The morning of stage 19, day two in the Alps, promised to be epic.
Well, it was epic but not on a sporting level. With the shocking abandon of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), arguably the best climber in the race, the most open and exciting Tour in decades slammed shut.
By the end of the day, the Tour had shifted back its habitual position: Sky/Ineos in first and third, the yellow jersey on the shoulders of Egan Bernal and last year’s winner Geraint Thomas on the third step and likely to step up one more. Deja vu all over again.
France is in mourning. Pinot, so confident and aggressive, had a true shot at becoming the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985. A muscle tear in his thigh ripped his chance to pieces. His terrible luck in his home grand tour continues and in a climber-friendly edition, will there ever be a better opportunity to make history?
Gone was the heroic and exhilarating Julian Alaphilippe who had held yellow for weeks, from La Planche des Belles Filles to the Pyrenees to the time trial, he had astounded everyone. He showed signs of weakness on the first day in the Alps and the second would be his undoing.
The race is over.
All hail Egan Bernal the first Colombian winner of the Tour de France. Until he crashed out a week before the Giro d’Italia, that was the grand tour he was supposed to win. Something tells us that in hindsight, he’ll be much happier with the final yellow jersey. Everyone will cheer madly except for a certain Chris Froome who now seems even more unlikely to join the exclusive club of five time Tour winners.
A look at the GC standings is like a Sky flashback. Bernal in yellow, a fading Alaphilippe at 48 seconds, and Thomas, soon to be second, at 1:16. At this exhaustion point in the race, there’s only Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) with a hope of changing that podium, from his position 1:28 off the leaders jersey. Does anyone really believe the Dutchman will out-climb Bernal on the final Alps stage?
After that, it’s scraps and leftovers. Emanuel Buchmann ((Bora-Hansgrohe) will celebrate his unexpected jump to prominence. Mikel Landa (Movistar) will settle in with sixth place and continue to proclaim that with the right team he could go all the way. Doubtful. Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) will console themselves with a place in the top ten and rue another year — perhaps too many — gone by.
And finally, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) will ride off into the Tour sunset and join the underfunded and undermanned French team Arkéa Samsic, never to be seen on GC again. He will essentially become the Colombian version of Warren Barguil, a rider capable of a dramatic stage win in the mountains, maybe some polka dots, but never again a shot at his sueno armarillo. Which strikes us as truly sad and we question the career choice.
But we will follow in the lead of Tour boss Christian Prudhomme who saw his miraculous Tour de France suddenly explode with hail, a landslide, the exit of Pinot and the collapse of Alaphilippe. He shrugged his shoulders, he put both hands out, palms up in Gallic disappointment, and give it all an existentialist nod of the head.
C’est la vie.