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July 20, 2016 – By inserting a mainly uphill time trial into the final week of this 103rd Tour de France (#TDF2016), race director Christian Prudhomme was thinking it would aid the climbers to take back some time from the all-around GC riders—or at least not lose as much time as they would in a flatter TT.
#PelotonShorts by John Wilcockson/Photo by Yuzuru Sunada
But this Tour has not exactly worked out that way. Defending champion Chris Froome has already put himself in a commanding position, while his expected challenger, Colombian climber Nairo Quintana, is…um…not climbing too well.
So this Thursday’s stage 18 from Sallanches to Megève, by way of the notoriously steep Domancy hill, is looking like another bonus for Froome—unless his former teammate Richie Porte continues the ascendancy he showed Wednesday and not only beats the yellow jersey holder but also continues his climb toward the podium. Porte needs only 12 seconds to move above Romain Bardet, one minute to catch Quintana, and 1:34 to match the currently third-placed Adam Yates. Such time gaps are not impossible to overcome on a 17-kilometer course that has a flat start followed by 10 kilometers of uphill work and a speedy descent to the finish.
Officially, the last uphill Tour time trial was in 2004, a 15.5-kilometer stage to L’Alpe d’Huez; but in some ways this year’s TT bears more resemblance to the 2013 Tour’s stage 17, a 32-kilometer test that contained two 6.5-kilometer climbs followed by a 10-kilometer descent. Froome narrowly won that stage, partly thanks to changing from a climbing bike to a TT special before the closing downhill section. His then Sky teammate Porte (this image) saved his strength for later stages and cruised to 57th place, almost five minutes slower than his team leader. Of the current contenders, Quintana was sixth in that 2013 stage, 1:11 behind Froome, Mollema was 11th at 2:09, Dan Martin 32nd at 3:22 and Bardet 42nd at 3:53. This year, the freshest GC riders in this third week, besides Froome, appear to be Porte, Yates and Bardet. They’re all in line to win Thursday’s TT—unless Quintana can turn his form around and live up to Prudhomme’s expectations.