Tour de France 2014: Tony Martin favourite for penultimate stage win as ‘race of truth’ sorts out leading contenders
When they scheduled a 54km time trial for the Tour’s penultimate day, the race organisers were surely hoping for a nail-biting finish akin to Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon’s 1989 battle.
Instead, the fates have conspired to give them a dominant Vincenzo Nibali, who needs only to avoid falling on the route from Bergerac to Périgueux to become the first Italian Tour winner since Marco Pantani in 1998.
Nibali should find the course to his liking – it is hilly rather than pan-flat, with four minor climbs along the way. None of those appears remotely steep enough to trouble the world time-trial champion, Tony Martin, who is the overwhelming favourite over a route of this length.
Of those contending for the minor podium places behind Nibali, Jean-Christophe Péraud has the most to gain from today. The 37-year-old Frenchman lies only 13 seconds behind his second-placed compatriot Thibaut Pinot – and he is far better against the clock.
Sitting within striking distance of Péraud is the American Tejay van Garderen, who also possesses a superior ability to those around him when it comes to the so-called “Race of Truth”.
The beauty of the time trial lies in its simplicity – those with strength remaining will prosper, while any rider with jelly for legs will struggle.
Sunday’s ride to the Champs-Élysées will be the usual celebratory procession, with the yellow jersey sipping champagne and accepting the plaudits of his peers like a Lycra-clad rock star at a Parisian after-party. There is no racing, as per cycling’s quixotic unwritten rules – that is, until the riders reach the outskirts of Paris, when the usual merry hell will break loose as the sprinters’ teams wind up the pace at the front of the bunch.
For most of the peloton, the final stage is a chance to celebrate the simple fact of having made it to the end of the race. But for the sprinters, this is the most important day of the Tour. Victory on the wide Parisian streets will make a rider’s day, his race and often his entire career.
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