In the end it is unlikely to be quite as decisive a battle as the time trial which settled the 2020 Tour de France, but Tadej Pogačar will still draw on his memories of that day to hope for a last-gasp turnaround in this year’s race.
The stage 20 race against the clock would need complete disaster for race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) to have a sufficient collapse, given his 3:26 buffer over the UAE Team Emirates rider, but he and his team will only relax when the stage is done and dusted.
The 40.7 kilometer race from Lacapelle-Marival to Rocamadour is far more straightforward that the uphill La Planche des Belles Filles which was Vingegaard’s team-mate Primož Roglič’s undoing two years ago. It is flat to rolling and lacks any categorised climbs, and should be very fast.
The technical 40.7km course will have three time checks, Aynac (km 10.4), Gramat (km 22.1) and Couzou (km 32.6).
Last year’s final TT was relatively similar and actually saw Pogačar finish behind Vingegaard, with the latter’s unexpected third place some 25 seconds faster than the eight place of the Slovenian.
Pogačar went quicker than the Dane in the opening time trial of this year’s Tour, netting third to his seventh and covering the 13.2 kilometer distance eight seconds quicker. Across their careers they have squared up against each other in nine TTs, with Pogačar getting the better of his rival on six of those times.
But even if the final time trial of a grand tour is very unpredictable due to fatigue accentuating the differences, it still remains very difficult to see time gaps of anything like the scale that would give Jumbo-Visma any concerns.
Still, Danish fans will remember Michael Rasmussen’s disastrous time trial in the 2005 Tour de France, where he had two crashes, one puncture and three bike changes, and will presume nothing until their rider is safely home.
Other GC riders looking to empty the tanks will be Nairo Quintana (Team Arkéa Samsic), Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe). Quintana is just eight seconds clear of Meintjes and 35 in front of Vlasov, and the battle for fifth place overall could be a very interesting one.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is for many the big favourite, the points jersey wearer having shown very impressive form throughout the race and proving a huge help to Vingegaard. He rode at the front in the closing kilometres of Friday’s stage in what looked like a warmup for Saturday’s event; he was best in the final TT last year, beating Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) by 21 seconds and Vingegaard by 32.
Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) was fourth then and the European champion will go deep on Saturday, motivated to give his team their first stage win of the race. Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost) will also be psyched, not least because he crashed in the opening time trial in Denmark and lost his chance.
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) also missed out on day one, finishing back in fourth, and will be determined to improve on that. He’s the reigning world TT champion and, thanks to his work for teammates such as third-placed Geraint Thomas, has had a quiet race in terms of personal results. He will be off the leash on Saturday and will be aiming to take his first Tour stage win. Thomas, too, could perform strongly.
Start town Lacapelle-Marival is hosting the Tour for the first time, as is the finish location of Rocamadour.
The latter is the destination of a traditional pilgrimage to Our Lady of Rocamadour and may well see prayers offered and promises made by riders and supporters alike.