Stage 18: Sallanches - Megève (ITT)
The Tour holds its first mountain time trial since the 2004 ascent of Alpe d’Huez. The last before that was the Bourg St Maurice-Val d’Isère event in 1996. There’s a reason the ASO uses them sparingly: they can be too definitive and allow the strongest rider an opportunity to kill the race stone dead. The chances are, this late in the race, there’s more than an inkling of who’s going to win and mountain TTs don’t jeopardise proceedings, they confirm it. On the other hand, a race leader who shows frailty here will be mercilessly targeted over the next few days. At the Giro, which has plugged away with the format, the last three mountain TTs have been won by the pink jersey-elect who also took overall honours (there is the asterisk above the 2011 result which went to Contador). So the ASO have hedged their bets somewhat by making this a TT of two halves.
The first 4km are flat, before the course hits the Côte de Domancy, which is short and steep – 2.5km at 9.4 per cent say the official numbers. It’s a climb imbued with history, however, as it formed part of the circuit where Bernard Hinault won the Worlds in 1980. The climbing then tails off with 4km that track at about 5 per cent. The next 4km rise like steps up the Côte de Chozeau (3.1km at 5.4 per cent), which tops out at 1,219m. Then there’s a 2km descent to the finish in Megève. It’s a long, straightforward decline, so riders will be in their biggest gear, if they still have the legs to turn it.Whatever strategy the riders adopt, this is a stage that will be crucial in shaping the final GC. ASO will be hoping they’ve avoided nailing down the lid on the race, and given challengers enough fillip to go on the attack in the final two days in the Alps.
Bernard Thevenet: This is a really hard time trial to judge. There are a couple of kilometres of flat roads at the start, and a little at the end, and in between, a lot of climbing. It’s on a constantly changing gradient, so equipment choice and pacing will be very hard to get right. The gradient changes every 300m. It will suit the climbers, especially as the peloton is already in the Alps and the riders’ legs are used to it - they’ll already have their climbing rhythm.
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