After three weeks of racing, it all comes down to this.
The final 2020 Tour de France standings are likely to be decided by Saturday’s 36.2-kilometer individual time trial from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles. It’s the sole time trial in this year’s race, and the route’s tricky terrain has loomed on the horizon for months.
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Everyone knows that Saturday’s test won’t be easy, especially for the contenders battling for the final podium in Paris.
“For tomorrow’s TT I did the recon and if I’m on a good day it’s a course that suits me well,” said Tadej Pogačar following Friday’s stage 19. “It’s the same hard effort for everybody so tactics won’t come into it too much.”
The stage is perhaps the most important component in organizers’ vision for the 2020 Tour. This year’s route was designed to keep time gaps small throughout the event, and to bottle up anticipation for the week 3 slugfest between the race’s best climbers in the Alps. Organizers abandoned the traditional opening prologue and two long, flat time trials for just one individual race. And the course they plotted is anything but standard.
The opening 15 kilometers out of Lure are flat and fast through the towns of Saint-German, Melisey, and La Raddon, and the next 10 kilometers ascend gradually to the Col de Chevestraye. After five descending and flat kilometers, the road tips abruptly upward at the base of the most famous hill in the Vosges mountains.
La Planche des Belles Filles has quickly become a favorite mountain of Tour organizers since its debut in 2012. This year will mark its fifth inclusion in the race, and the cast of winners on the steep hill includes Chris Froome (2012), Vincenzo Nibali (2014), Fabio Aru (2017), and Dylan Teuns (2019). Why do organizers love it? It’s short and steep, and tends to produce explosive racing.
The six kilometers to the summit are a true test against gravity, as the gradients edge into the double-digits for long and extended ramps. The full journey has an average of 9 percent, but the opening ramp is at 13 percent, and there is an extended stretch at 10 percent and above from kilometers two to four.
Over the past decade, cycling fans have marveled at La Planche des Belles Filles’ cruel final sting, which comes in the form of a 20 percent ramp just before the finish line. A strong rider can hemorrhage time on this short but painful stretch of road after such a punishing individual journey.
Since the route has two distinct halves, there has been chatter about bike choice for the route. An aerodynamic time trial setup will unquestionably help riders through the opening 30 kilometers, however the heavier and cumbersome bike setup becomes a burden on the steep slopes. Riders and teams have spoken of executing bike changes at the base of the steep climb, however few GC stars have publicly commented to how they will approach the stage.
Even race leader Primož Roglič declined to commit to a bike strategy after Friday’s stage.
“If I change I will decide tomorrow at the last moment,” Roglič said.
With the flat test before the climb, the route should cater to time trial specialists who can also climb, rather than to pure climbers who are liabilities on a TT bike. Roglič, with his impressive palmares in individual time trials and climbs, is the heavy favorite to win.
“I’ve already done some good time trials in my career — I have other experience too, some good some not so good,” he said. “So, for tomorrow I’m feeling OK. I’m healthy, and yes I’m excited and just looking forward to tomorrow to do my best, that’s all I can do.”
On paper, Roglič should hold his 57-second advantage on Tadej Pogačar — whether or not he can will be the most pressing question of the day. But further down the standings, there are other smaller battles that are much harder to call.
The final step on the podium appears to be a battle between current third place holder Miguel Ángel López (Astana) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), who is 1:39 behind. Porte is the more skilled time trialist, but López is the type of explosive climber who can make up ground on the steep climb. And Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren), who is a further 22 seconds behind Porte, is also sniffing the podium.
Further back, the 6,7, and 8 placings are within 2:00, with Enric Mas (Movistar), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling).
And lurking in 9th place is Tom Dumoulin. In a normal year, Dumoulin might be a pick to win the stage outright. But throughout the 2020 Tour, Dumoulin has ridden the front for Roglič as Jumbo-Visma’s super domestique. Whether or not the lanky Dutchman has enough gas in his tank for one final ITT could decide who wins the stage.
Roger Kluge of Lotto-Soudal is the first rider to take the course at 1pm CET, with Roglič riding down the ramp at 5:14 p.m.