Before the last rest day, I spent a long time researching potential questions for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. I was offered the opportunity to participate in a OLN-sponsored rest day conference call that day.
It wasn't clear back then if Lance Armstrong was going to be able to maintain the time advantage that he had over his rivals because the Pyrenees weren't over. So, I looked at the Saint-Etienne Time Trial Course and saw how difficult it was. This is why I asked:
Which is the more challenging aspect of the Stage 20 time trial, the elevation change or the number of turns?
Phil Liggett's response was:
Both are challenges. The area around St Etienne is very hilly and technical. It will a test of skill and the one with the best technical skills will win among the top riders.
Phil's response leaves me to choose the riders among the leaders who have the best technical skills.
I believe that Lance Armstrong will win today. Tomorrow's stage from Corbeil-Essonnes to the Champs-Elysees will be the greatest of all parade laps right up to the Eiffel Tower. I think he's got the best mix of time trial technique, climbing power, and bike-handling skill of the four riders I'm comparing here. This is the moment for him to leave it all on the road, if he wants to do so.
Jan Ullrich has a lot on the line today. If he puts in a great performance, he can replace Mickael Rasmussen on the podium. The question in my mind is: will the technical nature of the course work to his disadvantage? He's not the greatest bike handler on twisting courses and he doesn't have the explosive acceleration on climbs that would be most beneficial.
The media says that Ivan Basso is hoping to do a great ride in this stage in order to show that he's Lance's heir apparent. He's really improved his time trialing over last year, as he demonstrated in this year's Giro d'Italia. Nobody's really in a position to challenge him, because he's one minute ahead of Mickael Rasmussen overall. Rasmussen's likely to lose time to Basso today.
Mickael Rasmussen has overachieved in General Classification terms. He's expended a lot of effort defending his third-place position. Rasmussen finished 174th in the Stage 1 Time Trial, losing 2 minutes and 6 seconds to Ullrich over 19 kilometers. Can he put together a fantastic ride today and stay on the podium?
The big question in my mind is whether Basso, who is riding mainly for pride, will out ride Ullrich who needs a very good performance to finish on the podium? I'll be surprised if Lance does not win the stage today, unless he has some kind of problem on the road.
TDFblog is live blogging Stage 20.