One for the GC riders not the TT specialists: The Tour de France's crucial stage 16 time trial

Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar will be raring to go on the 22.4km stage from Passy to Combloux, but not Stefan Küng

Jonas Vingegaard time trials on stage 20 of the 2022 Tour de France
(Image credit: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

On an ordinary time trial day at the Tour de France, Stefan Küng would be licking his lips. The Swiss Groupama-FDJ rider is one of the best rouleurs in the world, with 70% of his career wins being taken against the clock, wins that include the European Championships and the Chrono des Nations. However, stage 16 is no ordinary Tour de France time trial. 

"I would characterise it as a mountain time trial," the 29-year-old told Cycling Weekly last week, "You have some flat sections but they are short compared to all the uphill we have to conquer. It's 700m of elevation almost in 22km, so it's not going to be one for the specialists, it's going to be more one for the GC contenders."

After three gruelling mountain stages, and a rest day, the 22.4km effort from Passy to Combloux might yet prove decisive in the overall battle for this year's maillot jaune. There is 636 metres of climbing, including the second-category Côte de Demancy, and so it is not likely to be one for the powerhouses of the peloton.

"I think it's going to be hard to be at 110%, because normally you get motivation from the possibility of scoring a big result," Küng continued. "Nevertheless, I will take it seriously and go all in, also there is no other TT or anything from here to the Worlds, which is a big goal for me, so I will ride it like I was going for the win. You never know, maybe, something will happen. A top 10 already would be a victory for me on a course like this."

This appraisal is a view shared by Matt Winston, directeur sportif at dsm-firmenich.

"I think it suits the GC guys," he said. "The best guys up there can do anything and everything, but I think it also suits the climbing guys, as it's not a pure TT course. The climbers shouldn't be too nervous about it, I think. 

"It's for sure possible for a guy like Küng, but to be honest, I can't see too far past the guys at the top of the standings at the moment. Guys like the Yates brothers [Simon and Adam] have come along a lot in the last few years, also Jai [Hindley] has progressed, so I think it will be a full GC battle."

It is not so steep that it will be raced on road bikes, however, like the vertiginous time trial at the conclusion of this year's Giro d'Italia, or the final time trial which saw Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) defeat Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) at the 2020 Tour.

"The advantage over a road bike is so big, especially on the fast sections," Küng explained. "In the beginning there is a short uphill then there is a false flat. On there, you'd make a huge difference with a TT bike. And then the final climb, it's really steep at the beginning but then fast again. Maybe some guys will change at the bottom but I'm not so sure."

Stefan Küng time trials on stage 20 of the 2022 Tour de France

(Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Some other pure time triallists said that they won't even be bothering to try in this year's sole race against the clock, an indictment of the course laid out in front of them. 

Mikkel Bjerg, the winner of a similar ITT at the Critérium du Dauphiné last month, laughed and told Cycling Weekly not to bet on him in Tuesday's race. He is, of course, working in the service of Pogačar at this race, but even so, the admission was telling. Similarly, will Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), current Belgian TT champion, be allowed to push himself? Or will he be relaxed in order to serve his leader Jonas Vingegaard in the following days? Given his efforts to win a stage for himself on Sunday one suspects it'll be the former.

The ITT will also be made interesting by the fact that it comes after 15 stages of racing, and two hard days in the Alps. One man who has experience of tackling - and winning - Grand Tour individual time trials is Alex Dowsett, six-time British national ITT champion.

"If it really is a focus, you try and make your life as easy as possible for yourself in the days before," he told Cycling Weekly If you've got climbing in you, you don't have to join the first grupetto. There's a balance between the amount of time you put into it and the amount of effort you put in too. That's how I'd approach it, but I was very much a non-climber so I'd be in the first grupetto anyway.

"This far into the Tour de France I'd rely more on feeling than I would on numbers, because it's a bit of a lottery in terms of what's there and what isn't," he continued. "I would make an effort to take my eye off the numbers in the first five kilometres of the TT especially, and rely on feeling and instinct more, because it depends on how you are at that point of the Grand Tour. I've had both ends of the spectrum."

Alex Dowsett was speaking to Cycling Weekly as an ambassador for Wattbike, for whom he curated eight free workout sessions, called the Tour de Wattbike.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.