Alejandro Valverde confident as day of destiny arrives
It is now or never for the three riders battling for a podium finish behind runaway Tour de France leader Vincenzo Nibali.
Saturday`s 20th stage - a 54km individual timetrial - is the last opportunity for Alejandro Valverde, Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot to stake their claim for a top three finish in Paris on Sunday.
Spaniard Valverde remains the odd-man-out for the moment, sitting fourth in the standings but just 15sec behind Pinot and a mere 2sec off Peraud`s time.
He had said following Thursday`s final mountain stage that the most important thing now was to recover physically and rediscover "good legs" before Saturday.
But unfortunately, Friday`s 208km 19th stage through driving rain offered little chance to recuperate.
"Everyone could see on TV that it really wasn`t a day of rest," said the 34-year-old.
"When you`ve completed 200km in rain on stressful and dangerous roads, you end up dead.
"But we managed to stay up front and to avoid the crash (in which Peraud was caught up)."
Valverde is confident nonetheless that he has what it takes against the clock to overhaul at least one of the two Frenchmen barring his way to a podium finish.
"I know the route, I rode it in June. It`s a demanding course with tight corners in which anything can happen.
"I`ve been good against the clock this season and I think I can do a good job.
"I have good legs and I can aim for second or third."
On paper Pinot is the weakest of the three having never been timetrial champion of his country - Valverde is the current Spanish laureate while Peraud won the French race in 2009.
But the 24-year-old, who holds the white jersey for best young rider in the race, insists he enjoys the challenge.
"I like timetrials so I`ll give it my all and hope to be in a good day," he said.
"On a scale of one to 10 for tiredness I think I`m at 12! But there`s no reason for me to be afraid, there`s nowhere to hide.
"The two that climb onto the podium will be the strongest two."
Even if he misses out this time, Pinot will come again, he has perhaps another 10 years of riding Tours ahead of him.
But for 37-year-old Peraud, who was ninth in 2011, this may well be his best, and indeed last, chance to secure a podium at the Grand Boucle.
And he knows that if the race goes to form, he should be celebrating on Saturday evening.
"It`s a discipline I enjoy and I think I`ve got a little advantage on paper," he said.
Last year, Peraud crashed out of the Tour after coming down on the morning of the timetrial while riding the course to study it.
He then crashed again during his timetrial and left the race in pain.
But he said that wouldn`t happen this time.
"We will do the reconnaissance in the car. It won`t be like last year," he said Friday night.
With Italian Nibali already over the hill and out of sight, leading Pinot by 7:10, the other major issue that needs to be settled in the leading positions is fifth place.
Young Frenchman Romain Bardet holds that with a 2:07 advantage to sixth-placed American Tejay Van Garderen, who is by far the better of the two against the clock.
BMC`s Van Garderen says timetrials are all about setting the right tempo.
"Pacing, you can`t go out too hard, you can`t go out too easy. Pacing is everything," he said.
Despite his advantage, 23-year-old Bardet, of the AG2R team, knows he is the underdog to keep his top five berth.
"I know there`s a lot of work ahead of me," he admitted.
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