(Saint-Gervais) A place of legend for an epic duel: Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar, the two inseparable from the Tour de France, face off at a distance on Tuesday during an alpine time trial which borrows the mythical coast of Domancy, where Bernard Hinault forged one of his greatest exploits.

Honor reserved for the yellow jersey, Vingegaard will start last, at 5 p.m. sharp (11 a.m. in Quebec), just after his Slovenian rival, for about 36 minutes of effort on a course as short (22.4 km) as demanding between Passy and Combloux.

The profile of this 16th stage, with the terrible Côte de Domancy (2.5 km at 9.4%) on the menu, perfectly suits the two champions who hold themselves in 10 seconds in the general classification and will want to set the record straight. Tuesday time in Haute-Savoie.

If the Tour could switch on Tuesday, it is difficult to designate a favorite between the two ogres, irresistible in the mountains and excellent riders, who say together “love a lot” the course. “Changes of pace suit me just fine,” Vingegaard points out. “That’s the kind of timer I love,” Pogačar replies.

“It’s a time trial for mountaineers,” says route architect Thierry Gouvenou. “There’s Domancy, of course, but also the Côte de la Cascade de Cœur from the start. And after Domancy, there are still three, four kilometers of climbing until the finish. It’s hard. And besides, it’s the day after the rest day, “he adds. “You really have to be at the top of your game. It’s made for the two protagonists there. I don’t see who could play with them on such a length of ascent, “adds Bernard Hinault, the master of the place.

Domancy is so closely linked to Bernard Hinault that the road bears his name today. It was here that the “Badger” became world champion in 1980 on a monstrously tough course, taking the Domancy coast… 20 times. Hinault won a minute ahead of Italian Gianbattista Baronchelli after crushing the peloton. Only 15 runners managed to finish.

“There were a lot of Italian supporters shouting, the border is right next to it. But when I escaped, you couldn’t hear them anymore,” Hinault recalls with a carnivorous smile. He announced his victory on the evening of the 1976 Worlds where he complained about the lack of support from his teammates. “I had gone to see the national coach, Richard Marillier, a colonel in the Legion. I told him, well, we’ll be world champions in 1980. We didn’t even know where that was going to be yet. When I saw the course, I knew I wouldn’t have too many worries. »

The course, alternating between climbs and flat parts or slightly downhill, poses a complex equation for the teams: to change bikes or not? “I’m curious to see what they’ll do in terms of material management. We know that on big slopes, a chrono bike is not effective, “says Gouvenou. In 2020, in the time trial at the Planche des Belles Filles where Pogačar had knocked down Primoz Roglič, all the favorites had taken a climber’s bike at the foot of the last climb. But the profile of the stage was different, longer (36 km) and with a flatter part at the start. “Here it’s complicated, a very special, technical time trial,” said Joxean Matxin, Pogačar’s sporting director at UAE, who refused to give his plans for Tuesday. The leader of Groupama-FDJ, David Gaudu, either. But his teammate Thibaut Pinot says he will change his bike. Conversely, the Spaniard Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos), third overall, believes that “it is not worth it compared to the risk it constitutes and the time we lose” in the operation.

The gap between Vingegaard and Pogačar is so small that the slightest brilliance could make the difference. Difficult to imagine, however, that the Tour will be played on Tuesday evening. Because the time is too short to create irremediable gaps. And that there are still two very difficult stages, Wednesday in the Alps and Saturday in the Vosges. Wednesday’s odyssey between Saint-Gervais and Courchevel is, on paper, the most difficult of all, including the ascent of the Col de la Loze, “a monster so steep that at times you only see the sky”, explains Hinault. With 5100 meters of vertical drop, the Col des Saisies and the Cormet de Roselend as an aperitif, before arriving on the Courchevel altiport track pitched up at 18%, there will be enough to shake the certainties of the day before.