[Underneath article was written before the start of the Tour de France and has not been updated.]
The TTT on day two will open up the first time gaps on GC before the real battle ignites in the Vosges races on the fifth and the sixth day of action. Especially the latter is likely to be a pre-decisive race with seven climbs squeezed into 160 kilometres and a steep and partly unpaved final haul up on La Planche des Belles Filles.
The second week serves three high-altitude races in Pyrenees and a hilly ITT. Strong descenders could use stage 12 to put pressure on their rivals as the finale is a 30 kilometres downhill. They have to strike early though, as the Hourquette d’Ancizan is only initially a fast descent towards the finish in Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The thirteenth day of action brings the chrono-race, while stage 14 finishes atop the iconic Col du Tourmalet and stage 15 climbs to the unprecedented Prat d’Albis.
The third week kicks off with opportunities for sprinters and attackers before the Tour de France ventures into the Alps. Stage 18 is another chance for descenders as the finale combines the ascent and descent of the infamous Col du Galibier, while the last two mountain stages both finish uphill. The 19th stage runs to a summit finish in ski resort Tignes before stage 20, which includes 4,450 vertical metres in merely 130 kilometres, finishes at an altitude of 2,365 metres.
The TTT should fancy Ineos (Thomas, Bernal), Jumbo-Visma (Kruijswijk) and Mitchelton-Scott (Adam Yates), while Thomas will be looking to gain time on his GC rivals in the ITT during the second week. Two stages end with a descent and Nibali, who is arguably the fastest descender with his team mate Mohoric, is likely to put pressure on the likes of Porte and Quintana when it goes downhill.
Just looking at his results, Egan Bernal boasts the most impressive 2019 palmares. The 22-year old Colombian won Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse. He was due to lead Team Ineos at the Giro d’Italia, but he drifted in a new direction after he broke his collarbone just before the Grande Partenza. It is not a bold statement to say Bernal is a Grand Tour winner in waiting, but will it be this early? The longest race he rode until now as a leader was the Tour de Suisse. And yes, he won that one and was by far the best climber, but the field in Switzerland was nowhere near as strong as the Critérium du Dauphine. The Suisse podium was rounded out by Rohan Dennis and Patrick Konrad – not exactly house hold names when it comes to Grand Tours.
Another rider with impressive 2019 credentials is Jakob Fuglsang. The Dane won the Dauphiné, which is the most important pre-Tour waymark. Out of the seven editions from 2012 until 2018, the Dauphiné winner won La Grande Boucle of that year on five occasions. He also won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Ruta del Sol, while securing podium spots at Tirreno-Adriatico, Strade Bianche, La Flèche Wallonne, and the Amstel Gold Race. On the downside: Grand Tours and Fuglsang have not been a very successful combination until now. His beste performance was seventh on the 2013 Tour de France.
Other contenders with solid performances this season are Adam Yates and Thibaut Pinot. The Briton missed out on the Tirreno-Adriatico victory by 1 second (Roglic took it) and also finished second on the Vuelta a Catalunya, while backing up these performances with stages victories at altitude. Pinot won the Tour de l’Ain and rode a solid Dauphiné. With stage wins in all Grand Tours, his attacking style is likely to liven up a Grande Boucle. The French wouldn’t mind if he wins the GC while he is at it…
A big question mark is over Geraint Thomas’ head. After he won last year’s Tour de France in emphatic style, he didn’t deliver any noteworthy performances. Yes, podium at the Tour de Romandie, but that’s it in an otherwise anonymous season. Moreover, who is going to lead Ineos, Bernal or Thomas?
Favourites Tour de France 2019
***** Egan Bernal, Thibaut Pinot, Adam Yates
**** Steven Kruijswijk, Geraint Thomas, Jakob Fuglsang
*** Rigoberto Uran, Mikel Landa, Romain Bardet, Emanuel Buchmann
** Richie Porte, Michael Woods, Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana, Enric Mas
* Simon Yates, Tiesj Benoot, Bauke Mollema, Daniel Martin, Tejay van Garderen