I’ve kept coverage of the Tour de France to a minimum this year, but if you’ve been following the race so far you probably already know that 2019 has been one of the most exciting TdFs in recent memory. Over the past eight years, Team Sky –– now Team Ineos –– has controlled the race, winning all but two over that time span. Heading into this year’s Tour it looked like they were the odds on favorite to run away with the Yellow Jersey once again, with not one, but two top contenders. But now, with just a week to go, things are more competitive than they have been in recent memory and who will ride into Paris next Sunday at the head of the Peloton remains anyone’s guess.
Currently, French rider Julian Alaphilippe sits atop the leaderboard and firmly in yellow, with a time gap of 1 minute, 35 seconds over defending champ Geraint Thomas. Steven Krujiswijk is lurking in third place, another 12 seconds off the pace, while Thibaut Pinot is 1:50 behind Alaphilippe in fourth. Egan Bernal rounds out the top five and sits another 12 seconds back, but has been gaining strength in recent days, making him a possible contender as the race heads into the Alps.
Those five men are the true General Classification contenders as the Tour takes a rest day today and resume competition tomorrow. That stage will be one for the sprinters before things start to get serious again on Wednesday. The true test will come over the course of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, all of which are tough mountain stages. As the peloton turns into the Alps, we’ll see if Alaphilippe has built up enough of a lead to hang on or if his days in yellow are numbered and he’ll crack in the big mountains as everyone has expected.
Thomas, who is one of the hopefuls from Team Ineos, had looked like he was all-but out of the race heading into Sunday, but Alaphilippe –– who wasn’t a GC contender heading into the Tour –– finally showed signs of weakness. Up until that tough stage in the mountains, the Frenchman had ridden away from the competition, building up an even larger lead over his rivals. He even won last week’s individual time trial, gaining 15 seconds on Thomas, who was expected to close the gap considerably during that event. But as these two riders have sparred over the course of the past week, Alaphilippe hasn’t given up without a fight, surprising most onlookers with his tenacity and strength. The question is, can he hang on through the final few days to become the first French rider to win cycling’s biggest event in more than 35 years?
Tour de France fans won’t just be watching those two men battle it out for supremacy. Thibaut Pinot is probably the strongest rider in the peloton at the moment and would easily be in command if he hadn’t been caught out in vicious crosswinds during a stage last week. That ended up costing him more than a minute and a half in time, which he is battling to make up now. With two stage wins to his credit already, he looks like he is ready to push Alaphilippe and Thomas to the limit. In doing so, he could crack both men and take the Yellow Jersey himself.
The wildcard here is Steven Kruijswijk, who has ridden a flawless race so far but hasn’t attacked as of yet. If he sees Alaphilippe falter, he too could press things forward, putting the pressure on Thomas. At this point, if things start to get rough in the mountains, it would not come as a surprise if he was the one riding into Paris on Sunday with the Yellow Jersey on his back.
If all of this sounds confusing, you might be right. That’s because the Tour de France feels like it is more wide open than it has been in years. There are at least four or five guys who could win at this point and it looks like we won’t know who that person will be until Saturday’s final mountain stage. On Sunday, the teams will make their ceremonial ride into Paris, where the sprinters will go head-to-head on the Champs Elysees. But the GC continuers will call a truce by then, allowing the winner to ride to the finish line in style and celebration.
Two of the other jerseys look like they are wrapped up and already awarded to the winners, while a third will also be decided this weekend in the Alps as well. Peter Sagan has the Green Jersey well in hand once again and barring any unforeseen issues will ride into Paris for his seventh win in the sprinters/points category. Egan Bernal, the other top rider from Ineos, is also in command of the White Jersey, which goes to the best young rider in the Tour. That leaves just the Polka Dot jersey of the King of the Mountains, which currently belongs to Tim Wellens. But Thibaut Pinot is just 14 points behind him and will likely be near the front of the peloton in the coming mountain stages, giving him the opportunity to win that jersey as well.
Often by now the race feels like it is all-but over. Usually a strong rider has emerged from the race and taken command, and while he may not already be in yellow, he is clearly just waiting to finish off a pretender to the throne in the mountains ahead. That isn’t the case in 2019, when it looks like there are some extremely strong climbers who will have to joust it out all the way to the finish line on Saturday to see who will come out on top.
My prediction? I think Alaphilippe has enough of a lead to hang on and can win the race in Paris. If he falters however, don’t be surprised to see Pinot jump over the competition to take command. He’s clearly the strongest cyclist in the group right now and will likely look to press that advantage over the next few days.
Either way, it’s going to be fun to watch how this all settles out, as there is still plenty of riding to come and big attacks on the horizon. It’s a good time to be a cycling fan and a fan of Le Tour.
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