Tomorrow marks the start of one of the highlights of the summer for me and pro cycling fans across the globe. That’s because it is the day that the 2019 Tour de France kicks off, marking the start of three weeks of racing in what promises to be an incredibly intriguing show down of the best riders in the world. This year’s event promises to be an exciting one, as we head to the starting line with a number of major questions lingering in the air and a wide-open field that has seen a number of interesting contenders emerge over the past few weeks.
As has become tradition with the Le Tour, the race will actually begin in one of the nearby countries bordering France. In this case, the race will start in Bruxelles, Belgium as a nod to the 50th anniversary of the first time Eddy Merckx won the event. Merckx is without question the greatest cyclist that has ever lived and in order to pay homage to this legendary figure, both of the weekend stages –– including a 194.5 km (120 mile) flat stage and the 27.6 km (17.1) team time trial –– will be held in his home country. After that, it’s onto the roads of France, where the race will unfold in its usual fashion. That means a mix of flat and hilly stages in the early going, with the big mountain stages set to come in week 2 and 3. As usual, those mountain stages will help determine the overall winner with five mount top finishes that will decide which rider will arrive in Paris wearing the maillot jaune –– aka the Yellow Jersey –– when the peloton arrives in Paris in three weeks time.
And just who will be wearing that iconic jersey? Right now, it’s tough to pick a stand-out contender. When Chris Froome crashed at the Criterium du Dauphine, taking himself out of the race and pro cycling in general for at least six months, the door opened for any number of riders to step up and claim victory. When Tom Dumoulin also withdrew thanks to a nagging knee injury suffered at the Giro d’Italia, things got even more interesting.
The obvious first choice to win the 2019 TdF is Froome’s teammate Geraint Thomas. After all, it was Thomas who won last year, even with Froome in the Tour. But he hasn’t had a strong spring season and showed a few struggles at the Dauphine too, suffering a crash of his own. While it is possible that he could repeat, he certainly doesn’t look like he is on form heading into the start of the race. Perhaps he’s been holding back and conserving his energy, but with Froome gone he has lost a powerful teammate, which could impact the way he rides as well.
Other potential contenders include the likes of Romain Bardet, Jakob Fuglsang, Adam Yates, and Egan Bernal, all of which have been riding very well in the early parts of the season. Richie Port could be in the mix as well, but he’ll need better luck than he has had the past two years, both of which saw him crash out of the race. Nairo Quintana has also looked extremely strong throughout the spring, but we’ve seen him crumple on the biggest stage in cycling over the past few years so it is hard to take his chances too seriously. Long-shot contenders include Rigoberto Uran, who showed flashes of greatness last year, and Vincenzo Nibali, who put in a strong performance at the Giro and has four grand tour wins on his resume.
As for the other jerseys, they seem fairly wide open as well. The Green Jersey, given out to the best sprinter in the field, has been dominated by Peter Sagan over the past few years, but he hasn’t been racing well this year either. The former world champ has had his way with the points competition at the Tour de France in recent years, but he’s going to need to bounce back from a poor spring to keep that streak going. And as we saw last year, the incredibly hard mountain course is likely to take out a lot of the top sprinters, so the green jersey competition could become a war of attrition, with the last man standing in Paris going home with the win.
Bernal seems to be the logical choice for both the Polka Dot and White Jerseys, given to the King of the Mountains and the best young rider in the race respectively. The 22-year old has looked impressive and dominant thus far and could indeed contend for the overall win. But, this is only his second grand tour event and he still has a lot to learn. His lack of experience could come back to haunt him on the roads of France.
As usual, I’ll be posting regular updates throughout the course of the event, sharing the big news as it happens. It should be a great race to watch unfold and a real highlight of the summer season.
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