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Preview: Hybrid time trial provides novel final act to Roglic and Pogacar's Tour de France duel
Tour de France stage 20 time trial start times
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Hello there and welcome along to our live coverage of the Tour de France. It's stage 20, the penultimate day, and we have an individual time trial that finishes on La Planche des Belles Filles. This is where the general classification will be decided ahead of the traditional procession to Paris on Sunday. Race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) has a 57-second lead over Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and, such is his time trialling prowess, is expected to all-but seal the title today.
The battle for the yellow jersey isn't exactly over. Strange things can happen at the end of the Tour, and Pogacar actually beat Roglic earlier this year to win the Slovenian national time trial title, so the yellow jersey will still be feeling the pressure. However, such has been the smoothness of Roglic's Tour so far, and the momentum he regained on the Col de la Loze, losing yellow would be a huge upset.
Beyond those two, it looks like a battle for the final spot on the podium. Miguel Angel López (Astana) has a 99-second lead over Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and that one could be tight.
Finally, there's some intrigue in terms of the mountains classification, with points (10-8-6-4-2-1) on offer for the fastest riders on the 5.9km Planche des Belles Filles section. Richard Carapaz (Ineos) is in the polka-dot jersey with 74 points but his lead is threatened by Pogacar (72) and Roglic (67). Roglic and Pogacar won't have this luxury, but expect the Ecuadorian to take it easy on the first 30km before going full gas on the climb.
The first rider down the ramp will be Roger Kluge (Lotto Soudal) at 13:00 local time (so in around 15 minutes). They're setting off in reverse order of the GC, at intervals of 90 seconds for the bottom half of the field, then two minutes for the top half. Roglic will be the last rider to start at 17:14. Click here for the full list of start times.
Here's the course. As we've seen in the Tour over the past decade, the Planche des Belles Filles is a steep, nasty climb in the Vosges. It's not so long, at 5.9km, but the average gradient is 8.5%, with numerous ramps in the double digits and that stinging 20% pitch up to the finish line. This is not, however, a climber's TT, given the 30km or so of flat or rolling roads before we reach the climb. It suits someone who can do both - ie Roglic, who is the heavy favourite for the stage victory.
One interesting thing to look out for today will be bike changes. The first 30km are best ridden on an aerodynamic time trial bike, but many will prefer a standard road bike for the climb, which is lighter and easier to handle uphill, especially when out of the saddle. Mid-race bike changes are allowed and widely expected, with the very start of the climb the logical place to do so. Stopping to change bikes obviously takes time, so teams will have to carefully calculate how much time they can reasonably expect to save by riding the climb on a normal bike. As we've seen in the past, these bike changes are often far from smooth.
Anyway, if you want an in-depth look at today's stage, from the tech to the route to the GC complexion, here's Barry Ryan's preview.
Kluge has rolled down the ramp and the penultimate stage of the 2020 Tour de France is underway
A relaxed start from Kluge, who has simply been battling to make time limits in the Alps this week. He has often ridden behind even the gruppetto, as the Lotto riders look to get sprinter Caleb Ewan through to Paris, where he won last year.
A lot of sprinters and lead-out men among the early starters. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) is about to get underway in his green skinsuit, after pretty much wrapping up the points classification yesterday.
Looking at the earlier starters, the names that stand out are the QuickStep duo of
Rémi Cavagna (13:43:30) and Kasper Asgreen (13:45:00) - especially the latter. They could give us the early benchmark. There are some decent rouleurs and some decent climbers but this a very specific time trial, and it's those who can do both, and those who have something at stake, who will be strongest. That means the GC riders later on.
Ewan and Bennett are both out there, but thinking of tomorrow. They've established themselves as the top two sprinters of this Tour, with two wins for Ewan and one plus the green jersey for Bennett. They'll be going toe-to-toe on the Champs Elysées tomorrow evening, and it's a tough one to call. Bennett has been going much better in the Alps, while Ewan has finished at the back each day, which leads you to believe he's the stronger of the two at the moment. Then again, he has expended energy battling for green at the intermediates and in yesterday's finale, so Ewan might just be the fresher of the two, especially since he's done nothing more than he's had to just to finish in the past few days. He won on the final day last year, so there are no question marks over his endurance.
The first three starters, all from Lotto Soudal, are all on the Col de Chevestraye, which tops out after 24.5km. It doesn't look like much on the profile in the shadow of the Planche des Belles Filles, but it's a significant uphill effort.
While the sprinters are out on course, why not have a read of the latest in Procycling magazine's daily analysis pieces?
Tony Martin has just set off. The four-time time trial world champion won't be in the hunt for the victory today but will be able to provide intel and feedback for his teammate Roglic.
Bike change for Ewan at the bottom of the Planche des Belles Filles. He gets a push from his mechanic to get him going again. That's allowed, but only for five seconds.
Significant crowds out there on the climb. It has felt odd, at times, that the Tour has been going ahead in the middle of this pandemic, especially at a time where the situation in France has worsened so much. But the final tests were done on Monday and there's no doubt this race is going all the way now.
We have two intermediate checkpoints on today's course. The first comes in Le Raddon after a flat opening 14.5km. The second comes right at the foot of the Planche des Belles Filles, after 30.3km. Nils Politt (Israel Start-Up Nation) has the fastest time at the first so far, with 17:44, while Maxime Chevalier (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) is fastest at the second, with 43:19.
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We mentioned Cavagna and Asgreeen might set some of the stronger early times, and the former, in the French national champion's skinsuit, has just breezed through the first checkpoint 46 seconds up on Politt's previous benchmark, with 16:57. Asgreen follows along to post the second fastest time, with 17:14.
Roger Kluge is not a man made for 20% gradients, but the German lead-out man drags himself up the final ramps of the Planche to set the first finishing time. 1 hour, 4 minutes, 25 seconds.
Ewan grinds himself up the final ramps now and stops the clock on 01:05:39. It's been a big old effort this week for the Australian sprinter, with the Champs Elysées literally the only possible reward. He must be up for it, because he's doing the Giro d'Italia as well a couple of weeks after the Tour, and some might have considered dropping from the Tour after the second week.
Chevalier knocks a few minutes out of the sprinters with 01:01:57. Who will be the first rider to break the hour barrier?