66 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 20 Preview”

  1. Vingegaard had a fine ride in Laval too – his emergence is one of the many encouraging subplots in this Tour. Like Pogacar, though, I’d expect him to ride conservatively, enough to keep 2nd from Carapaz.
    I’ve bitten the bullet for a mid-range St. Emillion to toast this great Tour and you, Mr. INRNG, will be part of that – salut!

    • Good call on Vingegaard – didn’t seem to ride too conservatively though! To beat Kung and Bissegger in a flat TT after fighting for 2nd place in the mountains is remarkable. Arguably more impressive than Pogacar’s final TT last year? Jumbo have an incredible vein of talented young riders. Hope he continues to develop as he could be a big player versus Bernal, Remco, Pogacar in the future.

  2. David Millar made the point in race commentary yesterday that the peloton, in his view, was the strongest and fittest he’d seen.
    I wonder if the various static cycling aids and programmes is a big part of this, it seems to me that they can give a rider a high base level of fitness and also help in both tapering specific elements of training as well as maintaining a good level of ‘tick over’ fitness without even stepping out of their home?

    • Maybe for an amateur trying to squeeze an hour in between tea time and the kids bath time. But follow any pro on Instagram or Strava and you’ll soon realise that they do hundreds of kilometres day in day out, and they don’t have to worry about the weather because they will either live in the south of France or be more or less permanently camped in Tenerife/Sierra Nevada/Livigno. Because altitude.

    • “David Millar made the point in race commentary yesterday that the peloton, in his view, was the strongest and fittest he’d seen.” Based on what? Did he go into any detail?
      As to: “..a recent bottle of Pétrus and a team-issue bike is about two bottles for one bike.” with the current electronic/hydraulic, plastic-fantastics I think I’d go for the wine if someone was giving ’em away 🙂
      How old was Mohoric when BigTex made that dumb gesture? Either way it was dumb, same with the comments he made later as stage-winner. Someone on that team needs to tell HIM to zip it! STFU and cross your fingers it ends up like the big raid on Quintana…pssssssssst.
      Disclaimer: NO endorsement of doping or the Bahrain team here, just questioning the actions of their rider when under scrutiny in this way.

      • Yeah, I heard Millar’s comment and thought it very odd and very much at odds with that uni scientist in Pogacar’s camp who essentially said the rest of the GC contenders were unfit.

      • It would not surprise me if this Tour turns out to be super fast for the amount of km’s and altitude.

        Would that no have something to do with a lot of riders having the Olympics or the world champs as their goal? It seemed we had different races within the race. The first week has been superfast and a lot of those entertaining the first week are mostly out of the race now, with the exception of WvA or Alaphilippe. The breakaways are also not for 2nd tier teams or riders anymore. A lot of the times there were proven race winners in there, like Nibali or Alaphilippe, who seemed to treat the TdF like a breakaway training camp…

        • What else could they ride for after that first week? For teams with no GC rider, or one that is minutes down, there are only breaks. That’s how Ben O’Connor made his way up the rankings. For someone like Alaphillippe it makes no sense to ride solely for Cav when you can bag a win yourself.

    • I also wonder if the new in-house tech is going to make cycling an increasingly middle-class sport, where children from wealthier homes can properly explore the sport from a much younger age than before.

      • “an increasingly middle-class sport,”? I guess that depends on where you are, no? In countries where the sport has some history and tradition it still seems an interested kid with some ability can find a team/coach that can supply most of the equipment so even poor kids can take up the sport provided they can get noticed by a local team.
        In rich countries with little or no tradition, my experience is road cycling is still an upper middle-class experience since the cost of the equipment is so high and there are few (none?) junior type teams with fleets of bikes or other equipment. The parents have to pony up for everything. 30+ years ago when I was in bike retail in the USA, the kids involved all came from that background though they were maybe not quite as equipment-obsessed as I’d bet they are today.

    • ‘Yeah so lads, you know how we ride for Bahrain and we’ve been under suspicion all season for being suspiciously good in stage races, and you know how I’m Slovenian and people are getting suspicious that anyone born within pissing distance of Ljubljana is an incredible cyclist? Well to show people how wrong they are to think this I’m going to clip off the front with 25km to go on a really fast flat stage, win solo by a minute and make a shush gesture’.

      ‘Yeah, good plan Matej’

      • I do think Mohoric did no one a favor by adding fuel to the fire.

        That said: Mohoric and some of his team mates have been great riders throughout their careers. Poels is another example, or Bilbao. Their performances are not out of this world. I know it’s hard for so called cycling followers, but let’s suppose the team or at least some of the team has nothing to hide. And let’s suppose they know nothing about possible other stuff that’s going on within the team. Would you not be super pissed that there’s a media hype around you and the French police treats you like a suspect, taking a lot of private stuff?
        And if you know all phones and a lot of other data are taken, would you be able to sleep and put your mind to performing well if you would know there’s something fishy going on in the team? Riders are not superhuman mentally, so I kind of believe Mohoric reaction is from the heart.
        Was it a smart move? Hell no… Was it smart to begin with to be contracted by a team that has such a tainted staff and is far from open about their stance on doping? No, but put yourself in the position of the riders: They have got to make a living and often they do not have a choice. There’s a number of pro riders and there is a number of teams, so based on simple math not all riders can be on teams with clear doping stances and policies. I think you’ve got to turn it around as a governing body and demand a higher standard for getting a team license.

  3. Given that Tadej holds three jerseys, shouldn’t he have to ride the course three times in different skin suits? His time in the white suit would be set against Vingegaard’s, his time in the polka dot against Poels and so on.

  4. “…you haven’t come here for tasting notes.”

    We come here for whatever you care to offer us. If that was tasting notes, I’m sure we’d all lap it up (so to speak).

  5. I’ll put this on here but I suspect I’ll get shouted down for being negative and making accusations without any concrete evidence or a watertight statement. This whole Slovenia thing at the moment is getting absolutely ridiculous. This is a tiny country who’s population is about 2 million I believe. A little former Yugoslav republic who in the days of then probably didn’t contribute a great deal many international sportsmen in the face of the numerically superior Serbs and Croats. Yet now they are utterly dominating cycling. I think they’ve won 8 stages of the Tour in 2 years, and god knows how many other major races. It’s got to the point where if they don’t win the Olympics road race it would be a surprise. They could easily sweep the podium (or send Mohoric with 20 to go, Pogacar on the last hill and save Roglic for the sprint) and go 1-2 in the TT. It’s strange enough but stranger when you consider that two of the riders are very young and one came to the game very late. They are vastly out performing the traditional cycling countries – Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland – despite having nowhere near the population and nowhere near the same cultural love of the sport. Despite these countries having children of all ages racing every weekend all year, having god knows how many clubs, amateur teams and old men giving up their time to coach and organise. And despite those countries having a good few professional teams. It looks very strange and I’m worried the sport is going to look foolish again pretty soon.

    • Hey Richard.I guess I’d feel the same being from like the UK or the US like most of you guys here.I am also not convinced it is all “a coincidence or something”..all these Slovenians. Hell, Mohoric apparently did not even make the Slovenian Olympic team…But anyway…have you ever been to Slovenia? It is one of the most beautiful countries,also quite rich. The cycling terrain is murderous- it is like basque/dolomiti mix..crazy.The population is VERY into sports. They have first class skiers (on par with Swiss and Austrians), basketballers etc. People are generally really into sports and walking around the mountains. There is not many of those US/UK fries eating/coke drinking fat arse obscenities around. So if you have a ratio of US/UK to Slovenia with the fat arse/couch potato vs fit/sport practicing crowd of 10:1..then it would be like not two but 20 million people.Add the terrain, the history of the former eastern block country ( where people had to really take care of themeselves and still then make time and effort to do sports), then it may not be that surprising. However I still think it is too good to be true. If they had one guy good, one guy mediocre…ok- like the Slovaks has Sagan,BAska, other Sagan or us the Czechs have Styby,Vakoc, Kreuziger,Cerny,Hirt etc…but the way it is now, it is possible of course..but..yeah..seems strange to me even over what I just wrote.

      • Gulags were certainly character building.
        Would say also though that the anglo-saxon tradition of fatty food is a working-class relic of being stuffed down mineshafts for 14 hours per day… it was a case of get your energy intake or drop dead.

        • Dragging countries into this. There’s not many things more narrowminded and pointless.

          “I suspect I’ll get shouted down for being negative and making accusations without any concrete evidence or a watertight statement.” –> Playing the forum version of the victim card as a preemption of the reactions does not make your reaction look better in any way. Just saying.

      • “…the history of the former eastern block country.”

        Please be precise…Yugoslavia left the Eastern Block after a couple of years, since 1948 not part of it anymore.

    • I wouldn’t use a nation doing well against the odds as proof of much, there three Slovenians doing well but the others are average. As suggested already Ireland in the 1980s but you could have Britain winning all those grand tours in the 2010s, Slovakia taking green jerseys. Denmark and Switzerland will likely outperform France and Italy in the TT today. Ecuador is suddenly good… and so on. Also cycling is popular in Slovenia, go to U23 / junior races in Italy there are often plenty of Slovenians (going by the U23 scene there, Ukrainians are going to be big soon although they have more visa issues as pros).

      I think a concern isn’t Slovenia as a nation, but there is a Slovenian to be concerned about in Milan Erzen. The story of him trying to buy a centrifuge is an alarm bell, this wasn’t a culinary model; they’ve had two directors banned in the wake of Aderlass and when it came to replacing them at Bahrain, Erzen picked Franco Pellizotti… one of the first athletes to get banned under the athlete passport.

      • Without wishing to pick and pointlessly argue.. Slovakia have all those greens and world championships from one guy. And Switzerland certainly and to a degree Denmark have always produced top cyclists. I could’ve included them in the traditional countries list.

      • Cycling News reporting some riders claiming to have heard strange noises coming from the rear wheels of some team bikes. Not sure if we’re caught in a slightly fevered silly season or on the verge of something nasty breaking to the surface. I did wonder if de Gendt’s comments about his best power not being enough for a breakaway was hinting at concerns in the peloton.

        • Re TdG

          ‘A little boy sat down and cried
          An old man passing asked him why
          He said ‘ I can’t do what the big boys do’
          Old man sat down and he cried too’

          I won’t go on….

          • I got some (relatively modern) cheap replacement wheels the other day and slapped them on my 40 year old Mercian. Sound of the angry cicadas chasing me down was frightening, but I guess that’s no the noise the pros are worried about…

          • I have a set of sort-of current(?) Campagnolo Calima model wheels on my bike currently – the freewheeling makes a lot more noise than my wife’s bike with wheels I laced up myself using an earlier model Campagnolo hubset.
            The UCI bragged about checking a whole bunch of the equipment this year and I have a hard time believing the folks at Campagnolo would allow UAE to put their decals on some sort of cheater wheels or modify the supplied wheels in order to cheat. The other teams use Big-S or some other’s sponsor’s equipment…are they camouflaging that stuff too in order to cheat? Are those making these claims the same folks who claim Covid-19 vaccines contain microchips?

        • Anyone else getting a whiff of desperation here? Did these wheels just show up yesterday? Odd that this comes up now when the top three podium spots are probably secure and only Pogacar is mentioned by name as having one? If he does have one and they do something, why aren’t the others (not mentioned, nor are their teams?) using them going as fast?
          Same s__t different day. Put up or STFU!

          • I must admit that I just can’t see a pro going for mechanical doping. In the minor and junior leagues this might happen, but the professional embarrassment of getting caught would be horrendous. You would never live it down. But perhaps I’m naive on this. I don’t think I could dope personally, and so I guess I don’t have the mindset for it.

      • My suspicion would be gaming the bio passport, which fits the mould of young riders, and someone coming from “outside” the sport. They don’t have a history and so the base level can be easily gamed. So the Pellizotti connection is worrying.
        And, what does one do with a medical grade centrifuge for a cycling team? Get the cyclist to compete with the revs per second?

      • You mentioned biological passport at the end. Shouldn’t that one detect any Erzen’s experiments on top level of the sport?

    • Maybe there would be less shout down if you were also here to make accusations if WvA rides sprints and climbs 2 times up the Ventoux like there is no difference. Or if other kids like MvP or Evenepoel pull unbelievable stunts. But since you’re only here when it comes to Slovenians or Team Bahrain, I call it just BS. Not to mention the R-word.

      • I have cast doubts at WVA and Lotto Jumbo in general, they all appeared on mass suddenly very good. Especially in time trials. I’ll say no more. I mentioned a country, which for some reason is a no no despite what we know about Russia. And obviously like everyone who doesn’t live with an athlete or occupy their closest circle of friends, I don’t have any evidence.

    • Too easy Richard S…too easy. Same s__t, different day. Post some evidence/proof or…well…you know. Were you posting these kinds of doubts pre-scandal about the two most recent dominators of Le Grand Boucle only to be proven right once excrement hit ventilator or is this the only one that pegged your fauxtrage meter?

        • And that other guy? I’ll have more about attitudes like yours in my own bit about LeTour 2021. I’ll post a link here so as not to clog this fine blog up with it, but in the meantime I’d ask what are the similarities for the “we’ve seen this all before” attitude that causes you to imply cheating? One of the previous dominators of LeTour climbed out of a hospital bed minus one testicle while the other was kicked out of the Giro for holding onto a car and was basically sacked by his 2nd division team before going on to yellow-jersey domination.
          I can understand raised eyebrows for those when they became almost unbeatable almost overnight, but what is there about a kid UAE bought up as a junior to cause doubts?
          Don’t bother with “dodgy management” unless you’re going to claim the folks behind USPS/Discovery and SKINEOS are/were somehow untainted in this area.

    • It is all too easy to make 2 + 2 = 5, there is a lot of suppersition here not any actual evidence. I can see how Tadej Pogacar’s performances might seem “otherwordly” but for one reason or another he has had little real competition this year. I struggle to see how there is some top secret Slovenian doping operation which extends across age groups and teams. I accept that cycling has form on all this but I think that other sports have been (and still are) as bad if not worse but have been better at hiding it (not that is an excuse).

      I can see the optics on all this are not good, Matej Mohoric might not really understand how his actions might be interpreted but hopefully this has now been explained to him. As Inrng has explained there are valid questions with regard to some of the figures in the management of both UAE & Bahrain but there are still many DS’s involved in cycling that have admitted to involvement in doping during their riding career, it is not a unique situation.

      Also look at some of the other performances by relatively new riders to the peloton eg MvdP, WvA, Tom Pidcock, Remco Evenepoel etc I dont see that the Slovenians are achieving anything much different. If it weren’t for some confused team thinking / poor luck Jonas Vingegaard might be a lot closer, how many people had him down as a podium pick?

      • Personally I think there’s a lot of flat earthing about the presence of drugs in the sport. The evidence suggests that the tests don’t work to stop doping, only contain it. That’s why there is a bio passport, the markers will only show if there’s an unexpected trend, because they know how to beat the tests. If you think the sport is clean why is it that there are riders from low tier teams (with less medical assistance) getting popped? Why aren’t they producing standout results which surprise the world tour teams (like Pogacar)?

    • That’s interesting. Nobody here was suspicious when the Brits won 4 GTs in a row + a few more during the previous 5 years. Also a complete outsider country when it comes to cycling not so long ago…

      I don’t think making a relation to population size makes any sense. In that case Chinese and Indians would be expected to rule this sport.

    • Right, so you’re implying that Pog and Rog are doping because they’re very good at cycling despite coming from a very small country. I assume that the doping programme started when they were in their teens – in Roglic’s case when he was still a ski-jumper – as after that they left Slovenia and moved to international teams, when all the riders could have benefited from the wonder drugs. They are 9 years apart, so presumably this would mean that the doping programme has been going at least as long as this. Mohoric is a good rider, but not a world beater, so sadly this programme has not worked very effectively for all the other Slovenian riders who came between Pog and Rog.

      The laws of probability mean that there’s nothing that strange in a small country producing 2 top cyclists at a given point in time. Others have pointed to Ireland in the 1980s, or maybe Lancashire in this year’s Giro (Yates and Carthy). If Pog and Rog were red-haired, or left-handed, would you be insinuating doping in the same way?

      • And we all forgot the Schleck brothers (pop. of LUX 1/3 of Slovenia’s), despite having same genetics and at least one of them (?) being proven doper. Mentioned doping as a disclaimer in this case, strongly believing the Irish in the 80s were not clean as a mountain stream either. And Kim Kirchen could serve the role of Mohoric in this case.

    • Slovenia also dominates the world of Lacanian psychoanalysis out of all proportion to its size. It crushes France, for example. The only places that are close are Argentina and maybe Uruguay.
      (It’s also something like top 3 in arterial plaque.)

  6. Not dissimilar to Roche and Kelly in the 80’s. They were very competitive rather than dominant, but two champs from small country where cycling is a minority sport too.

    • I was reading up on Sean Kelley last night. He really was the next best thing to Eddy Merckx … and it is not as though the competition was weak.
      Surprising how infrequently he is mentioned in the nostalgia trips.

    • Haha, apparently relationships were still chill between the two.

      During one race, Roche’s manager had a chainsaw in his boot and used it to cut down a tree that was blocking the course. The commentary team had a few jokes about why that chainsaw was there in the first place at Kelly’s expense

        • … and now I have just been reading up on Conconi. As far as I can tell the research for the drug fueled 90’s was funded by the Italian Olympic Committee.
          Governments like to step in where private enterprise is not getting the job done!

        • Dopers can’t be faulted for effort and determination, but I think the question is how close to authentic were the performances? Were they doing something the others weren’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if Merckx was an early adopter of blood doping as that is around the time they found out about it. The timing for it is perfect. But how could they catch you back then?

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