Chris Froome (Sky) has all but secured his fourth Tour de France title with a strong third place finish in the final 22.5 kilometre time trail. With just one largely ceremonial stage left until the race finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris, he now leads the overall standings by 54 seconds.
Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) took a well deserved win in the time trial, which should make up for coming ever so close on stage 11 this year, when he was the last member of the break to be swept up by the peloton, with less than 500 meters to go. Second place went to Froome’s teammate Michal Kwiatkowski, who has been a powerhouse domestique throughout the Tour, with Froome taking third.
Although it was the longest time trial stage of the 2017 Tour de France, stage 20 was still very short at 22.5 kilometres, when Tour time trials routinely exceed 40 kilometres. The stage also featured a tough climb around the midway point, which although not too long at around 1.2 kilometres in length, did average a 9.5 per cent gradient, making it quite steep. The stage therefore had the potential of negating at least some of the time advantages that strong time trial riders like Froome could expect to take in a longer test, while the climb also had the potential of derailing the hopes of specialists like Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin).
Bodnar was one of the fairly early starters, with his time of 28:15 kicking Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) out of the hot seat. Kwiatkowski was the only rider to mount a real challenge to Bodnar’s lead, and held the lead at both time checks out on the course. However, his one second advantage at the final time check was reversed to a one second deficit by the time he crossed the finish line, leaving Bodnar with an anxious wait to see what the overall contenders could do.
Tony Martin, who had started earlier, struggled on the climb, and eventually finished in fourth place, with Daryl Impey (Orica-Scott) producing what must rate as the best time trial of his life to take fifth, 20 seconds off Bodnar’s time.
All eyes now turned to the times of the overall contenders, and with podium places up for grabs it would be especially interesting to see whether Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) could use his superior ability to overhaul Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) to take second spot on the podium, and whether the imperious form of Froome’s teammate Mikel Landa could lift him to a podium position.
Froome never looked to be in trouble, looking at ease throughout his ride to take a third place finish on the stage, six seconds off the time of Bodnar, but things were a little different for Uran and Bardet. Uran was doing his utmost to move up to second place in the Tour, and potentially even further if Froome were to make a mistake. In fact, Uran almost pushed it too far as he made contact with the barriers on his run in to the finish, but he managed to avoid disaster and recorded the eighth fastest time on the day, 31 seconds off the stage winner.
This would prove enough to lift him to second place in the overall standings, as out on the course, Bardet was having a shocker of a day. The Frenchman was haemorrhaging time, 45 seconds off the pace at the first time check, with the loss of second in the overall standings looking all but certain after just a couple of kilometres. In fact, things were soon far more dire for the AG2R-La Mondiale rider, as it became clear that his podium spot was under threat from Sky’s Mikel Landa, who had recorded a time only 51 seconds off Bodnar. As Bardet kept losing time, it was going to come down to the final sprint to the line as to whether he would drop off the podium entirely. He managed to hang on by the narrowest of margins, ending the stage in 52nd place overall, 2:03 down on the stage winner, and enough to stay on the podium by a mere one second.
Jack Bauer (QuickStep Floors) produced a great ride to finish just outside the top ten in eleventh on the stage, 41 seconds off the time of the stage winner. Patrick Bevin (Cannondale-Drapac) finished in 120th position, 3:20 down, just ahead of Dion Smith (Wanty-Groupe Goubert) in 134th, 3:27 off the time of the stage winner.
The overall classification heading into the final stage now sees Froome lead by 54 seconds, with Uran in second, and Bardet now 2:20 off the race lead after his less than stellar TT performance. Landa is only one second further back, 2:21 off the lead, with Fabio Aru (Astana) in fifth, 3:05 down).
The final stage into Paris is generally treated as a neutral stage, so it is unlikely, but not impossible, that there could be changes in the overall classification, as hostilities are mostly reserved for the finishing circuits on the Champs Elysees and the fast men of the Tour.