Geraint Thomas is set to win the 2018 Tour de France after finishing third in the stage 20 time trial, just 14 seconds behind stage winner and world champion, Tom Dumoulin.
Thomas held a 2’05” lead over Dumoulin going into the stage but set a storming pace over the first part of the course to ensure that was never in doubt – one wobble on a corner aside.
Chris Froome will join the two on the final podium, meanwhile, after finishing just a second behind the Dutchman to climb back to third overall. Stage 19 winner Primoz Roglic was more than a minute slower than Froome to drop to fourth overall.
Thomas was actually faster than Dumoulin and Froome through both intermediate time checks but the world champion gained time over the final part of the course to claim the stage win.
Thomas will become the first Welshman, and third Brit in all, to win the Tour de France, however, with only the processional final stage to come.
Lanterne Rouge Lawson Craddock (EF-Drapac) started proceedings in wet conditions on the roads – the American emotional as he crossed in 47’34” to post the first mark and ensure he will ride into Paris despite fracturing his shoulder on stage one.
The first meaningful benchmark, however, was that set by Polish champion Maciej Bodnar – but his 44’26” was soon beaten by more than two minutes by Michael Hepburn (Mitchelton-Scott) – who stopped the clock on 42’15”.
That earned Hepburn a long spell in the hot seat – literally hot too, as weather conditions improved and the roads dried nicely for the GC battle.
It was a good job too, as some sketchy early corners had required some very cautious speeds from the early starters.
Another notable story unfolding was green jersey Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) starting his effort – knowing he will win a record-equalling sixth maillot vert if he finishes in Paris, but in obvious pain from his stage 17 crash.
Sagan finished in 48’03” – actually faster than the second-placed rider in the points classification, Alexander Kristoff – to save himself from the time cut.
At the top of the leaderboard, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) made a blistering start to briefly lead at the first time check, while Hepburn was finally dethroned at the finish by just five-hundredths of a second by Marc Soler (Movistar).
Soren Kragh Anderson (Team Sunweb) went even faster, however, before Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) took another two seconds off to set a new mark of 41’42”.
Yates, meanwhile, finished in 42’18” – three seconds slower than Soler and Hepburn having lost time over the second part of the course.
When the top four started, however – led by Froome – it was clear they were on another level to their rivals, as they should be given it was the British champion and the top three at last year’s World Championships.
Froome obliterated the marks at the first and second time checks and his advantage over Roglic – perhaps paying for his efforts on stage 19 – grew by the pedal stroke.
The Team Sky man had nearly caught his two-minute man, Steven Kruijswijk, by the time he reached the finish line and stopped the clock in 40’53” – more than a minute faster than Roglic who was next to finish.
Dumoulin, in the rainbow skinsuit – delivered to him on the morning of the stage after his original was lost – was three seconds behind Froome at the first time check and two at the second.
His typically smooth style saw him gain over the final part of the course, however, to bump the Team Sky man off first place by a single second – after some initial confusion over the stage timings.
Thomas was even faster at both time checks, though he did have one heart-stopping moment when he wobbled into a sharp corner – just remaining upright.
He finished third in the end, 14 seconds slower than Dumoulin, but the Welshman will now ride into Paris in the maillot jaune after a stunning Tour de France.
Tour de France 2018: stage 20 (ITT) – result
1) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Team Sunweb – 40.52
2) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +1”
3) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +14”
4) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Team Sky +50”
5) Soren Kragh Andersen (DEN) – Team Sunweb +51”
6) Bob Jungels (LUX) – QuickStep Floors +52”
7) Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) – Katusha-Alpecin +1.02
8) Primoz Roglic (SVN) – LottoNL-Jumbo +1.12
9) Marc Soler (ESP) – Movistar +1.22
10) Michael Hepburn (AUS) – Mitchelton-Scott +1.23
1) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – 80.30.37hrs
2) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Team Sunweb +1.51
3) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +2.24
4) Primoz Roglic (SVN) – LottoNL-Jumbo +3.22
5) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +6.08
6) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +6.57
7) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Movistar +7.37
8) Daniel Martin (IRL) – UAE Team Emirates +9.05
9) Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) – Katusha-Alpecin +12.37
10) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +14.18