Stage 20: Lacapelle-Marival to Rocamadour
Date: July 23, 2022
Stage timing: 13:05 - 17:49 CEST (full start list)
Stage type: Individual time trial
The enduring image of Tadej Pogačar’s late, late upset on La Planche des Belles Filles two years ago in the final time trial of the Tour de France was of Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert watching in quiet disbelief on the big screen as their Jumbo-Visma teammate Primoz Roglič lost a race that already seemed won.
That incredulity was later given a voice in the team’s own documentary of that Tour, Code Yellow, in which Dumoulin likened Pogačar’s riding style to “a miner.” Earlier this week, when Jumbo-Visma were already defending a hefty lead over Pogačar, Van Aert reiterated the lesson of 2020. “We paid a price to learn that the yellow jersey isn’t yours until you bring it to the Champs-Élysées,” he said.
The man wearing the yellow jersey this time, however, doesn’t carry the same scarring from La Planche des Belles Filles as some of his teammates. In September 2020, Jonas Vingegaard wasn’t even part of Jumbo-Visma’s Tour selection and that final weekend, he had altogether more important matters on his mind than a mere bike race.
“I was in the hospital. My daughter had just been born, so I was watching from the hospital,” Vingegaard told reporters on Friday evening, promptly downplaying the idea that Jumbo-Visma had developed a complex about facing Pogačar in the final time trial of the Tour. “I wouldn’t say it’s something we talk a lot about. For me, tomorrow I’ll just really do everything I can to keep this beautiful jersey.”
It helps, of course, that the most pressing lesson of 2020 has already been resoundingly applied. Two years ago, a dominant Jumbo-Visma brought comparisons with the ‘Total Football’ employed by the Dutch squad of the 1970s to an unfortunate extreme. Like Johan Cruyff et al in the 1974 World Cup final, they appeared so intent on humiliating their opponents that they neglected to win the match. Roglič had only a 57-second advantage to show for their superiority across three weeks before the final time trial, and it didn’t suffice.
This time around, Vingegaard has a rather more comfortable buffer of 3:26 over Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) after Jumbo-Visma took care to distance the defending champion definitively on the final mountaintop finish at Hautacam on Thursday. Vingegaard, like his compatriot Bjarne Riis, soloed to victory at the summit, but this was a collective triumph. Van Aert, winner of two bunch sprints on this Tour, somehow had the strength to burn off Pogačar four kilometres from the summit.
Vingegaard’s Tour, then, is all but won. Barring accident, there is no way Pogačar can claw back over five seconds per kilometre on the Dane. The 40.7km Rocamadour test, perched on a gorge above the Dordogne, amounts largely to an exercise in colouring between the lines. If Vingegaard stays upright, he wins the Tour.
“I will always do my best, and I will try to do a good time. But of course, I’m not going to take a full risk in the corners,” Vingegaard said. “Obviously, I’ll try to go fast but without taking big risks.”
Pogačar being Pogačar, he was mildly bullish about the time trial when he spoke after stage 19. Indeed, he even briefly attacked on the flat run towards Cahors and its Valentré Bridge on Friday afternoon, perhaps out of muscle memory. Already winner of three stages on this Tour, the Slovenian will target a fourth on Saturday, even if he knows, of course, that his battle for the overall itself is already lost.
“I’ll go as fast as possible,” Pogačar said in Cahors on Friday. “It’s been a long Tour until now and we’ll see how the legs are tomorrow. I’ll give it my all and see what happens, you never know. I will give it my all from start to finish.”
Van Aert in pole position for the stage
Even beyond Vingegaard and Pogačar, the general classification standings are largely set in stone after the Pyrenees. For most in the top 10, the time trial amounts to an extended epilogue. Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), third at 8:00, cannot be overtaken by David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), fourth at 11:05, while 10th-placed Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) has a buffer of some 13 minutes over Valentin Madouas (Groupama FDJ) in 11th.
The only notable movement is likely to come in the skirmish for fifth place, which is currently in Nairo Quintana’s possession, but only just. The Colombian has eight seconds in hand on Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), while Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) lingers with intent a further 27 seconds back.
Even the fight for stage victory appears a little muted. The largely flat and mainly uncomplicated course would ordinarily suit Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), but the World Time Trial Champion confessed on Friday evening that he is feeling the effects of his Tour debut and, in particular, its tumultuous passage through the Pyrenees.
Ganna entered this Tour with designs on claiming the first yellow jersey in Copenhagen, but he had to settle for fourth place after sustaining a slow puncture. Midway through the Tour, he confirmed his attempt at the Hour Record had been postponed from August until season’s end and he gives the impression of a man eager simply to bring his race to an end.
“I just hope to make it to Paris and then rest a bit,” Ganna said on Friday. “These have been some really tough days. I’ll see the course tomorrow morning and then what happens, happens.”
European time trial champion Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) is another challenger, but Van Aert’s repeated feats of strength on this Tour seem to make him the favourite for stage victory. The Belgian won the corresponding stage a year ago before triumphing on the Champs-Élysées a day later, and he will target a repeat performance this weekend.
“I hope to feel good tomorrow and go for the win again,” said Van Aert, who, as the green jersey, must race in a skinsuit provided by the race organisation on Saturday. “After the stage to Hautacam, they came to measure me up so that it would resemble the skinsuit I normally wear. Two of my competitors in the time trial are riding in yellow and white [Vingegaard and Pogačar - Ed.], so they will have the same disadvantage.” It seems unlikely to slow Van Aert, who is also on the cusp of breaking Peter Sagan’s record tally of 477 points in the green jersey standings.
Another record, meanwhile, looks certain to be extended on Saturday regardless of the stage winner’s identity. After Friday’s stage to Cahors was run off at over 48.6kph, the average speed of this Tour has risen to some 42.068kph, above the previous high established during Lance Armstrong’s seventh (and since rescinded) overall victory. Van Aert, Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma have driven a relentless place to this point, and they seem unlikely to stop now.
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