Le Tour Stage 20: Watching Greatness on a Pretty Boring Stage

A few standout performances in an incredibly dull final time trial

Just when we think he has done it all, Wout van Aert just keeps pushing the boundaries of what we previously thought was possible from a modern cycling star. He spiced up an incredibly dull stage by winning the Tour’s final time trial on its penultimate stage. The Jumbo-Visma rider’s powerful ride carried him to a stage win with a shockingly comfortable margin over Kasper Asgreen and Jonas Vingegaard, who rounded out the podium with their own very impressive rides.

The stage was a far cry from the thrilling stage 20 TT we saw last year and couldn’t have been what the Tour organizers had in mind, but it did give us an interesting preview of the Olympic TT coming up in just over a week.

While Tadej Pogacar rode a much more reserved race than his stunning stage 20 performance we saw in 2020, he still rode well enough to finish in 8th place on the stage and easily held off Jonas Vingegaard, finishing the stage with a 5’20 gap to the Dane in 2nd place.

However, Vingegaard did actually outperform Pogacar in the TT and rode well enough to finish 3rd overall despite his slight build and accumulated fatigue of fighting for the GC every stage. This allowed him to extend his overall lead to Richard Carapaz in 3rd place overall, who fell to 1’43 behind Vingegaard after starting the stage just 6-seconds back.

This TT performance from Vingegaard (and in some respects, Van Aert) plants an interesting seed about what thrilling GC battles we could see in the years to come between Pogacar and Vingegaard, who seemed to just get better and better as the race progressed and was able to rally from a horrible opening week to take a completely unexpected 2nd place overall.

Stage 20 Race Notes

By the time Wout van Aert took off, the wind had really picked up, and we can see the flags blowing crisply in the crosswinds on an early climb. This will make it hard to match the times of the riders who went out earlier like Kasper Asgreen and Stefan Kung. But working in his favor is that the hordes of fans will actually protect him from the wind slightly.

At the second intermediate time check, it is clear Van Aert is on one of the rides of his life and clearly hasn’t been bothered too much by the wind. He is 24-seconds ahead of TT-specialist Kung and current stage leader Asgreen. We can also just see how powerful his pedal stroke is and how much energy he is efficiently transferring into the pedals.

He flies over the line 21-seconds ahead of Asgreen and has a blazing-fast average speed of 51.5km/hr (32mph).

Ben O’Connor comes through 2’31 behind Van Aert and 21-seconds slower than Wilco Kelderman, but this is just enough to hold on to his 4th place overall by nine seconds over Kelderman.

Jonas Vingegaard only had a six-second lead over third-place Richard Carapaz, but the fight for 2nd ended up not even being close. 4km from the finish line, Vingegaard is 1’20 up on Carapaz on the stage and we can see by how well he is holding his form and how fast he is going, that Vingegaard is on a great ride.

Vingegaard would come over the line only 32-seconds behind Van Aert, while Carapaz comes through with a massive 2’09 gap. However, he is able to easily hold onto his 3rd place overall.

At the first time check, Tadej Pogacar comes over in 8th place. He looks fine, but doesn’t seem to have the ‘pop’ in his pedal stroke that he had in the opening TT, and must be getting instructions from the team car to not take any risks since he has really nothing to gain and everything to lose.

It is always hard to tell with Pogacar since he moves around on the bike even on his best days, but he does appear to be struggling with his machine and exhibiting more upper body movement than Vingegaard and Van Aert.

Pogacar comes over the line 57-seconds down on stage winner Van Aert in 8th place to easily seal his second-consecutive Tour de France victory.

Stage Results:
Wout van Aert +0
Kasper Asgreen +21
Jonas Vingegaard +32
Stefan Küng +38
Stefan Bissegger +44

GC Results:
1) Tadej Pogačar +0
2) Jonas Vingegaard +5’20
3) Richard Carapaz +7’03
4) Ben O’Connor +10’02
5) Wilco Kelderman +10’13
6) Enric Mas +11’43
7) Alexey Lutsenko +12’23
8) Guillaume Martin +15’53
9) Pello Bilbao +16’04
10) Rigoberto Uran +18’34

Ten Takeaways:

1) The time trial didn’t produce a single chance in the top-19 GC placing and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this a final time trial in a grand tour.

  • This can’t be what the organizers had in mind when they drew this up.

  • However, it was an interesting preview of the Tokyo Olympic time trial coming up in just over a week.

  • The winner of the Olympic road and time trial events almost always comes from riders who have completed the Tour de France, and Wout van Aert has to feel pretty good about his chances of contending for a gold medal at either or both the Olympic road race and time trial.

2) Pogacar put in the worst time trial of his two-year reign at this race, had no real motivation to ride hard or take any risks, and still finished in 8th place, and 2nd place among the GC contenders.

  • Looking back, his move to win the back-to-back mountain stages in Yellow looks better now that he wasn’t really in position to win the time trial today.

3) Wout van Aert becomes the only rider in modern history to win a true bunch sprint, TT, and mountain stage at the Tour de France.

  • Also, he is the only rider in the field to win a stage in the last three editions.

  • I have to wonder what could have been had he not had the emergency appendix surgery in June. He is one of the only riders able to out-TT Pogacar and as we saw multiple times this race, can climb with the best.

  • He clearly improved as this race progressed and looking back, he likely came into this race slightly out of shape due to his pre-race appendix removal.

  • And he might not be done yet since he could potentially win tomorrow’s sprint in Paris.

4) This result after working in the mountain stages through the Pyrenees for Vingegaard will only further continue speculation that he could return to this race as a potential overall contender.

  • And while it might have seemed far-fetched before this Tour, he got 19th place overall here after going under the knife to have his appendix removed right before the start of the race and not even targeting the overall in the 2nd and 3rd weeks.

  • His talent profile, if specifically trained, is perfect to foil a rider like Pogacar. Van Aert proved with his double Ventoux victory that he can climb with the best and his time trial ability means he can actually force Pogacar to come up with a plan to beat him in the road stages, instead of being on the back foot like nearly every other rider in the field.

5) The stage unearthed another incredibly intriguing talent in Jonas Vingegaard. He finishes off a great Tour de France with a super impressive time trial.

  • He actually gained 12-seconds on Pogacar over the last 12 stages, which should bode incredibly well for his future and possibly set up a really entertaining rivalry with Pogacar going forward.

  • He proved that he is no one-hit TT wonder and is a legitimate world-class time trialist, while also being able to climb with Pogacar on almost every stage.

  • This means he has the perfect rider profile to win and even dominant grand tours going forward.

  • His 3rd place in the TT and 2nd place overall is a huge result for Danish cycling, which had 4 riders in the top-10 on the stage today.

6) Vingegaard and Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma team has completely turned their season around since stage 11 of this race.

  • They went from struggling with team-wide underperformance since the start of the year to rattling off three stage wins over the course of 10 days and getting 2nd place overall at the biggest race of the year.

  • And they have done all of this with only five riders remaining on their team and their star GC leader crashing out on stage 3.

7) Jumbo’s Tour stands in massive contrast with that of the team right below them in the overall standings, Ineos.

  • They came into this race boasting the strongest overall team but then proceeded to race in their usual conservative style despite not having the strongest rider in the race and never even really being in position to challenge for overall victory.

  • And outside of Michał Kwiatkowski and Jonathan Castroviejo, their team strength never materialized.

  • Almost every support rider on the team struggled to keep pace with the others when things got serious.

  • Geraint Thomas suffered a dislocated shoulder on stage 3 and Richie Porte essentially no-showed the race after winning the most important TdF preparation race, the Criterium du Dauphine in June.

  • But even before Thomas crashed on stage 3, he and Porte looked completely out-classed when trying to set pace at the base of the Mûr-de-Bretagne.

  • Even worse is that Tao Geoghegan Hart, Thomas, and Porte looked checked out mentally as soon as their own GC ambitions went out the window.

  • If Dave Brailsford can’t fix this disharmony, the team runs the risk of having millions of pounds sterling in salary tied up in riders who can’t compete for GC and stages in grand tours while also not having an interest or the strength in helping others to do so.

8) Richard Carapaz’s third place overall will be a massive disappointment for his team, but it is a great result for him and potentially the high watermark of his career.

  • He won the overall Giro d’Italia in 2019, but I would argue this podium finish is more impressive.

  • This highlights the major issue inside Ineos. Their perception of themselves doesn’t match up with what the individual talent inside the team is actually capable of.

9) Ben O’Connor’s performance today to bring him 4th place overall is massive for him and his career.

  • And remember, without his bad day on Ventoux, would have been in 2nd.

  • This is also a great sign for bargain-hunting teams that there are great, affordable riders lurking out there in the transfer market.

  • This is the exact type of rider ISN should have chased instead of their big-name, small-results lineup.

10) Wilco Kelderman couldn’t overtake O’Connor and missed 4th place overall by nine seconds, but his 5th place overall is the best result of his career and rounds out a great Tour by Bora, who rallied for a stage win and top-five overall after their star rider Peter Sagan suffered a knee injury after his crash on stage 3.

Stage 21 Preview & Predictions

Tomorrow’s final stage is the ceremonial ride into Paris, which will see the peloton take multiple laps of the Champs-Élysées and almost certainly square off in a bunch sprint finish.

  • While this stage can look like a parade for the first 68-kilometers, and it is, once UAE drinks their Champagne and gets their photo ops in and the race hits the cobblestones of the Champs, the race is well and truly on.

  • It almost always comes down to a bunch sprint, but breakaways do sometimes make it, and with 15 out of the 23 teams still looking to get something out of this race, the motivation to make a break stick will be at an all-time high.

  • While Mark Cavendish has won four out of the four bunch sprints so far at this Tour, he isn’t a lock on the Champs-Élysées. While he won it four consecutive times from 2009-2012, he hasn’t won since 2012 and even struggled to win this stage during some of his best sprinting years.

  • I’m not sure why this is, but my personal theory is that the wide-open nature of the course and the extremely rough surface favors raw power over technique and aerodynamics. This would be supported by many of the recent winners: Marcel Kittel (2013, 2014), André Greipel (2015, 2016), Dylan Groenewegen (2017), Alexander Kristoff (2018), Caleb Ewan (2019), and Sam Bennett (2020). Outside of Ewan in 2019, all are extremely powerful sprinters.

  • DQS will be all-in for Cavendish in an attempt to break the all-time Tour de France stage win record by getting him his 35th career win, and will almost certainly be able to reel in any breakaway attempts.

  • But, I actually think this finish favors today’s winner Wout van Aert, who looked faster than Cavendish in the only bunch sprint he has contested at this year’s race on stage 10, but just ran out of room in the technical finishing straight.

  • Prediction: DQS reels in multiple breakaway attempts that start as soon as the peloton hits the Champs-Élysées, but Wout van Aert spoils the party by coming around Cavendish in the long finishing straight to get his 3rd stage win of the 2021 Tour de France. Tadej Pogacar easily defends his race lead and wins the Tour by the biggest margin since the 2014 edition of the race.

This stage starts incredibly late and doesn’t finish until around 7:05pm local time (1pm US Eastern time), so make sure to go out and get a nice ride in tomorrow morning before sitting down to watch the final 30kms.