Distance: 22.4km ITT
Start location: Passy
Finish location: Combloux
Start time: 13:05 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:36 CEST
From the town of Combloux, where the 22.4km individual time trial sets off from, you can enjoy spectacular clear, full views of Mont Blanc in all of its glory. It’s a sight to behold. A wonder of nature that prompted Victor Hugo to describe the town as ‘the pearl of the Alps’, but might be received from certain riders in the peloton as a mocking gesture from the ASO organisers who designed this year’s Tour de France route. From the perspective of time trial specialists, it’s a reminder of just how mountainous this race has been, at the expense of more stages like this that would have benefited their GC bids.
As has been much discussed, this is the only ‘race of truth’ in the whole edition, amounting to the least amount of individual time trial kilometres since 2015. It’s a decision that’s had big ramifications, with some of the peloton’s top stars opting to target the Giro instead, and others who usually skip the Tour making a rare appearance. For the time trial-favouring GC riders who have decided to ride the Tour anyway, it’s imperative to squeeze everything they can out of these 22.4 kilometres to maximise their gains, while time trial specialists will have battled their way through the first two weeks of racing all for this one shot of a stage win.
Stage 16 profile sourced via ASO
Yet even now the organisers have to some extent denied the time trialists, as the route contains too much climbing to be one for the purists. Nestled within the Alps, it does not steer clear of climbing altogether, and after a flat opening two-thirds the final 6km are all uphill. First the riders will climb to the top of the 2.5km, 9.4%-averaging Côte de Domancy, the climb that was the centrepiece of the 1980 World Championships road race, and was hard enough to be used by Bernard Hinault as the basis for what was the only world title of his career. Then comes an uncategorised continued rise for the final 3.5km to the finish at Combloux.
It’s reminiscent of the final time trial of the 2016 Tour de France, which also travelled through Combloux via the Côte de Domancy. On that occasion the amount of climbing significantly mitigated the advantage of the specialists, producing no changes in the top six of the GC, none of whom (even noted time trial-averse Romain Bardet) lost more than 1-30 to stage winner and yellow jersey Chris Froome. This route isn’t quite so hilly, but enough to ensure that no lighter rider will lose too much.
This is the only opportunity for those who specialise in racing against the clock, aftering enduring a gruelling two weeks battling through the challenging stages in the Pyrenees, the Massif Central and now the Alps.
Only 10 seconds separate first and second place, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo Visma), and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). Both riders have shown exceptional strength in the mountains, but with this the first time trial of this year’s edition, it remains to be seen how they will perform against the clock. They have both proven themselves against the clock at the Tour; Pogačar twice a time trial stage winner while Vingegaard finished second to his team-mate Wout van Aert in last year's final TT. Like the mountains, the time trial could be an exceptionally close affair between the Tour's top two rivals.
Although Groupama-FDJ are yet to win a stage at this year’s Tour, Stefan Küng may change that for the French team. He is a strong time trialist and recently won the ITT in this year’s Tour de Suisse. However, the climb at the end of the stage might hinder his chances. As someone who has never won a stage at the Tour, Küng will be eager to use his expertise to secure a victory for himself and his team.
French national time trial champion Rémi Cavagna (Soudal-Quick-Step) is a rider to keep an eye on as he seeks a stage win in his home country. He displayed good form at the Critérium du Dauphiné last month, finishing third behind Vingegaard and Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates). Bjerg will certainly be a contender for stage 16, having claimed first place at the Dauphiné. However, his weaker climbing abilities might put him at a disadvantage compared to some of his rivals.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is a formidable time trialist who also excels on uphill terrain, as is Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious). Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) and Søren Wærenskjold (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) could also be strong contenders for the stage.
We think Jonas Vingegaard will take the stage. Not only is he an excellent time trialist and climber, but he will want to put a bit of distance between himself and Tadej Pogačar before they head back into the mountains for the final week.