Tom Dumoulin has won the individual time trial of the 2018 Tour de France. The world time trial champion took the win on the penultimate day of racing, 1 second ahead of Chris Froome who reclaimed a spot on the podium; and 14 seconds ahead of Geraint Thomas who secured the Tour de France win with one day remaining.
Although the overall win for Geraint Thomas was all but certain at the start of the day, the questions still hung over the positions behind him. Tom Dumoulin arguably went in as the stage favourite; though it was unlikely that he would win the maillot jaune from the Welshman. The battle for third place between Chris Froome and Primoz Roglic would be fascinating though, with the Slovenian – on the back of his previous day’s stage win – having beaten Froome in the world time trial championships last year in Bergen.
The battleground for the Tour’s last big GC battle would be the road between Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle and Espelette. 31km in length, it was rolling in abundance the whole way around, kicking off with a 4km climb before ending with a 3km descent from the summit of the Col de Pinodieta.
Grey, overcast conditions greeted Lawson Craddock of EF Education First-Drapac, as the American left the start ramp nursing his broken scapula. The roads were slick and dangerous, and it would be with caution that riders would need to approach the many twists and turns that made up the course. Credit to Lawson Craddock, the discomfort showed on the American’s face in the latter stages as he laboured towards the finish line, unable to get into the drop handlebars, but his average speed of 39kph was all he need to confirm that he would be able to start in Paris.
Michael Hepburn of Mitchelton-Scott was the first rider to earnestly attack the course in a bid for the stage and he set a fiercely strong time compared to all who had gone before him. Hepburn’s time of 42.15mins was to be a long-standing one, as not even Stefan Küng could quite match the Australian’s time. Jonathan Castroviejo of Team Sky came close, but it would not be until much later that Hepburn would finally be succeeded.
Peter Sagan, wearing the green jersey, boldly battled his way through the stage, shifting frequently on the bike to try and maintain some comfort. The Slovakian survived the day but it was highly unlikely that given his visible pain factor that he would be any sort of feature in the final sprint of the Tour de France.
Marc Soler of Movistar, Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky and Søren Kragh Andersen of Team Sunweb finally overcame Hepburn. The Spaniard was the first to better Hepburn by just a second, while the Dane – the former white jersey – stopped the clock in 41.43mins to go still faster; with an average speed of 44.6kph. Kwiatkowski had to dig very deep but he stopped the clock 1.35 seconds up on Andersen to take over the hot seat.
The GC contenders were about to get underway, but many of them were not expected to challenge for a strong stage finish. That said, it was impressive to see Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin produce a time trial that would secure him 7th place on the line and 9th place overall; overtaking Nairo Quintana.
Much was unsure about what Chris Froome’s reception would be through the stage. Starting the race against the clock the Brit was met with more respect than could be expected at the start of the Tour, although it was still a mixed reception among some. The Brit, however, was focussed on the task ahead and the need to overturn the 13 second deficit overall to Primoz Roglic; who started with equal intent.
Dumoulin took to the start ramp in his world champion’s jersey and immediately got stuck in with the task at hand. Finally Geraint Thomas, in a full yellow skinsuit, lined up for what could be considered the most important time trial of his life. He was well received by the fans and knew that he was just 31km away from being virtually assured of the Tour title.
Ilnur Zakarin had set a new best time through the first intermediate split, but Chris Froome bettered that by 6 seconds. Roglic was not having things go his way at this point as he lost upwards of 13 seconds in just the opening kilometres; dropping to virtual 4th place.
Geraint Thomas wasn’t having everything go his way either, as a slip on the entrance to a corner saw him very nearly lose the wheels from beneath him. Thankfully though the Welshman was able to correct himself and stay upright. That said, his pace was impressive as he went through the first time check 14 seconds faster than Froome and 16 seconds faster than Tom Dumoulin.
At the second time check Froome was putting more distance between himself and Roglic as the Slovenian passed through the time check 49 seconds adrift. Dumoulin went through the second check 2 seconds slower than the Brit; matching his deficit at the first check and setting up a fascinating finale. Finally Thomas passed through the check; still 12 seconds faster than Chris Froome.
At the finish Chris Froome buried himself in pursuit of a podium place. He bested his teammate Kwiatkowski by 52 seconds; and while Froome was finishing the stage there were now just Dumoulin and Thomas tackling the final tough climb before the fast downhill finish.
Thomas was beginning to suffer, although in terms of defence of yellow it was becoming clearer and clearer that he’d done enough as he climbed at around 18kph towards the summit of the last significant climb of the Tour de France. Roglic crossed the line well outside the time of Chris Froome but shortly after him came Tom Dumoulin.
The Dutchman stayed in the saddle and pushed on all the way to the line, and after some confusion between the clocks at the line it emerged that the world time trial champion had overtaken Froome by just 1 second. Meanwhile Geraint Thomas took the descent gingerly, knowing that the overall title was his. Geraint Thomas crossed the line 14 seconds slower than Dumoulin, but he punched the air in delight as he crossed the line; the job done.
Dion Smith was the fastest of the Kiwis for Wanty-Groupe Gobert at 4.36mins, with Tom Scully of EF Education First-Drapac at 5.27mins and Bauer at 6.07mins respectively.