Despite having raced hard for three weeks, the major contenders of the Tour de France remain separated by small enough gaps to ensure a nervous time trial stage.
We look at how they are all likely to shape up, and what changes in the overall classification might be on the cards.
Chris Froome, Sky
The GC race might still look close out of context, with two riders still within 30 seconds of the yellow jersey, but Froome’s superiority as a time trialist means that overall victory for him feels like a forgone conclusion.
He’s one of the best riders in the world against the clock, and the time he gained in Düsseldorf’s time trial is still what separates him from Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran on GC.
That day he put over 37 seconds into all of the riders currently in the top 10 (apart from Simon Yates) across 14km, which would translate into over one minute over Marseille’s 22.5km – although the effect of three weeks of racing and the presence of a short, steep hill make for considerable variables.
Neither of those factors should concern Froome, however, who seems to be firing on all cylinders, and tends to go very well this deep into a Grand Tour – he’s won non-flat final week time trials en route to winning the 2013 and 2015 Tours, as well as at last year’s Vuelta a España.
Another stage win is very much on the cards.
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Romain Bardet, Ag2r La Mondiale
Time trialing has always been Bardet’s weakness. It was in that discipline that he slipped from fifth to sixth on the penultimate stage of his breakthrough Tour in 2014, and he lost a whopping 3-52 to Chris Froome in a 27km stage in last year’s Tour.
There haven’t been any recent signs of improvement, either. The Frenchman was 46th at the similar time trial at a Critérium du Dauphiné stage last month, behind the likes of Simon Yates, Dan Martin, Fabio Aru and Louis Meintjes, and was even further down in 63rd in Düsseldorf.
Bardet performs better in hillier parcours, but the solitary 1.2km climb on tomorrow’s route won’t be enough to swing things in his favour.
The yellow jersey is well beyond him, and even his position on the podium could be under threat.
Rigoberto Uran, Cannondale-Drapac
The joker in the pack heading into the penultimate stage of the Tour is Rigoberto Uran.
It’s difficult to know what to expect from him.
Earlier in his career, when he first established himself as a Grand Tour candidate, he did so on the back of a strong time trial.
In 2014, he trounced the rest of the field by over a minute to win a 42km-long stage of the Giro d’Italia. Later that year at the Vuelta he finished second in a 34.5km time trial with a time that was 1-17 quicker than Froome’s – which would, incidentally, be more than enough to claim the yellow jersey on Saturday.
As his climbing has waned in recent years, however, so has his form against the clock. The Colombian has failed to make even the top 30 in any of the eleven time-trials he has competed in since the start of 2016, including 64th at the Giro last year (minutes down from his GC rivals), and 95th in Dusseldorf, where he was a whole 1-01 slower than Froome.
Is that Duesseldorf performance a sign that his skills against the clock have not been revived, and therefore perhaps not even enough to take second overall from Bardet? Or has he since ridden himself into the kind of form that can at least challenge and make Froome uncomfortable, if not depose him? We’ll soon find out.
Mikel Landa, Sky
Currently lying fourth at 1-13 behind Bardet and 1-07 behind Uran, Landa is the man best set to topple one of them off the podium.
However, his past record in time trials suggests that will be a big ask. He lost a huge four minutes in the 59km time-trial of the 2015 Giro while at Astana, and was the slowest of all the GC contenders in Düsseldorf, finishing 102nd at 1-08.
Landa’s recent past is not without the occasional good ride, however – he was actually quicker than most of his GC rivals at the Giro 2016 time trial (before abandoning the day after), and last month finished second, albeit in a weak field, at the Spanish National Championships.
Even a ride at that standard is unlikely to take back the time necessary to move up on GC but Landa can nevertheless relish a rare chance to ride purely for himself.
Fabio Aru’s (Astana) ability against the clock is broadly at the same level as Bardet’s, and the two have not been separated by a gap bigger than 35 seconds in any of the past five (non-prologue) time trials in which they have competed together.
A much bigger swing of 1-32 is needed for Aru to overtake Bardet on GC, and the Italian’s hopes are further limited by his diminishing form. He could yet, however, take back the 20 seconds needed from Landa to move into fourth.
Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors)’s ability is also comparable to these two riders, so his sixth position on GC is likely to remain unchanged, given the large gaps to fifth (1-01) and seventh (1-50).
The battle for the white jersey (and seventh overall) looks likely to be won by Simon Yates (Orica-Scott), who, despite his small stature, tends to perform reasonably well in time trials, and certainly well enough to defend the 2-08 buffer he holds over Louis Meintjes (UAE Emirates).