With the final stage in Paris set to be the usual ceremonial affair, Saturday's time trial stage will be the last general classification contest of the 2018 Tour de France. Barring anything unusual happening, Team Sky's Geraint Thomas looks set to be crowned the overall champion, but there are still places to be fought for.
The 31-kilometre test from Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle to Espelette brings the peloton into the French Basque Country. The race has skirted the region many times, but it is the first visit since the stage start in Cambo-les-Bains – just up the road from the time trial finish – in 2006.
The parcours is typically Basque with rolling roads and sharp climbs that will sap already tired legs. The weather is typically Basque too with rain showers dousing the roads, adding to an already difficult challenge. The time trial starts and finishes in the heart of the French Basque Country, with the first rider rolling out of Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle at midday.
Also known as Senpere in the Basque language, the town sits on the Nivelle river, which heads west and out into the Bay of Biscay. The riders will head the other way: east to Espelette – or Ezpeleta – known for its production of the chilli pepper used in many of the region's dishes.
There is a direct road from Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle to Espelette, but the course takes the scenic route in what should be a technical, as well as gruelling, test – much more so than last year's shorter offering in Marseille.
The first climb greets the riders almost immediately before levelling out at Hergaray, four kilometres in. There are another three kilometres of rolling roads before a short descent and another sharp rise to the first checkpoint at 13 kilometres, and the road continues rising for another four.
The relentless up and down doesn't stop, with another descent and rise to checkpoint two, 22 kilometres into the day. The sternest test comes only a few kilometres from the finish with the 900-metre-long Col de Pinodieta. It might be short, but it averages 10.2 per cent, and will be a hammer blow to anyone already on the limit.
"It's a very hard time trial," Quick-Step's Bob Jungels told Cyclingnews. "We did a recon just after the Critérium du Dauphiné. It's a pretty Basque Country-style time trial, with lots of ups and downs, small roads and steep climbs, which won't make it easy.
"There's a very steep last climb, and I think that's going to make a big difference if you go too deep before then. If you have a little bit of a bad day, then I think that you could lose a lot of time.
"I'll have to see how I feel," said Jungels. "I had a very good first week, and I can't really explain what has happened in the two last weeks, but we'll see in the time trial how I feel."
While it's a tough test, we can nevertheless expect all riders to be on time trial bikes, although gearing choices could be key to laying out the maximum power possible.
The lie of the land
Thomas is a very strong time triallist, although world champion Dumoulin is the big favourite for the stage, and is likely to take time out of the Welshman. However, Thomas' gap should be plenty enough to keep him safe and ready to ride into Paris in yellow on Sunday.
"Tom is always really good on the lumpy time trial courses where pacing is difficult. He's shown that he can win on any type of course, but particularly that type of course," Dumoulin's Sunweb teammate Chad Haga told Cyclingnews. "If everybody rides at a normal level then he can take time, but I don't see Tom being in yellow. But crazier things have happened.
"I'm excited for it – for me and for Tom, to see what he can do on it," continued Haga. "I'm not thinking about it too much because it's the last day before Paris, so you've just got to race it with whatever legs you have, and give it everything because there's nothing to save yourself for."
Dumoulin's main concern in the time trial will be the man behind him – LottoNL-Jumbo's Primoz Roglic – who is just 19 seconds further back in the overall standings. Ordinarily, Dumoulin should be more than safe, but a mechanical issue could spell disaster for his runner-up spot. In turn, Roglic will have to keep fourth-placed Chris Froome in mind if he is to keep his place on the podium.
Many expected defending Tour champion Froome to pull something out of the bag in this final week, but instead he's looked in trouble in recent days. With a 2:37 gap back to his teammate Thomas, Froome finally admitted defeat following the final mountain stage, although he still has a chance of making it back onto the rostrum. The gap is just 13 seconds to Roglic, but the Slovenian is no slouch against the clock.
Further down the standings, the make-up of the top 10 is unlikely to change too much, if at all, with Jungels in 11th place more than four minutes behind 10th-placed Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), who's a further minute-and-a-half behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in ninth.
Time trialling is not Quintana's forte, and although his ninth place could be under threat from Zakarin, he's unlikely to give away more than five minutes to Jungels, particularly with this rolling terrain.
Zakarin is therefore likely to be the rider with the best shot of gaining places in the general classification, although he can only realistically move up one spot thanks to eighth-placed Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) just too far away, over five minutes in front of the Russian.
The gap between Martin in eighth and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) in fifth place is just a shade over two minutes, and there are chances for change in between. Kruijswijk is not a specialist, but he can hold his own in a TT, while Mikel Landa (Movistar), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Martin are not noted time triallists, to put it kindly. They could still trade places if one of them has a bad day after going too deep in the mountains.
The stage win is likely to be decided between the overall contenders with no big-name TT specialists left in the peloton after the departure of Katusha's Tony Martin in the first week. Bora-Hansgrohe's Maciej Bodnar won last year's 'race of truth' in Marseille, and although we can expect a good performance on Saturday, he's unlikely to trouble the top riders.
Dumoulin has to be the clear favourite in his rainbow skinsuit, but Roglic has been making great strides in the discipline and could push him hard.
Start times (all CET)
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Time|
|1||Lawson Craddock (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||12:00:00|
|2||Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Groupama-FDJ||12:01:30|
|3||Jay Thomson (RSA) Dimension Data||12:03:00|
|4||Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal||12:04:30|
|5||Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||12:06:00|
|6||Amund Gr¿ndahl Jansen (Nor) LottoNL-Jumbo||12:07:30|
|7||Timo Roosen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo||12:09:00|
|8||Roberto Ferrari (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||12:10:30|
|9||Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Quick-Step Floors||12:12:00|
|10||Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Groupama-FDJ||12:13:30|
|11||Damien Gaudin (Fra) Direct Energie||12:15:00|
|12||Oliviero Troia (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||12:16:30|
|13||Taylor Phinney (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||12:18:00|
|14||Lukas Pšstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe||12:19:30|
|15||Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert||12:21:00|
|16||Tom Scully (NZl) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||12:22:30|
|17||Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky||12:24:00|
|18||Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||12:25:30|
|19||Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||12:27:00|
|20||Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||12:28:30|
|21||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-Merida||12:30:00|
|22||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||12:31:30|
|23||Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||12:33:00|
|24||Michael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||12:34:30|
|25||Luke Durbridge (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||12:36:00|
|26||Jack Bauer (NZl) Mitchelton-Scott||12:37:30|
|27||Fabien Grellier (Fra) Direct Energie||12:39:00|
|28||Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert||12:40:30|
|29||Anthony Turgis (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||12:42:00|
|30||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors||12:43:30|
|31||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates||12:45:00|
|32||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||12:46:30|
|33||Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe||12:48:00|
|34||Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo||12:49:30|
|35||John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo||12:51:00|
|36||Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension Data||12:52:30|
|37||Mathew Hayman (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||12:54:00|
|38||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||12:55:30|
|39||Simon Gerrans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||12:57:00|
|40||Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal||12:59:00|
|41||Rory Sutherland (Aus) UAE Team Emirates||13:01:00|
|42||Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||13:03:00|
|43||Daniele Bennati (Ita) Movistar Team||13:05:00|
|44||Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||13:07:00|
|45||Kristijan Koren (Slo) Bahrain-Merida||13:09:00|
|46||Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||13:11:00|
|47||Florian Vachon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||13:13:00|
|48||Laurent Pichon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||13:15:00|
|49||Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty-Groupe Gobert||13:17:00|
|50||Kevin Ledanois (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||13:19:00|
|51||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe||13:21:00|
|52||Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert||13:23:00|
|53||Pawel Poljanski (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||13:25:00|
|54||Jerome Cousin (Fra) Direct Energie||13:27:00|
|55||Edward Theuns (Bel) Team Sunweb||13:29:00|
|56||Yoann Offredo (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert||13:31:00|
|57||Thomas Boudat (Fra) Direct Energie||13:33:00|
|58||Michael SchŠr (Swi) BMC Racing Team||13:35:00|
|59||Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin||13:37:00|
|60||Elie Gesbert (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||13:39:00|
|61||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data||13:41:00|
|62||Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||13:43:00|
|63||Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo||13:45:00|
|64||Silvan Dillier (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale||13:47:00|
|65||Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors||13:49:00|
|66||Paul Martens (Ger) LottoNL-Jumbo||13:51:00|
|67||Ian Boswell (USA) Katusha-Alpecin||13:53:00|
|68||Koen de Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo||13:55:00|
|69||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team||13:57:00|
|70||Julien Vermote (Bel) Dimension Data||13:59:00|
|71||Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Groupama-FDJ||14:01:00|
|72||Gregor MŸhlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe||14:03:00|
|73||Romain Sicard (Fra) Direct Energie||14:05:00|
|74||Chad Haga (USA) Team Sunweb||14:07:00|
|75||Jonathan Castroviejo (Spa) Team Sky||14:09:00|
|76||Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe||14:11:00|
|77||Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb||14:13:00|
|78||Darwin Atapuma (Col) UAE Team Emirates||14:15:00|
|79||Magnus Cort (Den) Astana Pro Team||14:17:00|
|80||Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale||14:19:00|
|81||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||14:21:00|
|82||Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team||14:23:00|
|83||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo||14:25:00|
|84||Marco Minnaard (Ned) Wanty-Groupe Gobert||14:27:00|
|85||Pavel Kochetkov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin||14:29:00|
|86||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||14:31:00|
|87||Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky||14:33:00|
|88||Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Dimension Data||14:35:00|
|89||Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert||14:37:00|
|90||Omar Fraile (Spa) Astana Pro Team||14:39:00|
|91||Jesper Hansen (Den) Astana Pro Team||14:41:00|
|92||Stefan KŸng (Swi) BMC Racing Team||14:43:00|
|93||S¿ren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb||14:45:00|
|94||Mathias Frank (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale||14:47:00|
|95||Laurens ten Dam (Ned) Team Sunweb||14:49:00|
|96||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky||14:51:00|
|97||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team||14:53:00|
|98||Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||14:55:00|
|99||Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||14:57:00|
|100||Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott||14:59:00|
|101||Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||15:01:00|
|102||Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Team||15:03:00|
|103||Maxime Bouet (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||15:05:00|
|104||Amael Moinard (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||15:07:00|
|105||Arthur Vichot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||15:09:00|
|106||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct Energie||15:11:00|
|107||Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||15:13:00|
|108||Kristijan Durasek (Cro) UAE Team Emirates||15:15:00|
|109||Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates||15:17:00|
|110||Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo||15:19:00|
|111||Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo||15:21:00|
|112||David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||15:23:00|
|113||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors||15:25:00|
|114||Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team||15:27:00|
|115||Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo||15:29:00|
|116||Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott||15:31:00|
|117||Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie||15:33:00|
|118||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||15:35:00|
|119||Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale||15:37:00|
|120||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo||15:39:00|
|121||Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Sunweb||15:41:00|
|122||Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida||15:43:00|
|123||Mikel Nieve (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott||15:45:00|
|124||Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida||15:47:00|
|125||Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team||15:49:00|
|126||Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert||15:51:00|
|127||Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||15:53:00|
|128||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||15:55:00|
|129||Warren Barguil (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic||15:57:00|
|130||Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team||15:59:00|
|131||Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky||16:01:00|
|132||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||16:03:00|
|133||Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||16:05:00|
|134||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team||16:07:00|
|135||Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors||16:09:00|
|136||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin||16:11:00|
|137||Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team||16:13:00|
|138||Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates||16:15:00|
|139||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||16:17:00|
|140||Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team||16:19:00|
|141||Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo||16:21:00|
|142||Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky||16:23:00|
|143||Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo||16:25:00|
|144||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb||16:27:00|
|145||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky||16:29:00|