After more than 3,300 km and 83 hours of racing, the Tour de France is about to reach its ultimate destination in Paris.
And, although there are only two Australian riders in this year’s race, there is a real possibility that both will stand on a podium on the Champs-Elysées.
Sprinter Caleb Ewan has managed to climb admirably into the High Alps and, if his legs have recovered sufficiently, could resume his performance from last year’s race by winning the final sprint of the Tour on the cobblestones of the French capital.
However, in terms of overall honors, Ewan is the best part with six hours behind the leaders and far from the pace in the green jersey standings.
Richie Porte, however, is much closer to the top of the field and has a real chance of making the overall podium for the first time.
Porte is currently fourth – which would already mark his best result.
If he manages to make his way to third place, he will only become the second Australian to finish on the Tour de France podium.
Between him and a famous result, a 36.2 km individual time trial between Lure and the top of the short but steep climb of La Planche des Belles Filles.
Is Richie Porte a good time trial driver?
Porte has a handful of professional time trial victories to his credit, though none have been remarkable since the 2017 Criterium du Dauphine.
However, this is not a classic time trial.
Due to La Planche des Belles Filles being extremely powerful to complete the stage, climbing ability will be important – and that could work in their favor.
Through his exploits at the Tour Down Under, Porte is known as the King of Willunga Hill.
Porte won the stage which ends on Old Willunga Hill every year between 2014 and 2019 – which should put him in a good position to tackle tonight’s stage.
However, La Planche des Belles Filles is almost double the length (5.9 km to 3.7 km) and significantly steeper (8.5% to 7%) than Willunga Hill.
There is no doubt that the top of the Tour is more difficult than its South Australian counterpart, with a brutal 20% ramp in the final stages that will cause weaker climbers to zigzag the entire route just to stay upright.
Despite this, Tasmania’s pedigree on climbs like this can’t hurt.
Who are Richie Porte’s closest competitors?
Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar (+59 seconds) are relatively out of the pursuit peloton – and both are excellent time trials.
Roglic won three individual time trials at major circuits last year – although the race leader was beaten (by just nine seconds) at the Slovenian national championships in June by Pogacar.
The battle for the overall lead will probably still take place between the two Slovenes but, with such a brutal climb to the top of the last climb, the contenders could lose minutes if they misjudge their effort and run out of gas. .
The Slovenian duo are therefore still a long way from being out of the woods, which means third-placed Miguel Angel Lopez should be a real target for Porte.
The Colombian showed he has good climbing legs after his impressive victory in Stage 17, but Porte should have his game flat.
There is precedent for Australians making late charges in the Tour de France time trials.
Cadel Evans followed Andy Schleck by 57 seconds before the 20th stage, a 42.5 km time trial in Grenoble.
However, he revamped the famous time trial Schleck and his brother Frank to claim a historic victory and wear the yellow jersey in Paris.
However, it’s not just those above Porte in the leaderboard that pose a threat.
Spaniards Mikel Landa and Enric Mas are both a short distance from Porte which might make things interesting.
Can Porte catch up on the last stage?
If the time gaps are still small as we approach the finals, could Porte attack his rivals and potentially gain a few seconds to get on the podium?
For various reasons, this is unfortunately not really likely, which is why everything takes place on the penultimate stage of the time trial.
Part of the reason for this is one of the many examples of cycling etiquette, such as not attacking the leader if he is suffering from a mechanic.
Almost every year since the Tour peloton first stopped on the Champs-Élysées in 1975, the last stage has been a procession, allowing the winning team to enjoy their victory after three brutal weeks of racing. .
Even when the Tour was very tight on the last stage, there was no attempt to attack the man’s leader in second.
do you want an example? Cadel Evans followed Alberto Contador by 23 seconds in the 2007 edition of the race and still has not attacked Paris.
It was mainly for the other main reason. Practicality.
The final stage is still as flat as a pancake and relatively short – 122.5 km this year makes it the shortest of the Tour by around 20 km (with the exception of the time trial).
On such a course, it would take a huge effort to create a breakaway for the peloton and then stay clear on the Champs Elysees circuit, testing the tired legs of your teammates to the limit.
And it’s not just the leader’s team you’ll be working against.
Sprinter teams, like Caleb Ewan’s Lotto Soudal, would be reluctant to allow the race to end in anything other than a tuck sprint.
Was the last stage ever a race for the general classification?
While it has become common to have a final processional stage, there have been occasions where it hasn’t happened – and it has led to some mind-boggling drama.
The only time in recent years that there was a change of leader on the final day turned out to be the closest finish in Tour de France history.
In 1989, Greg Lemond overhauled Frenchman Laurent Fignon in a final time trial stage to win by just 8 seconds.
No Frenchman has ever been so close to winning the Tour since then, and while it may be rude to suggest that the mental scars from this incident have meant that no Tour de France director would dare to finish a Turn in this way, it probably didn’t. not help.
At the 2017 Giro d’Italia, Tom Dumoulin won a time trial on the last stage in Milan to revise Nairo Quintana by 31 seconds.