Tour de France Stage 20 Preview

A time trial to settle the top-10 overall. Only a feverish imagination could see the podium changing but places among the top-10 can be won and lost. Plus there’s the battle for the stage, a chance for the specialists who have been hauling themselves over the Alps and Pyrenees.

Christophe the Messiah : the stage started with Enric Mas out of the Tour, he’d cut a discreet but strong figure in the race but was due to finish 11th overall and with it, bank a helpful 150 UCI points for Movistar’s relegation fight until he got flicked by a Covid test.

We got treated to another lively stage, a breakaway of heavy hitters got away but never got much more than a minute. The peloton seemed to catch them too soon but the crosswinds were making the riders nervous. Move moves went, Tadej Pogačar even had a go. A late attack from Jasper Stuyven, Alexis Gougeard and Fred Wright had a slender lead going into Cahors and the post-Pyrenees peloton was ragged, using up riders in the chase.

Coming into the finish, a window opened for Laporte. When Maciej Bodnar made a jump, the Frenchman followed. Bodnar quickly ran out of juice leaving Laporte to surge across to the three escapees where he found a helpful slipstream. Then he attacked them with 400m to go and rode away to take a solo win. There was something almost old-school with a rider “doing the kilometre” as they say in French, getting the jump on the peloton, and once again spoiling things for the sprinters. Laporte got a big win, he’d been second twice before in the Tour and this counts double: a win for him but also France as the home nation is saved thanks to a stage win, avoiding the scenario of 1926 and 1999 when there was no home stage winner.

The Route: 40km and 440m of vertical gain. A fast start out of Lacapelle-Marival under the shade of many chestnut trees, the road twists and turns and riders can stay tucked in the tri-bars to take the racing line through the bends on the way to the first time check in Aynac. After this there’s a smaller road which instead of twisting, rises and falls but the difficulty here is just getting the right gear, it’s never steep. After the second time check in Gramat there’s a prolonged climb out of town and it’s over the Causse plateau to the third time check in the village of Le Couzou.

From here on comes the most technical part of the course, a high speed descent into a gorge with some awkward corners, how fast do you dare take them? Them it climbs out of the gorge for 1.5km, it feels much more like a proper climb than the 4.7% stat suggests, it’s more often 5-6% and lined by rock that’s been heated in the sunshine, the slope eases as it crests the ridge. Then comes a longer but less wild descent with views of Rocamadour opposite. Once at the bottom it’s straight up with 1.7km at 7-8%, a regular road but through one tunnel at the foot and another just before the top. Overall it’s a fast course where specialists can make big gains but the two final climbs suit the GC rouleurs. It’s also very scenic and somewhat timeless, as if you’ll meet a Citroën 2CV or an Renault 4 coming the other way.

The Contenders: several riders have been hauling themselves around France with the hope of avenging their rainy ride in Copenhagen. Filippo Ganna (Ineos), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) and Stefan Bissegger (EF Education) will all fancy their chances and they’ve been able to rest as much as possible, Ganna’s not played the wrecking ball role he’s done in the Giro in the past, smashing the peloton. But the final two climbs will be hard for them, they can be quick through all the time checks but come undone thereafter on the climbs and descents to the finish.

A few outside picks could be Brandon McNulty (UAE), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education), Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis), and Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step) but he’s often in the top-10 but a rare winner, right?

As for the GC contenders, Aleksandr Vlasov won’t win but he needs less than a minute to pass Louis Meintjes and Nairo Quintana to move up to fifth place overall. If he was in sparkling form he might even be able to get fourth place from David Gaudu , three minutes ahead of him. Adam Yates is tenth and only needs a few seconds to leapfrog Alexey Lutsenko which he’d with his Copenhagen legs but he’s been on the slide while the Kazakh’s on the up.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE) can aim for a stage win but as the GC’s out of reach and he’s a touch sore from a crash, he’s not 100%. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) is good in a time trial too but doesn’t need to do the ride of his life either. Geraint Thomas (Ineos) should place high too.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) ought to be tired from all his riding but he won the final Bordeaux time trial last year after another hyperactive Tour. Normally can match Ganna on the flat – as we saw in the Dauphiné – and the hills suit today but what has he got left?

Wout van Aert, Filippo Ganna
Stefan Küng
Bissegger, G Thomas, Pogačar, McNulty, Bjerg, Lampaert, Bettiol,

Weather: sunny and 25°C and a light headwind.

TV: Caleb Ewan is off at 1.05pm CEST and it’s reverse GC order with riders off every 90 seconds at first, then every two minutes midway in the field and Jonas Vingegaard leaves at 5.00pm CEST.

Food and drink: the finish town of Rocamadour has its own cheese. It’s a small disc of goat’s cheese that is made all over the area but borrows the name of Rocamadour, presumably because the town is famous as a tourist destination, it’s better marketing than calling it, say, Gramat. The goats graze on the causse, a karstic plateau. This is also truffle country, the “black diamond” is sought-after and often grows wild but as it grows in a symbiotic relationship with particular types of tree, some people plant the these trees hoping the fungus will grow among the roots. The local wine is from Cahors, where for years the Malbec grape made for a potent, punchy drink and a “like it or leave it” attitude but wine growers are being more selective these days and there’s variety to suit different tastes.

53 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 20 Preview”

  1. Vingegaard may have won, with Pogacar second, but I will be looking for WVA endorsements on my future purchases of riding accessories.

      • When I lived in England I was given Weetabix for breakfast. Having never eaten any before I thought it was the single most disgusting feeling I ever had in my mouth.
        I told the story to my then boss, who said he ate four too, every morning. Maybe that’s why he was my boss?
        I still don’t eat them.

    • Do you actually listen to rider endorsements?!

      Even though you know they’re paid to say things are great…??

      I’m not sure I need WVA to tell me Cervelo are excellent, I also know he’d likely be just as good on a Specialized, Pinarello or BMC…

      (From whispers you hear (Gaviria?) apparently Colnago’s are a level down despite seemingly affecting Pogacar very little… not sure where Trek are these days? I’d take a Palace Cannondale over all of them anyway – all about the looks for me.

      BMC/Cannondale/Canyon aero bikes look nearly identical and are all the best looking professional bikes since the 90s in my opinion.

      • Plenty of videos of Cervelo and other “high end” manufacturers suspect quality control available. I would be using my own senses and intuition before purchasing which would include looking inside the frame.

        Given that Wout van Aert is a monster on a bike I’m sure his kit is specially built/chosen to cope with the stresses he imparts. I’m sure this applies to other star’s kit too.

        I’m looking forward to the WC in the “Gong”, have the Belgian superstars battered themselves in the Giro and Tour? Pidcock looks to have ridden a measured Tour, along with a few of the usual suspects present this year.

      • Game changing bike (sometimes for the pros, sometimes for the common users) often come from relatively unexpected places.
        Just a couple of examples of the latter. The Wilier Cento was groundbreaking as an actually all-around monocoque carbon frame whose concept dominated nearly a decade dictating what the big brands would go after (followed up by the Cento Uno also very good but then not as groundbreaking). It was ort of fun when Specialized went back to those basics after nearly 15 years…
        The first iteration of the Bianchi Infinito CV was simply the bike any amateur rider should buy to enjoy a great ride from any POV.

        What’s curious is that as in art or literature you often need the test of time before you can acknowledge which models had an actual decisive impact or represented a real jump forward.

        Then, one must also think that things change for a lot of different reasons.
        Cérvelo was consistently making significant bikes until 2016 or 2017, then… less so. It’s not that they aren’t extremely good, of course. Just not as brilliant or as special.
        Specialized was close to useless when alu bike were concerned, then they decided to give a turn to that situation and came up with a very respectable alu bike some 3 or 4 years ago.
        As for Specialized, the serious Tarmac are nearly always seriously good, but only some of their editions were really innovative and brought in better riding.

        The trouble of some brands don’t strike the eye, say Canyon… (although they can also become very manifest live on TV from time to time).

        Also curious that you name Cannondale along with Canyon and BMC because they really jumped on the aero bandwagon later than others, in a sense they didn’t believe that much in it, or perhaps better said put less of an accent on the subject, and actually often looked to be a step behind when compared to the top names.

      • Effectively all the top end bikes are the same…. I’d love to see a real world test that finds any significant differences in performance over the course of a race.

  2. You’d think that Ganna et al having had a quieter few days would have the edge on Van Aert but the usual rules don’t seem to apply to him. Having said that I suppose by the end of a GT the most visible riders are most visible because they have the most left.

  3. Outside of the overall contenders Wout van Aert has been truly outstanding day after day. There appears there is nothing he can’t do. One does wonder if he and others are in danger of burning themselves out before they reache their full potential. Some of these younger riders are riding nearly 12 months a year.
    Lets hope the teams are giving sound advice about long term objectives and the dangers of burn out.

    • On the other hand you could say he’s currently maximising his full potential and taking advantage of it by winning everything he targets. Who knows what’s round the next corner – a drop in form, crash, injury. Personally I hope a rival or two come along to keep things interesting.

      • I agree with you that an exceptional all-around rider like WvA should make hay while the sun shines. I’ve written in these comments before about how it appears that riders are peaking slightly sooner in their careers than previously (I.e., around 26-27 y/0), and not tending to hold those peaks as long (on the latter, I have a strong suspicion that this is due to decreased doping – with fewer recovery drugs being used, natural recovery strongly favors younger riders). I wouldn’t be surprised to see WvA follow a Sagan-like trajectory, with this year being equivalent to Sagan in 2016. I’m guessing that in 2026 we’ll see WvA in the Tour and wistfully recall the days when he was a threat to win 8-9 stages.

  4. It’s funny – you’d think that a team dominating like Jumbo Visma would ruin the race?

    But aside from Pog livening things up and JV’s own masterclass on Granon… I can’t not be happy for them and enjoy their domination.

    They’ve clearly been the leading team for a number of years now, and in different circumstances might be winning their third tour tomorrow – but instead they’ve had to wait and work even harder for the big win, so to see everything come together for them this year to crown all their era of dominance is so nice and well deserved for them.

    Interesting to see how Ineos and UAE fight back now.
    I still want to know what’s happening with Rodriguez Canó! Think with the right support he’s soon going to be in this fight.

    • I feel the same about them, and I think it’s because of the manner in which they’ve raced – when Sky/Ineos were dominating, they did so by strangling the race and locking it down (indeed Jumbo did the same in 2020 but lost it in the final TT).
      But Jumbo this year have dominated through tactical masterclasses, clever moves like Laporte’s, Vingegaard’s strength and of course Van Aert’s force of nature! They haven’t tried to control the race so much as letting the race dictate how they attack it.
      It helps I suppose that they’ve been fighting against Pogacar, who more than anything else seems to simply love racing his bike and isn’t afraid to try something every day.

      • Yes, the needed to race proactively because their foe was stronger than any of their riders on their own (or perhaps not, be he was perceived stronger). Ineos never got into such circumstances during their dominant years.

        This race was good, but the next one may be great.

      • Agreed. Part of the old Sky’s dominance was that in Froome they also had the best rider. Therefore the gap between them and rival contenders was far greater than in the last few years. What made this year’s race so exciting was how closely matched Pog and Vinny and their respective teams were. JV definitely stronger than UAE but the day they lost Rog and Kruiswijk plus Benoot’s crash threw things wide open again.

        I’ve also enjoyed JV’s tactical use of WVA: let him ride to win when he can but also don’t fail to use him as support on the cobbles or stick him in the break in case he’s needed. Had this been the Sky of old I can’t see him wearing green this afternoon.

        • They surely had the strongest rider, but in cycling a “strongest rider” tends to be such… especially under some conditions (a few notable exceptions were recorded in history, of course); which – in the case of Fromme and Sky – their strategy ensured to be satisfied most of the times. In that sense, Ecky is “very right” when he speaks of Sky train as means to an end. However, that team concerted effort not only worked on athletical means (which, on turn, were also achieved in peculiair ways), but also on politics.
          You could easily see on other terrains how the difference between Froome and the rest of athletes wasn’t so astonishing (despite the advantages which Froome was still enjoying over the rest), but at the TDF and on the ASO path which led to it, it was surely unbreakable most of the times if not always.

          • You can never let a positive Froome comment go can you Gabriele 🙂 !!

            Deep down you know the guy was the best all round GT rider for a moment at least but there’s always got to be caveat – politics, team, route, politics of other teams… one day you’ll give him his due… the bloke was great and for a hot minute (13-15) would’ve been untouchable no matter what team he rode for!!

          • @oldDAVE That last sentence being plain false is why I won’t give a go to those narratives. Froome had and has many merits (if you feel a need for it, I can provide you with my personal list), but you won’t ever be able to get a picture of him as an athlete outside of that context. Even less so in 2013 or 2014… (not that things got better, but at least he did).

      • For all of Team Sky’s repeated dominance in the race, I can’t recall an overall stronger team than this Jumbo-Visma one?
        Van Alert’s strength and versatility gives them another dimension; to see him go in early moves for points, Sagan style, but then still be around to help his team mates late on in a stage, was jaw-dropping really. Out-climbing Pinot.
        I wonder, though, if Rogelio hadn’t lost those early minutes in the race whether their strategy would have been so easily carried out?
        The old 1-2 is devastating but it means a big player probably losing out, and Roglic was he.

  5. I had to laugh yesterday. All the old racers and commentators were agreeing how Pogo needed to learn to ride more conservatively, rein himself in, save something….so he decides to go for the final sprint! Came fifth, too….He may not ‘ride to win’ a Grand Tour, but boy does he entertain us.

    On the Malbec side of things, I was told in Cahors in 1973 , when I spent an ‘interesting’ summer working in a restaurant there, that it was originally spelt ‘Maalbec’ , because it was imported by the ‘Saracens’. The extra a was dropped sometime in the 1980’s, I believe. The same cépage is called Cot in Touraine ( there is a circumflex which I cannot make this text reproduce).

    Oddly I was told the same origin story in Bologna, ( it is grown locally) double aa , saracens and all.

    What a wonderful entertainment this Tour has been, greatly enhanced by your insight and wit. Thank you.

  6. If you are looking at procycling from the Skineos VIP tent your view is likely to be obscured and partial.
    That team and its budget was the only way to win at GC racing for too long.
    Hopeful good rider comes on the scene? – Bought by Sky.
    Open racing and attacks that take the initiative? – Squashed by Sky
    However good their riders, it was impossible to enjoy them winning. You suspected their methods and it poisoned the sport since the only way to compete would be to follow down that path…

    Human nature now wins out over it. Better DSs, enlightened, non-threatening management is available in other teams that now also have budget and resources.

    Riders with talent relish other options and no longer have domestic servitude and crushing routines. Old guys no longer get to sit on upcoming talent through patronage and, yeah, doping. The racing is so much better for it.

    You can look up. Cycling is meant to be enjoyed.

    • The mountain train tactic was a means to an end though Plurien?
      It was to combat the opposition at the time and was highly effective.
      They weren’t without invention, Team Sky, and if that particular team were around now they’d adapt to Pogacar and Jumbo-Visma.
      Jumbo have used the mountain train often enough too, it’s just that it would prove useless against Pogacar.

    • The Sky-hating stuff was a convenient cover for the fact that other teams just weren’t up to scratch. JV were unique in understanding this, rather than whining they got to work and that’s why they’re where they are today.
      Ironically though, I have to say I didn’t particularly enjoy this year’s tour because I thought JV were too dominant.
      Apart from Pogacar and his spirited Alaphilippe-style fearlessness on the hilly bits, nobody bothered trying to challenge JV because they knew it was futile: why even bother trying to rip a race apart on the flat & in the crosswinds when van Aert will just nonchalantly bring it back together again?

    • If you are looking at pro-cycling from the anti-Sky/Ineos ditch, your lenses are just as tinted.

      JV’s won this year exactly how Ineos won all those years ago. Only, they did it to the next level of extreme. They also happen to have even bigger talents.

      Sure Ineos domestiques don’t win as much in the Tour, but neither are they anywhere close to the freak (I say this with a positive sense of fondness) that is Wout Van Aert. (Remember Kwieto had to withdraw from Tour due to fatigue in his first TDF participation).

      Ineos’ problem is that they currently does not have a dominant leader that can inspire the troops. As a result, riders do their job rather than go the extra mile. I Bernal is such a rider (even when he is not in form). Ineos’ team at last year’s Giro definitely punched above their weight. It will be exciting to see what Bernal can do when he is back.

          • That was precisely my point, well spot 😉

            (Obviously a joke, given that Vingegaard offered nice examples of more than decent bike handling skills, although on a TT bike it’s Bernal who offered us one of the most memorable footage ever, then look what happened -___-)

      • Jokes apart, Vingegaard’s got a notable albeit for him absolutely unprecedented score in ITTs during the last two seasons, which, summed up to the minor quantity of energies wasted across the three weeks, would make a negative performance much more surprising than a relatively positive one. It’s obviously to be seen how far you can stir the wattage produced by 60 kgs – usually you can achieve great absolute results with 62-64, less so when the weight goes further down, but science progresses, doesn’t it, and anyway the jersey always could give wings to the in-form champion.

      • Actually, what happened might make your above observation truer than ever.

        Luckily enough, Vingegaard’s “gift” to Van Aert will spare me checking when was the last time a 60 kg rider won an avg. >50km/h ITT.

        • I can only recall Simon Yates in Pa-Ni 2019 which was indeed curious, although it was a 30′ one, then Pozzovivo getting a 3rd place at the Vuelta over Nibali and behind Cancellara and T. Martin, but that ITT had a climb (avg. 45 km/h).
          And Quintana in a Route du Sud, but it was a shorter effort.

  7. Heretical thought: only road bikes should be allowed on time trials. It would keep things consistent (the same bike model used on all stages) and would be safer. I want to see how fast these guys can go on their normal bikes.

  8. Amazed at the size of the time gaps in the top 10 this year. Tenth place is Adam Yates, at 25:49 down. Over 20 stages so far, he’s lost an average of more than 1:15 per stage. Wow. Such separation by the top few!

  9. “One of the less disturbing episode was broadcast live on TV.
    Much of the rest could be depicted as a moving father-son relationship.
    However, bloodlines aside, it was nothing we hadn’t already seen under Verbrugge.”
    Sorry, still no idea what you’re trying to say.

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