First, a word of thanks to Chris Froome for crashing out on a recon of the Criterium du Dauphine. We wish you a speedy and full recovery but boy has this opened up a conservative and predictable race.
Second, thanks Tour de France route planners who kept the action coming and gave plenty of riders — that’s you, Monsieur Alaphilippe — the places to attack and upset the dreary dynamic.
And finally, thank-you ASO for mandating a reduction of one rider for the grand tours. This may very well have impacted the Sky/Ineos dominance — and more than a few experts have stated their view that it’s making a difference. And with Luke Rowe (Ineos) and Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) thrown out of the race, two top squads with yellow ready for the taking are a man down at the most critical juncture of the race.
Now, who’s going to win? You can safely say that nobody has the answer to that question. Which is why people are saying it’s the best Tour since 2008 or 1989. Take your pick. And yes, it’s been flat out awesome and unpredictable almost from the git-go.
Let’s do pros and cons for the top favorites.
All for France is rooting for the astonishing Julian Alaphilippe, who has been in yellow since the first week. He showed weakness for the first time in the final stage in the Pyrenees but still holds a 1:35 lead on current Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos).
Pros: He is crazy motivated and mentally strong and riding a massive way of French love. He’s also on the form of his life and all he has to do is stick to Thomas’ wheel for three days. Which is easy, right?
Cons: He’s not a climber, he cracked a bit in the the Pyrenees, he spent the first two weeks burning matches right and left and has very little left in the tank despite a rest day on Monday. He’s about to face three long and murderous days in the Alps where any moment of weakness could lose you five minutes. Plus, no team support in the mountains.
Geraint Thomas is still in a strong position with a very strong team. According to his quotes, he’s feeling more and more like himself. But is that self as good as 2018 Tour winning Thomas?
Pros: He’s been consistent and this Tour is a war of attrition. He rides for a team that has won six Tours de France and has, theoretically, the help of super mountain domestique Egan Bernal. Still, Team Ineos has appeared a bit off their game. Thomas also has the calm temperament to deal with the pressures and insane stress of Le Tour.
Cons: The man can’t stop crashing. He’s been extremely fortunate that none of his three crashes have led to significant injuries. It could have been far, far worse — like out of Tour worse. His latest crash happened just two days ago — is he 100% ready for day one in the Alps? Then there’s Bernal: willing to play the support role but seconds away from being let off the leash to win the Tour for himself. As Thomas admitted, this is a difficult tactical conundrum.
Thibaut Pinot is the strongest climber in the race but for how long? Could he be the first French Tour winner since Hinault in 1985? Could be attain French hero status for all time? It’s an open question with no clear cut answers.
Pros: As we just mentioned, strongest climber in race. In fact, except for his Roundabout from Hell (and those crosswinds) he’d pretty much be in yellow now. His team has been impressive in the mountains, in particular the 22 year old sensation David Gaudu, who apparently really likes hurting people — especially if they’re wearing an Ineos jersey
Cons: He’s never won a grand tour and has a history of nerves and bad luck and untimely illness. Apparently, his Groupama FDJ squad is giving his hotel rooms the extra special germaphobe treatment. Has he burned himself out with a number of go-deep, aggressive attacks in the Pyrenees? Even the Frenchman himself might not have an answer — it’s uncharted territory. The final maillot jaune is right there and history is ready to be made and team manager Marc Madiot will be screaming in Pinot’s ear but can this crazy reve really happen?
Steven Kruijswijk almost won the Giro d’Italia a few years back. He’s not planning on making the same catastrophic mistakes he made in the Italian Grand Tour. He’s been riding smart and up front but has yet to put the hammer down.
Pros: Kruijswijk has two powerful helpers in the Alps: Laurens de Pus and George Bennett. These two guys are scaring Ineos like they’ve never been scared before. Which is fun for cycling fans and even better for the Jumbo-Visma captain. He’s made a decision to save every ounce of energy for week three. Can he get the job done?
Cons: See the previously mentioned Giro disaster. Did Kruijswijk miss an opportunity to be more aggressive in the Pyrenees? Does he have the personality to handle the pressure and expectation? It’s one thing to be in the front group and quite another to be the boss.
That brings us to our final contestant: Egan Bernal, Ineos Plan B or Plan A depending on what team boss David Brailsford had for breakfast. The kid is sensational and looked marginally stronger than his teammate Thomas in the Pyrenees.
Pros: We are going over 2000 meters in elevation multiple times. That is a birthday party for a climber from Colombia. If there is one rider who will thrive in these oxygen-deprived conditions, it’s Bernal. He also hasn’t crashed multiple times like Thomas which gives him another potential bump in performance.
Cons: The guy is a superstar in waiting but it’s still a big jump even with a strong team. Ineos is playing a difficult tactical game in balancing the prospects of Bernal and Thomas. What if they wait too long to give Bernal the green light?
In the end, I have no confidence in picking the winner of the 2019 Tour de France. I’m actually thrilled that I can’t. My heart is pulling for Thibaut Pinot to make history but the logical side of the brain says the consistency, experience and team strength of Ineos bring Geraint Thomas to Paris in yellow.