Forget the ITT on Saturday. Friday’s Stage 19 is where everything goes on the line for the 2018 Tour de France title.
Assuming the main GC protagonists all survive tonight’s relatively flat and innocuous Stage 18 to Pau (not always a given of course!), Tom Dumoulin has no choice but to attack, and then attack again, and then again. Fortunately for the lanky Dutchman so does Lotto NL-Jumbo’s Primoz Roglic, currently 4th overall, who will again be ably supported by another Dutchman who’s at home in the high mountains, Steven Kruijswikj. Then there’s the resurgent Nairo Quintana, 5th overall, and inspiringly feisty Dan Martin, neither of whom will die wondering in pursuit of their second stage win at this year’s race.
Both Dumoulin and Roglic can time trial superbly (gold and silver at the 2017 World Championships) but they must get closer to Thomas than they are right now. How close? Well it’s worth remembering Dumoulin put 1’22” into the third-placed Froome at last year’s World Championships over an identical time trial distance, 31km. Roglic also finished 30” ahead of Froome in second place.
The wildcard on Friday’s stage will, inevitably, be Froome. Convention says the Team Sky super (duper) domestique will be charged with marking moves for his Welsh team-mate and nothing more. But should Thomas show even the slightest hint of weakness at any point of Stage 19 en route to Laruns via the Tourmalet and Aubsique, just watch the reigning champion fly!
Following constant abuse from fans, not to mention pepper spray and crash tackling from the French police, Froome will no doubt be hugely motivated to put on an encore performance of what he did at exactly the same stage of this year’s Giro – if he’s given the chance to do so. Froome knows this and so does Thomas which places enormous pressure on Thomas to keep doing what he’s been doing. He’s looked awesome so far, no question, and if it continues the yellow jersey will be his in Paris. But if he finally cracks, even just a little, and Dumoulin and/or Roglic can get within a minute before the ITT, it’s game on. Big time. Who knows, we could even be in for a four-way ITT shootout on Saturday night.
This has been one of the most fascinating (and, yes, at times shambolic) Tours for some years with constant twists and turns, plots and subplots. Who’s to say there won’t be a few more?
Shame it’s nearly over.