Tour de France 2019: GC Contenders Show Through in Week 1

There once was a time when I did daily updates on what was happening at the Tour de France each year. I watched every stage closely and tried to report on the proceedings here on The Adventure Blog. In recent years, I’ve scaled that coverage back some, not because I don’t still love the sport of cycling and the Tour in particularly, but more because readers were able to get good coverage elsewhere on the Internet. Still, I continue to follow the Tour very closely each day and try to make an update three or four times throughout the race instead, sharing some thoughts on what is happening in the biggest bike race in the world. If you’ve been watching over the past week, you may have seen a Tour unlike any in recent memory, as race organizers have amped up the competition early this year, forcing even the big name riders to pay attention in the early going.

In the past, the opening week of Le Tour was aimed at giving the sprinters some time to shine. Many of the stages were relatively flat, giving the guy who can ride really, really fast a chance to win some stages and grab some screen time for their sponsors. That hasn’t been the case this season, where a number of the stages have ended with uphill finishes, even in the first week. This has allowed a more versatile “sprinter” like Peter Sagan to shine through, giving him not only a stage win, but several top five finishes. Enough to put him firmly in control of the Green Jersey, which he has won on six previous occasions.

These rolling hills and steep climbs have also caused the General Classification contenders to sit up and pay attention as well. While most have stayed out of the fray at the front of the race, choosing to ride defensively, they also couldn’t allow themselves to get caught out alone, potentially giving up time to a rival. This was especially the case yesterday, which featured a grueling climb to end the day. As riders approached the finish line they were practically crawling along, with at least one having a mechanical failure close to the end that prevented him from riding all the way through the line. The stage ended up being won by Dylan Teuns, a surprise victor for sure. He now sits in third place, with Giulio Ciccone taking the Yellow Jersey, six seconds ahead of Julian Alaphillippe, who has looked incredibly strong throughout the first week.

Those three riders aren’t expected to contend for the Tour win in Paris however, but the top GC riders showed their current form on that final climb yesterday as well. Defending champ Geraint Thomas came into the race with a number of question marks hanging over his head, in part because he hadn’t raced well throughout the spring and had a reduced training schedule. He showed his legs were more than up to the task however, blasting up the final climb and taking precious seconds over his rivals. He now sits in fifth place over all, 49 seconds behind Ciccone who he’ll drop in the big mountains next week. More importantly, Thomas is now four seconds ahead of teammate Egan Bernal, who has a five second advantage going into the stage yesterday.

French rider Thibaut Pinot put on a good display of riding and is now just nine seconds behind Thomas. Those two could have some serious showdowns in the Pyrenees and Alps in the days ahead. Other pre-race favorites are lurking a bit further back, with Rigoberto Uran 24 second behind Thomas, Jakob Fuglsang 28 seconds behind, and Nairo Quintana 52 seconds afield. There are other big names not far off of that pace, but they’re going to have to ride very strong in the days ahead to begin to pull back time on Thomas, who is a strong climber and good time trialist, so doing so won’t be easy.

Typically at the Tour de France things don’t get incredibly interesting, at least for the GC riders, until week 2 when they reach the big mountain stages. Those days are looming, but for now we’ll have a few more typical flat stages to keep things open for the sprinters too. Tuesday will be the first rest day of the 2019 race, and after that they’ll head to the Pyrenees where some tough days await. Many of the climbs this year aren’t amongst the legendary routes that are well known in cycling lore, but they do promise some grueling tests of strength and stamina, with the ultimate outcome of the race being decided on the four mountaintop finishes that are yet to come.

If you’re not a cycling fan but have always wanted to get into the Tour de France, this may be one of the best years to do just that. The race organizers have really opened things up and the competition is more spirited in the early going than it has been in a vary long time. On top of that, the race also feels more wide open than in recent years too. Part of that is because four-time champ Chris Froome crashed while training a few weeks back and is out of the competition. Thomas still looks like he’ll be tough to unseat, but the competition between him and his rivals should be fun to watch unfold. It truly feels like there are four or five guys who could win and that nothing is decided just yet.

I’ll post a few more updates as the race unfolds. The truly tough stages and big drama still await. If week one is anything to go by, we’re in for a very memorable Tour.