The penultimate stage of the 2021 Tour de France is a 30km time trial between Libourne and Saint-Émilion, which takes place on Saturday 17th July.
Last year, the stage 20 time trial caused drama, elation and heartbreak all in equal measure. Tadej Pogačar soared up La Planche des Belles Filles to win the Tour de France, stealing the race from his compatriot Primož Roglič at the final opportunity. His Jumbo-Visma teammates Wout van Aert and Tom Dumoulin looked on astounded, creating one of the most iconic pro cycling images in recent memory.
Expecting drama to a similar degree this year would be hopeful. Pogačar holds a five-minute lead in the yellow jersey — something would have to go terribly wrong for him to lose the race. However, a stage win at the Tour de France is still up for grabs, and the best of the rest will give their all to finish positively in the general classification.
Stage 19 was won by the breakaway, with Matej Mohorič winning his second stage of the race. The successful group of escapees pressed away from the peloton some 90km into the stage, and after Israel Start-Up Nation briefly chased for birthday boy André Greipel, it quickly became clear that victory would arrive from the group. Mohorič attacked with 28km remaining and was never seen again, whilst Christophe Laporte and Casper Pedersen finished second and third respectively.
Stage 20 profile
The riders will leave the start ramp in Libourne for a largely flat time trial. The first time check occurs in Pomerol 7.6km in, which will provide the first indications as to who is feeling strong.
Around 16.5km into the stage, there is a short 500 metre ramp uphill which averages around 4.5%. This marks the halfway point of the time trial, so the riders should continue to measure their effort. However, those who have the form should try to power up this section. Next, a short rise carries the riders to the penultimate time check in Montage at kilometre 20.
The final few kilometres slowly rise uphill to a false flat. Although the percentages don't exceed 3%, plenty of time can be won and lost here, so the riders must keep sufficient energy in reserve with this section in mind.
Image credit: CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/AFP via Getty Images
The time trial is similar to the stage 5 time trial that took place earlier in the Tour. This route is only a couple of kilometres longer and features similar terrain — mostly flat with a couple of short ramps which must be accounted for.
Tadej Pogačar was the winner that day which surprised many. It was a sublime display from the Slovenian, who beat Stefan Küng by an exceptional 19 seconds despite the terrain seemingly favouring the Swiss powerhouse. After his win on La Planche des Belles Filles last year, Pogačar is now bidding to win his third Tour de France time trial in a row. He starts the stage as one of the favourites not only to defend the yellow jersey, but also win the stage.
Stefan Küng was second in Laval and was visibly gutted after Pogačar crossed the line to beat his long-standing time at the top of the leaderboard. Since then, Küng has been largely anonymous with his eyes firmly placed on this stage. The Swiss time trial champ has never won a Tour de France stage (bar contributing to the BMC team time trial win in 2018), and he will be desperate to change that here.
Wout van Aert targeted both stage victory and the yellow jersey on the stage 5 time trial, so was disappointed to only come away with fourth place. Van Aert won the only other time trial he entered this year — he defeated Küng, Pogačar and Filippo Ganna at Tirreno-Adriatico. Van Aert has found his form as the Tour de France has progressed after suffering from appendicitis before the race began. He must be considered among the leading contenders.
EF Education - Nippo’s Stefan Bissegger was one of the favourites entering the stage five time trial, but he could only finish 18th. However, that doesn’t tell the full story. Unlike the other favourites, Bissegger was subject to wet weather conditions which meant he was unable to attack the corners, ultimately putting pay to his chances. If he gets a little more luck, he could be challenging for the stage this time.
Other TT specialists with a chance include Mikkel Bjerg, Kasper Asgreen and Brandon McNulty.
Behind Pogačar, there is still plenty up for grabs in the general classification. Less than five minutes separate second and eighth, and the time trial will decide the final standings. Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz currently hold the two lower steps on the podium. With just a few seconds separating them, Vingegaard will feel more comfortable. The Dane is an elite time trialist which is proven by his third place on stage 5. This makes Vingegaard the heavy favourite to finish second overall, ahead of Carapaz.
Further back, Ben O'Connor and Wilco Kelderman will fight for the following places in the GC after Rigoberto Urán fell out of contention on the Col du Tourmalet. With under a minute separating the two riders, Kelderman will aim to leapfrog O'Connor into fourth place.
Further back, Alexey Lutsenko sits seventh in the GC, which is a fine performance — his previous best GC position at any Grand Tour was 19th. He is a strong time trialist too, so could impose himself on Enric Mas ahead. However, Lutsenko has lost too much time in the mountains to worry the top five.
Notable Start Times
13:08 Mark Cavendish
13:17 Chris Froome
13:45 Mikkel Bjerg
13:54 Stefan Bissegger
14:53 Brandon McNulty
15:03 Kasper Asgreen
15:33 Stefan Küng
15:57 Chris Froome
16:43 Wout van Aert
17:11 Wilco Kelderman
17:13 Ben O'Connor
17:15 Richard Carapaz
17:17 Jonas Vingegaard
17:19 Tadej Pogačar
Wout van Aert stated before stage 19 that he'd be resting in the peloton with his focus turned to the stage 20 time trial. Although he failed to achieve his objective in the first TT, he has the opportunity to make up for that here. Wout van Aert is our pick to win stage 20 of the Tour de France.
Cover image: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet