This is probably the most open Tour de France since 2012 with a long list of contenders and pretenders. This much we know, picking a winner for Paris is at best test of epistemology and more truthfully exercise in story telling. Which rider seems the most convincing?
To predict the future, best see what happened last time. Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) won in 2018 and it was an assured ride, he took summit finishes and was also lucky too, runner-up Tom Dumoulin’s broken wheel on the stage to Mûr-de-Bretagne cost the Dutchman two thirds of his deficit forcing him to gamble and lose more time. Last year Thomas had a perfect path to the Tour, 2019 doesn’t bring the same assurance or luck, this year Thomas has been out of sorts and on the ground. There’s not much to go on, third overall in Romandie suggests he’s on track but we just don’t know any more as he crashed out of the Tour de Suisse which means his form is the big question. He has a strong team with Wout Poels and Michał Kwiatkowski as key men, they can control the race and even hold a psychological grip on rival outfits, plus Thomas has the power and race craft to take time bonuses.
Egan Bernal is the co-leader at Ineos but the road will decide and the Planche des Belles Filles on Stage 6 could deliver internal promotions and demotions. Bernal could be the first Colombian to win the Tour de France, but forget the stereotype escarabajo climber, he’s much more complete. He first impressed at Androni for his race craft and positioning and he thrived in the wild crosswind stage of Paris-Nice, the foundation for his win in March. He’s competent in a time trial, descends well and spent his childhood as a mountain biker which gives him reflexes to help save a tricky situation although in a short career he’s already had some long breaks following crashes. He’s just won the Tour de Suisse which ought to reassure but his win was steady rather than flamboyant, the field wasn’t galactic so we’re left in anticipation of what he’ll do in the Tour’s mountain stages against stronger opposition. We know he can handle a three weeks of racing, he got Chris Froome on the podium last year by towing him across the top of the Col d’Aubisque on the final mountain stage so the only untested element is watching him defend the yellow jersey but the team does plenty of this. Of all the riders he seems the most complete even if he’s still 22. And if he doesn’t win this year he will some day.
Jacob Fuglsang is having his best ever season and Astana have been dominant in many stage races but he and they would surely swap it all for a win this July. Fuglsang’s the form rider but there are still questions, he won the Critérium du Dauphiné but there were no high altitude climbs although in mitigation the climb to Pipay started low, so he can handle long ascensions as well as the short ones on the way to winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Next is whether he can piece it all together for three weeks – he’s never finished better than seventh in a grand tour. Finally does he want to win? We’d all like to win but imagine he’s third overall going into the final three mountain stages, would he risk it all for a shot at the win or defend his position which would mark a career achievement? Astana bring a formidable team with riders capable of stage hunting and acting as relays for breakaways.
Movistar return with their trident of Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa. Last year’s El Tridente was more gardening fork than gladiator. Quintana is Movistar’s leader and the course suits him, he’s at his best on the very long climbs where he doesn’t ambush rivals, he grinds them down but he’s turned stale in recent seasons and this is a crunch Tour. His form’s unknown, he had a decent Dauphiné but the race didn’t give up many clues. As for Valverde, many long for a change of script from the Sky years but what if he won? He’s in form having breezed the Route d’Occitanie and Spanish national championships but as ever the question for him is holding it together for three weeks and coping with altitude. Landa had a good Giro in his legs but this means fatigue here although he says he feels great and here’s a course to suit with few time trials and muchas montañas. As well as the three prongs the shaft of the team is strong and capable of unpicking Ineos but Movistar are often conservative rather than inventive.
Adam Yates leads Mitchelton-Scott and has been targeting the Tour all season. On his day he can climb with the best and as we saw in the Dauphiné’s time trial he’s effective for someone weighing less than 60kg and this got him in the yellow jersey. The form is there, the course suits and he’s handy in a sprint among climbers for time bonuses. He’s even beaten Egan Bernal in a summit finish this year, in Catalunya. The team are strong with Jack Haig as solid support and Simon Yates a surprise starter, a possible contender too but more likely to be saved for the big days just as they did with Adam in the Vuelta last year.
Thibaut Pinot‘s recovery from the Giro last year to win stages in the Vuelta and then sack Nibali on home soil to take Il Lombardia show he’s gone up a level, he can drop rivals à la pédale. Groupama-FDJ bring a solid team that should limit the losses in Sunday’s team time trial. But last year’s Giro and Vuelta showed us his twin problems: his immune system as he seems prone to illness and concentration as he can end up on the wrong side of a split in the bunch and he’s got to cope with the media burden too, if the Tour is a pressure cooker at the best of times spare a thought for Pinot, an introvert whose idea of a good time is tending to his flock of sheep and goats back home rather than doing daily TV interviews. David Gaudu should accompany him in the mountains but consistency is his challenge and the team are not in a rush to demand a result from him.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) has been on the podium twice and is a top-10 regular. A win is still possible but he needs everything to go right every day. So far the signs aren’t promising with a Dauphiné were he was a touch off the pace although he’s had training camps in the Alps to turn things around. His brown short brigade have been up against it, Pierre Latour would have been a big help but is short of form after a broken wrist this spring meaning Giro finisher Alexis Vuillermoz is drafted in, while Tony Gallopin and Benoît Cosnefroy both crashed in the French nationals last week and start sore. Still the team are good, at least for the mountains rather than the TTT and Oliver Naesen an invaluable bodyguard for other days. Bardet even enjoys a visit on Bastille Day to Brioude where he grew up, a factor which convinced him to ride as he’d been tempted by the Giro for a change.
Rigoberto Urán is a central figure in Colombian cycling, while Bernal is the newcomer and Quintana the superstar, “Rigo” has his place too, whether at first as a landlord to the likes of Quintana and now with politicians in his contacts. He was second in 2017, he never looked like winning yet this remains his masterpiece ride because he was consistently good and reliable. Just like 2017, he’s used the Route d’Occitanie as a tune-up and just like then he had a good ride and is apparently hitting the same numbers. Unlike before, the EF Education First team lhere ooks stronger with Tejay van Garderen appearing relaxed these days and he finished second in the Critérium du Dauphiné while Michael Woods is stage-hunting but helpful to have if there’s a position to defend. The long climbs suit Urán and his team are contenders for the TTT too.
Steven Kruijswijk’s raid on the stage to Alpe d’Huez last year was one of the best rides of the season for its audacity, he was sitting sixth overall but took off in the early break. Only the team could play the double act then because Primož Roglič was riding too. This time “The Coathanger” is Jumbo-Visma’s sole leader for the overall classification, with George Bennett on a support role for now. He’s got a low win rate but is a strong rider who copes well with altitude so the course suits. He had a decent Dauphiné and if he was DNF it was only a short-term stomach bug. But how to win? It’s easy to see him being consistent and riding high on GC, even the podium, but hard to imagine him dancing away from all the names above on a summit finish and winning outright so it’ll be interesting to see what the team have up their sleeve, or, to use a Dutch phrase, how “the monkey comes out of the sleeve”.
Sport’s a fickle business and for several years running Richie Porte has been a genuine contender for the Tour podium, now he’s hardly in the headlines. He’s changed teams and comes with a Trek-Segafredo team built around him with Bauke Mollema drafted in for support rather than saved for the Vuelta. Normally he excels in short stage races but, apart from his habitual Willunga win, this year has been lacklustre thanks to illness. In his own words he’s “coming in underdone” when normally he’d be sizzling but what if he’s in peak form this July and stays lucky?
Vincenzo Nibali is the only other rider in the race to have won it after Thomas but is an unknown quantity. The Giro was his big target and he finished a creditable second overall, now he starts with no pressure but the fatigue of the Giro in his legs and talk of the polka dot jersey or a stage win if the daily challenge for the overall isn’t possible. The absence of Froome and Dumoulin has boosted his interest and altered his training plans and the first goal is the GC but how to win, it’s hard to see him taking summit finishes. Bahrain-Merida bring a strong team including Damiano Caruso who was a precious help in the Giro but others on the team look good for stage wins.
Finally some more names. L’Equipe ran a front page saying “now or never” for Bardet and Pinot but they have time on their side while Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) is probably in more of a hurry as he turns 33 soon and this course is ideal, he could make the podium and bag a stage but struggles in the time trials. Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quickstep) had a great Vuelta but had a modest Tour de Suisse and hopefully he’ll improve but it’s hard to see the win. Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) keeps improving and hasn’t finished lower than seventh in a stage race this year and should be one to watch in the mountains but a win against this competition seems a big ask, a top-10 is very achievable and team mate Patrick Konrad is getting better too.
|Geraint Thomas, Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot, Adam Yates|
|Rigoberto Urán, Romain Bardet, Vincenzo Nibali, Mikel Landa|
|Porte, Valverde, Kruijswijk, S Yates, Gaudu, van Garderen, D Martin|
- Comment: Bernal gets five chainrings thanks to his Paris-Nice and Suisse wins and the course suits him while Thomas’s unknown form makes it hard to give him more than three chainrings right now, he himself is talking about riding into the third week as if things aren’t quite there today. Fuglsang’s a brittle pick but his Dauphiné win was impressive in its consistency, he didn’t luck out but took time where it was needed. The best scenario would be to rewrite all of the above several times over during the next three weeks…
More info on the route, rules and more at inrng.com/tour and there will be daily stage previews every morning