Tour de France GC contenders face final time trial challenge - Preview

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Cyclingnews.com 16 July, 2021 - 02:24pm 8 views

Who won stage 17?

Tadej Pogacar wins stage 17! Tadej Pogacar tugs on the yellow jersey as he crosses the line first! Jonas Vingegaard comes through to finish in second place, with Carapaz third! The GuardianTour de France 2021: Pogacar wins stage 17 atop the Col du Portet – as it happened

Did Cavendish make the time cut stage 18?

Tour de France latest: Pogacar wins stage 18 as Cavendish makes time cut. ... Mark Cavendish is grinning as he climbs the final 200 metres with five of his teammates. The IndependentTour de France 2021 LIVE: Stage 18 result and reaction as Tadej Pogacar wins again

Question mark over how race leader Pogacar will tackle Tour's last obstacle

Last September on the hills of the Vosges, the Slovenian was intent on pulling off ‘mission highly improbable’ and lifting the yellow jersey off the shoulders from Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in one last chrono-powered throw of the dice.

This time round, in the much flatter vineyards of France’s far west and with an overall advantage pushing nearly six minutes on Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Pogačar's biggest rival on Saturdays’ 30.8-kilometre test between Libourne and Saint-Étienne will be misfortune. 

However, the question of how strongly he will actually race the TT is not at all clear. On the one hand, there’s how aggressively and ambitiously he’s ridden the entire 2021 Tour, and on the other, there’s the fact in the GC scheme of things that he has  far more to lose on Saturday than he has to gain.

In favour of him riding conservatively is that only the biggest stroke of bad luck could see Pogačar lose yellow when the race is barely a day away from the finish in Paris. 

This isn’t a situation where with smaller time gaps between the GC rivals, what we saw in the Laval TT, and at La Planche des Belles Filles last year, would make Saturday’s 30.8-kilometre time trial a much more tense affair.

So, it would be logical if Pogačar played it cool on Saturday. But then, in the strict scheme of things, he didn’t need to go for a stage win in either of the Pyrenean summit finishes, either. And after winning in Laval, why not go for a fourth stage victory if it’s there for the taking?

There’s also a more subtle, long-term reason for him to do exactly that. It’s same as a strong opening Tour prologue performance for a GC performer always representing an important boost to morale (and corresponding dent in their opponents confidence). 

More than one past Tour de France winner has argued that winning the final TT, or at least beating your main rivals, represents “an opportunity to show the rest of the field why you are in yellow.”  

In other words, doing well in the last TT is the first brick in the wall of maintaining a psychological hold over your rivals for next year’s Tour.

Pogačar was perhaps intentionally vague about his options for Saturday, promising only he would do his best. Amongst those specialists vying for the stage win, whether he’s in the mix or not, will likely be Swiss specialist and multiple European TT champion Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), surely itching to set the record straight after his narrow defeat by Pogačar at Laval.

A more intriguing option is  Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). Van Aert already turned in a colossal performance in the Tours mountains on the Mont Ventoux last week. But now, he said at Friday’s start, he plans to “go full in the time trial on Saturday.”

The runner-up in last year’s TT World Championships, the reigning Belgian national time trial champion and fourth in Laval last week, Van Aert certainly has the credentials. And Saturday’s stage seems more suited to ‘power riders’ than Laval. Three kilometres longer, and with no classified climbs, the TT’s course through the vineyards of Bordeaux positively abounds in false flats, gentle rises and high-speed descents.

Quite apart from the questionnmark over Pogačar’s strategy for the TT, the rest of the GC battle seems largely settled. With the usual caveats in place, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) should have no problem fending off Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) for second place on the podium, as Carapaz, a far worse time triallist, has already all but admitted. 

Whether Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën) can hold off Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) for fourth, with only 32 seconds between them. That might not seem such a huge obstacle for the former Dutch national TT champion, but bear in mind this is the end of the Tour and with 2020 as a very big exception to the rule, time gaps are usually smaller between contenders.  

However, the Kelderman-O’Connor duel is perhaps the only real question in the order of the GC's top 10 of the Tour at this point. After that, there’s only Paris left to go.

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.

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Tour de France 2021 - Richard Carapaz bluffs onto the podium but Tadej Pogacar doesn’t fluff his lines

Eurosport COM 16 July, 2021 - 07:01pm

Richard Carapaz grimaces behind Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard on the Col du Portet in Stage 17 of the Tour de France 2021

Analysis: Here's what a podium finish would mean for Jonas Vingegaard, Rigoberto Urán, and other GC riders

VeloNews 16 July, 2021 - 07:01pm

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There was no dislodging Tadej Pogačar in the toughest mountaintop finish of the Tour de France on Wednesday.

The yellow jersey again strengthened his grip on the classification lead with a searing summit sprint and his Tour de France defense looks a definite. This year’s tour may have become a race for second-place, but there’s still a huge amount at stake as riders race for a potentially career-defining result.

💛🤍🇪🇨 The podium of the #TDF2021 is taking shape!

💛🤍🇪🇨 Le podium du #TDF2021 est en train de prendre forme !#TDF2021 pic.twitter.com/8OTHNoDpEg

— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) July 14, 2021

Jonas Vingeagaard and Richard Carapaz have split themselves away from a trio of pursuers after their toe-to-toe skirmish with the peerless Pogačar. Carapaz and Vingegaard look to be on the road to the podium in Paris, but nothing is guaranteed with another summit finish and a time trial still to come before the processions and party in Paris.

Those vying for the top slots come from opposite ends of their career and ride for teams of vastly different ambitions.

So what would a Tour de France top-three mean for our five podium-chasers?

Jonas Vingegaard is doing what Tao Geoghegan Hart did at the 2020 Giro d’Italia.

Like Geoghegan Hart did in Italy, Vingegaard started the Tour as a domestique looking to learn the ropes behind a veteran team captain. And now with four stages to go, Vingegaard leads the chase for second place and looks by far the strongest climber behind Pogačar.

🇫🇷 #TDF2021

It's a second place for Vingaard behind stage winner Pogacar. What a fighting spirit and performance of Jonas 💪👏

— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) July 14, 2021

Tour de France rookie Vingegaard has shaken the pressure of the sport’s biggest race off his shoulder with ease, and he’s looking every bit a star for the future. Jumbo Visma may have its present with Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin, and Steven Kruijswijk, but at 24 years old, Vingegaard will very much move into the center of his team’s future.

Vingegaard again proved Wednesday he has the climbing legs to beat Richard Carapaz, and certainly has the TT engine to overhaul the Ecuadorian on Saturday. Even if he slips off the podium in a late-race implosion, the young Dane has emerged as Jumbo-Visma’s newest grand tour hope.

Carapaz has conqured the Giro and placed second at the Vuelta a España behind Primož Roglić. A top-three in his second-ever Tour would be huge for Carapaz. However, it might get lost in the reeds of his ultra-prolific grand tour-conquering Ineos Grenadiers superteam, which goes to the Tour to win the Tour.

Great ride @RichardCarapazM! 👏

Tomorrow we go again #TDF2021 pic.twitter.com/MQr3mHtIKQ

— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) July 14, 2021

Nonetheless, for Carapaz to again deliver a grand tour podium behind the peloton’s Slovenian supremos shows Carapaz has the heft to win a second grand tour at some point soon.

The Ecuadorian played a taut tactical game on the Portet as he gambled it all on one explosive push. It didn’t work out and stood in contrast to Carapaz’s typical marauding style, but the 28-year-old remains firmly in the template of David Brailsford’s vision for his team’s attacking future.

A spot on the podium in Paris would cement Carapaz at the top of Ineos’ over-heavy leadership hierarchy along with fellow South American Egan Bernal and would reaffirm him as one of the best GC racers of the current crop.

Ben O’Connor started this year’s Tour so far off the radar that he was almost in another atmosphere.

The young Aussie first showed promise in 2018 before losing the wheels through 2019. A standout 2020 Giro d’Italia saw O’Connor land a contract with Ag2r-Citroën and reappear in the world’s conscience. But nobody, not even O’Connor himself, would have seen a Tour de France top-three as a possibility.

🇫🇷 – @LeTour

Au bout de l’effort @ben_oconnor95 termine 5ème de cette incroyable étape. 🔥

Completely exhausted, @ben_oconnor95 finishes 5th. 🔥#TDF2021 #AG2RCITROËNTEAM #RoulonsAutrement #RideDifferently pic.twitter.com/tKEovUukq7

— AG2R CITROËN TEAM (@AG2RCITROENTEAM) July 14, 2021

At just 25 years of age and with a contract through 2024 in his pocket, O’Connor has a lot of life left in his legs. Anything within the top-six would see O’Connor revive his French squad’s grand tour hopes after the exit of Romain Bardet and see him fill the space in Australian hearts that Jai Hindley grabbed at the 2020 Giro d’Italia.

O’Connor was able to outclimb nearest rivals Rigoberto Urán and Wilco Kelderman on the Portet on Wednesday and he looks well-positioned to sit in the top six come Paris. It would make for one of the stories of the Tour.

Urán has taken second the Tour and twice finished second at the Giro d’Italia. Add that to a bucketload of grand tour top-10s and Urán has a lengthy palmarès befitting his status as the daddy of those pushing for the podium.

Urán is now facing the prospect of a battle for fourth after losing the wheels when the race heated up in the final 8km Wednesday.

Anything less than a top-three might initially seem a disappointment for the 34-year-old, a result relegated down a long list of achievements. However, a top-five would still make a huge statement.

Mijitos lista la primera semana quedan otras 2 😂😬🙏 pic.twitter.com/Mv9MgTqGaM

— Rigoberto Urán ЯU (@UranRigoberto) July 4, 2021

Urán rose to the top of the GC pack through the middle of last decade before a string of injury-stricken races and near-misses left him in the shadows.

Some thought Urán’s time for grand tour glory was done, but another top finish would see the veteran succeed where fellow old-timers like Geraint Thomas, Vincenzo Nibali, and Jakob Fuglsang have struggled in recent seasons. A podium finish would be a victory, while fourth or fifth would be a much-welcomed par.

Wilco Kelderman has done nothing to grab anyone’s attention at this year’s Tour, but the Dutchman has been a steady, solid presence in the top of GC since day one.

🇫🇷#TDF2021 @W1lcokelderman finishes 6th with 1'41" behind the first group. But, with that, he stays in 6th place in GC! Chapeau @W1lcokelderman , good race! ✊ pic.twitter.com/aeF9AsW2rz

— BORA – hansgrohe (@BORAhansgrohe) July 14, 2021

Backing up a standout Giro d’Italia campaign that almost ended with victory with a top-five at the Tour would mark Kelderman as more than a one-race wonder, and would hand his best-ever finish in France.

However, it seems almost unthinkable that Kelderman will move onto the podium unless he trounces the field in the TT. Just like his tenacious ride to sixth place on the Portet, Kelderman’s Tour hasn’t been spectacular, but it’s been effective. Both he and his team will take that.

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Tour de France 2021 - Stage 20 Preview

Bicycling 16 July, 2021 - 07:01pm

Can anyone challenge Tadej Pogacar’s dominance in this Tour?

The gently rolling 30.8km course is perfect for the big rouleurs looking to add a Tour stage to their list of wins. It’s got a few corners to keep riders honest, but isn’t overly technical. The primary challenge will be pacing. The course has no significant hills, but after a flat start, it starts a long false-flat grind with some gentle undulations to the second intermediate time check, at 20.1km.

From there, a short, straightforward section of slight downhill leads to a final 7km of false flat again to the finish in Saint-Émilion. We’d expect the section from the second time check to the finish to be the most crucial for stage-win hopefuls.

Time trials often reward a so-called “negative split” where the strategy is to try to ride faster in the second half of the course than the first. With fatigue setting in here, it’s here that riders who were disciplined with pacing will start to raise their average speed. They won’t have much to deal with weather-wise, but the forecast does call for moderate crosswinds out of the north. Because the course essentially doubles back on itself in the middle part, they’ll face crosswinds from both sides, but the final 5km will be mostly a tailwind.

This will be a fight between the specialists and two of the top GC riders. That’s for the stage win, at least. There are only a few possible position changes in the top 10, and likely none for the podium.

As far as the GC goes: yellow jersey Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) won the opening TT on a flatter course on Stage 5, while Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard, in second overall, was third on the day. Pogačar has a commanding overall lead of almost six minutes; barring some unexpected disaster, even if he dials it back a bit (which we don’t expect), his lead will be safe.

And while Vingegaard is only six seconds clear of Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers,) he’s a substantially better time triallist and put over a minute into Carapaz in Stage 5. For his purposes, Carapaz is comfortably ahead of fourth-place rider Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroen), 2:27 behind. There could be a fight for fourth between O’Connor and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Wilco Kelderman, who is 32 seconds further back. They were pretty evenly matched on Stage 5. And Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) could possibly (just) overhaul Movistar’s Enric Mas for sixth place.

Aside from Pogačar and Vingegaard as stage threats, this will be a day for the TT specialists. That means Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), narrowly beaten by Pogačar on Stage 5; Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Kasper Asgreen; and Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert. Look for good rides from EF Education-Nippo’s Magnus Cort and Stefan Bisseger and DQS’s Mattia Cattaneo. Ineos’s Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas could try to salvage stage wins from an uncharacteristically quiet Tour for the team, but the best threats to win are Pogačar, Küng, Asgreen, and van Aert.

In time trials, riders start in reverse order of the overall classification, with the yellow jersey going last. That spreads the action out considerably. The first rider off the line, Tim Declercq, will start a little after 7 a.m. Eastern, while Pogačar isn’t scheduled to get rolling until 11:19 a.m.

Around 9 a.m., you’ll see a group of potential contenders starting with Asgreen; Cort, Küng, Thomas, and Porte all start in the next half hour; you’ll also catch the finish for American Brandon McNulty, a strong time triallist.

Then there’s a break before the final quartet of likely winners starts with van Aert, 19th overall, at 10:43, followed by Cattaneo and then the top GC riders. If you want to nerd out on TTs, 9 a.m. is a good time to tune in for the Asgreen group. If you wish to check the standings and see the GC riders duke it out, tuning it at 11 a.m. will give you plenty of action before Pogačar’s expected finish time just before noon.

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