The gap between the top two on the general classification grew last night, with race-leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) padding his lead with a further 17 seconds on his younger Slovenian rival. The brutal slopes and high altitude of the Col de la Loze produced the toughest test of this year's Tour and while neither were found wanting, the general consensus seems to be that 57 seconds will be too much for Pogačar to make up on Roglič - a very good time triallist - in the race against the clock.
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) moved closer to the race lead with his stage victory, currently sitting a minute and 26 seconds off the lead. With his current form, may still fancy himself for the top step of the podium, though he'll be favoured less than Pogačar to make up time on Roglič in the TT, and indeed will probably lose time to the man who won four time trials back in 2019, regardless of the presence of the Planche des Belles Filles at the end.
So what will Lopez and Pogačar do? The past is generally a reasonable predictor of the future, so let's look back at the last time they were faced with a similar situation, at the 2019 Vuelta a España.
Both Lopez and Pogačar were sitting just outside the podium positions on the general classification and looking enviously at the spots occupied by Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana (both Movistar). Roglič was streets ahead, over almost three minutes ahead of Valverde in second and with advantage of over four minutes on both Lopez and Pogačar.
Stage 20 was the final chance for the climbers to move anywhere on the general classification with the final stage the procession in Madrid. Note this profile well, it's on the test for later.
Lopez's Astana squad made things difficult early on, with Jakob Fuglsang the final man to drive a relentless pace for Lopez to launch his attack with 43 kilometres remaining in the stage. All the top five on the general classification go with him, but that's not the case when Pogačar launches his own searing attack with 39 kilometres left, going solo in a long-range bid to moving up on GC.
He continued his impressive solo push to the line in Sierra de Gredos and ultimately was successful, breaking both Lopez and Quintana, with only a exhausted-looking pair of Valverde and Roglič able to hold their spots on the GC after Pogačar's surge up the standings. He stood on the podium in Madrid next to the experienced pair after making up 1'56 on Roglič's leader's red jersey during the stage.
So let's check out the upcoming stage and whether we could see something similar in the Tour as the Vuelta.
First of all the course is arguably more suited to a long-range move. While the Vuelta finished with a three kilometre climb - which deters attacks by putting a tough obstacle at the end of the stage so riders are disinclined to waste energy beforehand - the Stage 18 finish in to La Roche-Sur-Foron comes on a descent.
The Montee du plateau des Glieres (6 km at 11.2 per cent gradient) looks like the natural spot for an attack, a brutally steep climb that will cause gaps among the contenders. Though a more adventurous move might start on the Col des Aravis (6 km at 7 per cent gradient), a spot where perhaps the other contenders can be taken by surprise. Perhaps a Richie Porte spots a sneaky opportunity to steal some time as well and then both can work together!.
The time gaps are not so insurmountable that this move seems futile, but time gaps are already significant enought that it will either need to be Roglič cracking, or an audacious move that makes the difference. Also in favour is that there is a comparatively flat stage ahead of the time trial where the GC riders can rely on their teams to keep them safe without having tho expend too much energy and rest up from any Stage 18 heroics before the time trial.
There is one significant factor that will make this a tough venture however. Jumbo-Visma is a very strong squad, their riders are hard to eliminate. Sepp Kuss and Tom Dumoulin are climbing as well as major contenders for GC, and Wout van Aert is arguably the strongest rider in the race. Isolating Roglič will be hard and noone will be particularly keen to attack, just to be inexorably chased down by the Jumbo-Visma mountain train.
Also, at the Vuelta, both Lopez and Pogačar were off the podium when they launched their bold moves, here they stand to lose their positions on the Champs Elysees.
All it will take is a sign of weakness in Jumbo-Visma or Roglič though, perhaps a few well-positioned teammates, and above all, the will to win.
Pogačar in particular has shown that he's not afraid of making such moves, perhaps because in the past they've mostly worked! He's already racing in the mold of Alberto Contador, never one to give up when there's even the potential of victory and there's an opportunity that beckons tonight.
The 2020 Tour de France continues with Stage 18, last drinks for the contenders before the final individual time trial. On this 167km Alpine stage, riders face 4,000m of vertical gain. Watch Stage 18 via the SBS ŠKODA Tour Tracker from 7:55pm (AEST) on Thursday, 8:05pm (AEST) on SBS On Demand, or tune into the television broadcast from 9:30pm (AEST) on SBS.