After 12 stages that have provided minor skirmishes between the GC contenders, the first major test at this year's Tour de France arrives with the 27.2-kilometre time trial around Pau on Friday.
Much is expected of the Team Ineos pair Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal on stage 13, while Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) will also be looking to lay down an important marker. The Dutchman currently sits fourth overall and has gone somewhat under the radar – as he typically does in Grand Tours – but after a strong showing in the time trial at the Criterium du Dauphine in June, he is expecting to put time into several podium rivals.
In the Roanne test in June, Kruijswijk finished fourth, and was the highest-placed finisher in comparison to the GC riders currently racing the Tour. The Pau course at the Tour is similar in terms of distance and profile, and Kruijswijk is optimistic about delivering another solid performance.
"Time trials are always important. If you look at the GC now, it's especially important. I want to be in front of a lot of riders. It's a similar length to the Dauphine time trial, and it's also up and down in terms of profile, but I think that the time trial here is a bit more irregular when it comes to climbing," he told Cyclingnews after finishing safely with his GC rivals on stage 12.
"It's an okay time trial for me. If you look back at the Dauphine time trial, I gained time on most of the GC guys here, like Richie Porte [Trek-Segafredo], Adam Yates [Mitchelton-Scott] and Jakob Fuglsang [Astana]. Hopefully I can do the same [this time]."
Thursday's stage was a relatively subdued affair, with the early break deciding the stage and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) winning from a three-man sprint. Kruijswijk and the rest of the overall contenders raced a relatively relaxed stage, with their focus firmly on the time trial and the two punishing days to come in the Pyrenees before the Tour's second rest day.
"It was quite relaxed," Kruijswijk said. "There as a really long flat part, and we expected the break to go there. Then for the rest of the stage it was about trying to be attentive. In the end, nothing happened, so I could save myself for the time trial."
As for the yellow jersey, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) holds over a minute's advantage over Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. Kruijswijk sits 11 seconds back on the Colombian, but doesn't expect a Team Ineos rider to be sitting in yellow by the end of the stage.
This, however, is a prime opportunity for Kruijswijk to solidify his podium aspirations: "Alaphilippe has a really good TT in his legs and he's in really good shape. I don't see Ineos getting all that time back."