The final mountain stage and an abbreviated route. Once Thibaut Pinot abandoned it seems Mother Nature has thrown in the towel too and blocked roads all over the region, resulting in last-minute course change. But there’s still all to race for, Egan Bernal could win the Tour without a stage win which is very rare while Steven Kruijswijk and Emanuel Buchmann are unlikely to settle for fourth and fifth overall, surely their teams will throw everything at the final climb to crack Alaphilippe again and try to topple Thomas?
Stage 19 Review: a hard start on the approach to the Iseran with the bunch split and riders dropped. Thibaut Pinot abandoned. He’d torn a muscle before and it turns out he had trouble walking after reaching Valloire. He started the day with strapping but it was too much and he left the race. He’ll be back but this exit will take some time to digest, he’d been crushing the pedals in the Pyrenees and even Egan Bernal couldn’t match him but now he, we and much of France can only wonder what could have been.
Meanwhile a breakaway of 26 riders coalesced around an early move of Vincenzo Nibali with the 9th, 10th and 12th overall in Rigoberto Urán, Alejandro Valverde and Warren Barguil and they were kept at minute and not much more by Ineos, Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-Quickstep. Ineos upped the pace on the Iseran to crack Julian Alaphilippe, first an attack from Thomas which was reeled in, then Egan Bernal went solo and was first over the pass. By this time there were reports of a hailstorm on the other side of the mountain and within minutes the race was halted with TV picking up images of the road carpeted white with hailstones and then further down on the course, a rockfall blocking the road. Was it the right decision? The answer is to put yourself in the race convoy and decide within a minute or two as riders hurtle downhill, rather than over breakfast this morning with more facts in your lap. In safety terms it was right but sportingly it’ll always be unsatisfying because of the synthetic result and the unanswered questions: could Bernal and Yates have combined to hold off the chase from Kruijswijk, De Plus and Buchmann with Thomas as gendarme? Or would the chase have caught a tired Bernal, prompting an alternative? Would Alaphilippe have got back on the descent to mark Thomas, or would have blown on the final climb. We’ll never know but today should be instructive.
The Route: just 59km. It’d be nice to regale readers with words about the scenic Cormet de Roselend and then the Col du Tra being much harder than the roadbook says, plus the most technical descent of the whole Tour with 29 hairpins… but a landslide has closed the Cormet and so the route has been hastily revised for today. It’s 30km up the Isère valley on the Route Nationale, an express road and then straight onto the final climb, a monster 33km ascension.
The 33km final climb is better broken down into three segments. The first 11km are on a small backroad with regular sections of 8% or more and this is the steepest part of the climb. 3okm later a selection can be made but this first part will thin things down. Then a middle section via Saint-Martin-de-Belleville that’s more gentle and big-ring territory in places, this is an awkward spot for any breakaway as here a strong team can set the pace. The final section is the last 13km with a regular, engineered 7% slope with a breather out the back of Les Menuires. It’s all on a big wide road and on TV will feel like slow motion.
The Finish: the riders go into Val Thorens and pass the finish line when the race visited for the only other time in 1994. It’s then out the back of the town and onto the ski slopes via small road that’s been freshly tarmacked. Soon after the flamme rouge it zig-zags at 12% before a finishing straight that’s 8% at first easing to 6% by the line.
The Contenders: Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) is in yellow and en route to winning the Tour de France only he hasn’t won a stage, only seven others have won the Tour without a stage win and if his team’s priority today is to guide him to the finish they’ll surely want to set him up for the win today too and show what he can do. The course suits him with the long climb to altitude.
The breakaway has a chance today, think Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) but they’ll need to deploy their whole team in some kind of team time trial to tow the break away. But Jumbo-Visma and Bora-Hansgrohe still trying to place their respective leaders Steven Kruijswijk and Emanuel Buchmann on the podium in Paris they have a shared interest in cracking Julian Alaphilippe and seeing if they can overhaul Geraint Thomas as well and this should see a high pace.
|Buchmann, Landa, Kruijswijk, Thomas|
Yellow story: does the yellow jersey give you wings? There must be an element of confirmation bias here because to get it often means a rider is in peak condition so they’re often exceeding expectations just to get it for a day. But there are reasons to think it helps, first it gives an objective to defend when some might otherwise sit up. Then there’s the effect of being cheered on, positive encouragement is a proven support in sport. Remember when we were asking whether Julian Alaphilippe could hold onto the jersey on the Planche des Belles Filles?
Weather: 25°C at the start in Albertville and half that at the finish with the risk of storms and the Savoie départment is under a weather alert today.
TV: the stage starts at 2.30pm CEST which implies an estimated finish time of around 4.35pm CEST.