Samuel Abt, who might be called the first giant of American Tour de France journalism, weighed in on the 2019 Tour route.
He pitched his Velonew story — and the route put together by Christian Prudhomme and Thierry Gouvenou — as an effort to cage Team Sky. Much as we’d like to fall in line behind Apt, who is a terrific writer (we have his wonderful book Off To The Races), we’re not sure we’re buying the Anti-Sky route planning.
Yes, case in point, there’s a minimum of time trial kilometers. You’ve got a short 27k team team trial (Sky will do quite well, thank-you) and a short 27k individual time trial where Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas will also perform at a high level.
I’m not seeing this route as a massive gift to frenchman Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot or — to throw in Abt’s third candidate, Julien Alaphilippe. Sure, Bardet is mediocre agains the clock but we’ve seen again and again that there is no Anti-Froome course design.
Go heavy on the time trials and Froome spends extra time on the TT bike, crushing everyone with big gear ferocity. Load up on mountains and he does his high altitude camps, eats like a concentration camp inmate, bumps up his power to weight ration and voila, he wins on Ventoux.
No, it’s difficult for us to really imagine a Tour de France where Team Sky is at a disadvantage. The only true solution has nothing to do with route and balance of mountains to time trials. It’s all about the massive budget advantage Sky has over everyone, bringing by far the strongest, deepest, most versatile squad to support Froome and Thomas.
Ohh, you want to talk about throwing in some cobblestones? Didn’t bother Froome or Thomas last year. Ohh, you want to mix in some gravel or dirts roads? Did anyone see how Froome won the 2018 Giro d’Italia on the Finestre dirt climb? What’s more, you can line the road with people grabbing, spitting and screaming obscenities. It won’t matter one bit.
No, the only loose variable, the kind that keeps team boss David Brailsford up at night, is that secret stash of mid-mountain stages that Christian Prudhomme loves so much. We’re talking the Vosges, the Massive Central. The roads are narrow and beat-up and things can get chaotic and uncontrolled when you least expect it.
Sky always has their logistics and fall-back plans for the Pyrenees and Alps but it’s the off-script and less obvious middle mountain stages that create instability and unexpected surprises.
We’re not sure that will hand the Tour de France to Romain Bardet or Thibaut Pinot. But it does provide some extra launchpads for the daring. Of course daring isn’t something we’ve seen a lot of in the Tour de France of late. Thus the push for bonus seconds awards in strategic places to encourage attacking.
As always the road, but mostly Team Sky, will decide.