Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) has won the twentieth stage of the 2014 Tour de France.
The world time trial champion registered a comfortable victory in this Tour’s only race against the clock, finishing 1.39 ahead of Dutch time trial champion, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano). Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura) was third.
Race leader, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), finished fourth and must now only complete tomorrow’s largely ceremonial run in to Paris to win the 2014 Tour de France. The Italian national champion won the Vuelta a Espana in 2010 and last year’s Giro d’Italia. Victory in Paris will place him among an elite selection to have won all three Grand Tours. Barring disaster, Nibali will become the sixth rider to triumph in Spain, Italy, and France, and the first since Alberto Contador.
The time trial wrought two changes to the sharp end of the General Classification, with Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) leap-frogging his countryman, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), to claim second overall, after finishing seventh in today’s test. Pinot is now third on GC, but secures the white jersey of best young rider.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) suffered a disappointing day, but remains fourth, albeit by an increased margin from his hoped-for podium finish. And Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) improved to fifth overall, now two seconds ahead of sixth-placed Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), after starting the day trailing the young Frenchman by 2.07. Bardet suffered a puncture on the course, but the American’s superiority against the clock claimed the lion’s share of his 2.09 victory margin in their personal battle.
Tomorrow, the riders will wake to the relief of the final stage, a short and largely uncompetitive run to the Champs Élysées, where the action will intensify. Nibali must only remain upright to taste the sweetest victory to date of a brilliant career.
The stage in detail
The riders tested their legs on a rolling, 54km course from Bergerac to Périgueux, punctuated by four short climbs. Team Sky’s veteran diesel, Danny Pate, set the early pace, and his mark of 1.09.22 proved enough for eleventh place on the stage.
Barta was the first rider to break the 1.09 barrier, posting a time of 1.08.08, but unsurprisingly his time fell beneath the assault of the peerless Martin. The Panzerwagen smashed through the Czech’s benchmark at the 19km checkpoint, taking 35 seconds from his time with 35km still to go.
Martin treated the roadside support to his full repertoire, remorselessly turning a huge gear, rumoured to be a 58-11, and dropping onto the top tube for the descents to assume an extreme position that showcased his finesse as a bike rider to complement a more obvious display of raw power.
Martin tore past a succession of ‘two-minute’ men, including world number one, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), and NetApp-Endura’s Paul Vos. By the second time check, taken after 39km, the German’s lead over his then closest rival, Barta, had extended to 1.28.
As he passed beneath the flamme rouge, Martin appeared to have sped up, astonishing though such an achievement would have been, given his early pace. Mouth wide open, his expression twisted into a rictus of pain, the world champion crossed the line with a time of 1.06.21 – some 1.47 quicker than Barta.
Dumoulin produced another impressive performance. The Dutch national road race champion passed the first and second time checks in second place, and crossed the line with the next best time to Martin. Speaking afterwards, he admitted, candidly, that he was unable to challenge the German. “Tony is just on another level at the moment,” he said. “It’s just not possible for me to beat him, especially in a long time trial like this.”
Amauel Moinard (BMC Racing) waited in the start house with a look of intense concentration, while Tommy Voeckler (Europcar), responded to the huge cheers that greeted his arrival in the same post with a small smile of satisfaction. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) cut an incongruous figure on his time trial bike, sitting up to readjust his position, and so forming a marked contrast with the metronomic Martin.
Van Garderen wore a look of concentration in the start house befitting the scale of the task ahead. The American would need to find 2.08 to overhaul Bardet and claim fifth position on GC and equal his career best at the Tour, achieved in 2012.
Bardet, naturally, was next down the ramp, his skinsuit augmented with an ice-filled stocking worn at the neck. The rangy Frenchman looked ill at ease on his low profile time trial bike, and while a similar height to Van Garderen, his position formed a striking contrast to the BMC man’s. If bets were to be laid after 200m, the smart money would have been on the American achieving his aim.
Van Garderen stopped the clock in fourth position at the second time check, some 21 positions higher than Bardet. The Frenchman was producing a creditable performance, but his nemesis had already confirmed his vast superiority against the clock. Soon after Van Garderen crossed the line, fifth among those who had ridden to that point, Bardet suffered a puncture – the second to afflict an Ag2r-La Mondiale rider.
Valverde rolled off the ramp in determined style, seemingly already focused on the task of gaining 12 seconds on Péraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and claiming the final podium position in Paris. Péraud, who started two minutes later, bobbed along in aggressive fashion, his low but mobile position radiating intent, and clearly in no mood to sacrifice his position to Valverde. Pinot, who began the day in second place overall, raced with similar intensity, knowing that a margin of just 13 seconds separated him from his countryman, and only 25 seconds from the Spaniard, Valverde.
Race leader, Nibali, was, of course, the last to begin his effort, and did so with perfect composure. A vastly improved time trialist in recent years, and with a comfortable lead of 7.10, the Italian had little requirement to push to his limits, needing only to stay upright. In the event, he did considerably better, seemingly riding without fear and hammering out a tempo that had the beating of all but three of his competitors.
The first time check brought bad news for Valverde, who had already lost 1.06 to Péraud, a situation that would worsen as the stage wore on. Pinot, too, posted a deficit to his compatriot after 19km, but by conceding 25 seconds could perhaps hope to remain ahead of the Spaniard and continue to nurse visions of a podium finish in Paris.
A momentary crisis struck Péraud when he suffered a puncture near the 20km to go kite. The Frenchman handled the situation with aplomb, gently laying his stricken machine on the ground and applauding his mechanics as they sprang towards him with a new bike. He continued in the same tenacious vein, and posted a time of 49.55.56 at the second check point, enough for seventh place with 15km remaining.
All eyes then turned to Pinot and his arrival at the same point. The white jersey holder registered a time of 50.19.48, dropping nearly 24 seconds to Péraud. The fight was not entirely lost for the younger man, but he would need to continue it to the finish.
Valverde crossed the line in 25th place, and seemingly moments later, Péraud burst onto the finishing straight to finish seventh – an impressive achievement given his mechanical difficulties.
Pinot was next into Périgueux, rocking in the saddle but still seemingly in control of his effort. Pedalling smoothly through the bends that led him further into the centre of town, it was clear that the gap to Péraud had widened. The FDJ man rose from the saddle with 200m remaining to kick one last time, but as he crossed the line, the television camera crews had already surrounded Péraud, providing a very obvious indication of which Frenchmen had emerged victorious in their personal duel.
Tour de France 2014: stage 20 – result
1) Tony Martin (GER) – Omega Pharma-Quick-Step – 1.06.21
2) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Shimano +1.39
3) Jan Barta (CZE) – NetApp-Endura +1.47
4) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana +1.58
5) Leopold König (CZE) – NetApp-Endura +2.02
6) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +2.08
7) Jean-Christophe Péraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +2.27
8) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – IAM Cycling +2.36
9) Markel Irizar (ESP) – Trek +2.39
10) Daniel Oss (ITA) – BMC Racing +2.58
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 86.37.52
2) Jean-Christophe Péraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +7.52
3) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ.fr +8.24
4) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +9.55
5) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +11.44
6) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +11.46
7) Leopold König (CZE) – NetApp-Endura +14.41
8) Haimer Zubeldia (ESP) – Trek +18.12
9) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Belkin +18.20
10) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin +21.24