Four times in the past 10 years, the incumbent yellow jersey at the Tour de France has won the final time trial, meaning the race against the clock has simply underlined who is the strongest in the race.
Only once in the past decade has the jersey changed hands in the final TT, however. That was in 2011, when Cadel Evans easily overturned a 57-second deficit to Andy Schleck in Grenoble. Perhaps this stat, together with the fact that TTs aren’t the most captivating sporting spectacle (the 2017 Giro aside) mean ASO has nipped, tucked and tinkered with the final TT in the past few years. In 2013 it was a lumpy affair in the Alps. Last year it was completely uphill in the Alps. In 2015, they got rid of a late TT altogether. This year ASO are trialling another option: a city-centre circuit in Marseille, France’s second city. Closing TTs in the country’s biggest cities are rare: there arguably hasn’t been one of similar scale since 1989’s incredible last stage, from Versailles to the Champs-Elysées.
The route starts and finishes in the Orange Stade Velodrome and is just 22.5km, which is less than half the normal distance for a closing TT. That means time gaps between favourites should be measured in seconds rather than minutes. It’s an exciting-looking course: a mixture of fast flat straights, swooping curves giving way to intricate and technical route changes in the second half. The parcours also makes liberal use of the port’s impressive setting, such as the Corniche, the roads around the Vieux Port at 10km, and the chief obstacle, the short steep climb to the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica which overlooks the city. The spectacle alone will be worth tuning in for even if the race for the yellow jersey was over by the Alps.
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