The 2014 Tour de France organisers probably envisioned Stage 20 as the ultimate challenge for the yellow jersey—the only individual time trial of the entire race, just two days after the peloton left the Pyrenees.
Of course, that was before Alberto Contador and Chris Froome exited the race before the first rest day. Vincenzo Nibali's lead in the general classification is so big, he could realistically ride this stage on his inner sprocket and still finish in the yellow.
That doesn't mean Saturday's stage won't matter—it will, just not for the yellow. Several top contenders saved their energy on Friday, and a good performance in the time trial could vault a rider into the top 10 or even higher.
Date: Saturday, 26 July
Distance: 54 km
Profile: Individual Time Trial
TV Info and Live Stream: NBCSN (for U.S. viewers) and ITV4 (for U.K. viewers) will be broadcasting every stage of the 2014 Tour de France, with mobile coverage available via NBC Sports' Live Extra and the ITV Player app.
|6||Tejay van Garderen||BMC Racing||+11:34|
|8||Laurens ten Dam||Belkin||+14:15|
|7||Greg van Avermaet||BMC Racing||147|
|5||Jean Christophe Peraud||AG2R||85|
|6||Alessandro De Marchi||Cannondale||78|
|10||Tejay van Garderen||BMC||48|
Stage 20 takes place in the Dordogne, and it's a fairly straight-forward route north from Bergerac to Perigueux. This is the final obstacle standing between the peloton and Paris, but it won't be as easy as you'd expect from a standard time trial.
Each rider will face four short but steep hills, and the final climb on the Cote de Coulounieix-Chamiers will likely play a big role in every rider's time. The 2014 Tour de France has been very rough on the pack, and at this stage of the race, the peloton is exhausted.
The 54-kilometre time trial is basically one big last sprint, and while finishing shouldn't be an issue, the way the course is laid out will give plenty of riders one final nightmare stage.
Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara are the two top trialists in cycling today, and with the latter pulling out of the race a week ago, you'll be hard-pressed to find a single analyst not backing the German on Saturday.
Martin rode the bus on Friday and clearly has his mind set on this stage, and while he struggled tremendously in the Pyrenees and Alps, there's no reason he won't recover in time to put on a show.
ByTheMin Cycling backs the German as well:
Enjoy the last 2 days of the tour, Tony Martin to win tomorrow and Peraud and Valverde to join Nibali on the podium in my opinion— ByTheMin Cycling (@ByTheMinCycle) July 25, 2014
The course should suit his powerful build, but the hills also favour the riders who simply have the most strength left. That should include Nibali, who told reporters he won't hold back on Saturday, via the event's official website:
Tomorrow, there won't be any particular risk on the course of the time trial. But I'll honour the yellow jersey, the Tour de France and my team by riding as a leader.There hasn't been any day in the Tour de France I've particularly suffered. Some days I was feeling a little better, some days not but my legs have always responded well.
Nibali's lead over the rest of the peloton is massive, and one would assume the Shark of Messina would rather play it safe on Saturday.
The Italian saw green jersey holder Peter Sagan crash due to the bad weather conditions during Stage 19, and a crash would present the only realistic scenario in which Nibali could still lose the yellow jersey.
The constant reminders Contador and Froome are no longer in the race might influence his decision, however, so it makes sense for Nibali to wish to end the 2014 Tour with a bang.
The real battle will take place right behind him, with Thibaut Pinot, Jean-Christophe Peraud and Alejandro Valverde all within 16 seconds of each other. The Spaniard isn't an accomplished time trialist, but Pinot in particular lacks the experience Valverde has on this level.
Tejay van Garderen will also have a say, but he'll have to make up four minutes just to get on the podium, and that task seems nearly impossible.