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Mende - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - sunflowers zonnebloemen illustration - scenery - carte postal scenic shot - postcard sfeerfoto - sfeer - illustratie pictured during the 105th Tour de France - stage - 14 from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Mende - 187KM - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2018

Le TOUR’19: The PEZ Rider Preview – Who’s HOT!

Tour’19 Rider Preview: The biggest bike race on the planet starts on Saturday and (most of) the top riders will be on the start line in Brussels for the first stage of twenty-one of the 2019 Tour de France. Ed Hood has run his eye over the top stages and the best riders for his low-down on the possible final yellow jersey wearer in Paris.

PEZ ‘Route Preview’ HERE.

Carcassone- Frankrijk - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - Tour de France - 12e etappe Luchon-Carcassone - sfeer illustratie - foto Marketa Navratilova/Cor Vos ©2006
It wouldn’t be the Tour without some sunflowers

If I’d sat down to pen this Tour de France preview just a few days ago I’d have been talking about Messrs. Froome and Dumoulin as four star favourites, respectively. But the Fates decide differently. Froome’s horror crash at the Tour de Suisse ruled him out and Dumoulin hasn’t recovered from the physical mental scars of his ‘chute’ in the Giro.

No Froome or Dumoulin

Then there’s the ‘left field’ – NONE of us saw Richard Carapaz on the Giro podium, let alone winning it. Who’ll surprise us in the ‘Big Loop?’ And with two big favourites out, the French Faves must be thinking; “we’ll never have a better opportunity to win this race.”

A new face to win the 2019 Tour de France – Like Carapaz in the Giro

As that dude used to say at the start of the ‘Stingray’ animated TV show back in my youth; ‘anything can happen in the next half hour!’ Or in this case, ‘23 days in July.’

It’s a long way to Paris

The Dangerous Stages:
There’s no prologue, we go straight into a ‘sprinters stage’ which will be fast and very twitchy – the GC guys will be glad to put it behind them. But even prologues can claim victims; ask Chris Boardman and Alejandro Valverde who both crashed out in wet prologues, suffering serious injuries. To hi-lite ‘key’ stages is really a misnomer in the Tour; crashes can and do happen at any time, especially on the early stages where EVERYONE wants to be at the front.

The TTT shouldn’t cause too many problems

Parcours-wise then, there’s the Stage Two TTT to get through but at 27K it shouldn’t be too traumatic for the climbers so the first major ordnance to discharge comes on Stage Six: Mulhouse to La Planche de Belles Filles, 160 kilometres with six categorised climbs before the heart breaking ascent to the Plateau. That’s seven kilometres at average 8.7% but with 20% plus ramps – and the finale is on gravel. The first shuffle of the deck and an indication in the first week of who’s ‘on it’ and who isn’t.

Stage 8 – One for the hardmen

Stage Eight: Just the seven categorised climbs in the 200K between Macon – the geographic heart of France – and Saint Etienne – formerly the heart of the French bicycle industry. None of them are cat. 1 but they just keep coming – not the day for a ‘jour sans.’

Stage 13 ITT – Made for Geraint?

Stage 13: Time tests, you either love them or endure them. This one is for the specialists; rolling over 27K, the pure climbers shouldn’t haemorrhage too much time but losses here have to be fought back in the mountains and those deficits on the finishing sheet are never good for the morale.

Stage 14 to the summit of the Tourmalet

Stage 14: Tarbes to the top of the monstrous Tourmalet, enough said. Just 117K but with the cat. 1 Col du Solour at half distance and the final 19 k at 7.4% up the legendary hors cat. Tourmalet to 2115 metres altitude. Weaken here and it’s as good as over.

Stage 18 – There will be broken men on the road to Valloire

Stage 18: Three cols at 2,000 plus over 208K between Embrun and Valloire; little more needs said – Vars, Izoard and Galibier with the latter two hors cat. There’s a downhill finish where a ‘crazy’ could take time back but by any measure, a savage day.

Stage 19 – The sort of stage Quintana used to love, now…

Stage 19: The sprinters will rip this page out of the race bible, they won’t want to see it. Only some 30K of 126 from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tigne are downhill, the rest all wrestle with gravity; the hi-lite of the day being the ascent of the giant Col de L’Iseran, [12.9K @ 7.5%] topping out at 89K and 2,770 metres, the Tour’s highest point and location of the prestigious ‘Souvenir Henri Desgrange’ prime. The cat. 1 climb to Tignes and the finish provides the dessert course.

1994 Tour Stage 17 to Val Thorens

Stage 20: The hors cat. Val Thorens, 100K in and 33K @ 5.5% topping out at 2,365 metres is the last climb of this Tour, there’s a cat. 1 and a cat 2. on the road from Albertville to get you ready for it though – this day totals 4,450 metres of vertical ascent. Could it all come down to this last ascent? The organisers hope so but Ineos will probably have other ideas…

A hard time in the Alps

One day, an organiser will have the courage to design a Grand Tour which a ‘rouleur’ can win – but it’s not this one. If you can’t climb then you can’t win, it’s that simple.

Who CAN climb then?
**** Egon Bernal (Ineos and Colombia): Immaculate climbing credentials, no pesky long TT to put a spanner in the works, a win in the Suisse Tour behind him if any morale boost was required and the most successful Grand Tour in recent history to back him. What’s that? Thomas and the ‘joint leadership’ elephant in the room? – we’ll come to that in a minute.

Bernal or Thomas? – The Ineos question

**** Jakob Fuglsang (Astana and Denmark): Yeah, I know, he has little in the way of Grand Tour ‘previous’ BUT this year he’s stepped up a level; along with Alaphilippe, he was ‘Man of the Spring’. His Dauphine win definitely bodes well for the ‘Big Loop’ and his Astana team is very strong – but if you see them going for stage wins then knock a star off my rating . . .

Fuglsang – Is the Tour a week too long

*** Geraint Thomas (Ineos and GB): If you’ve ever raced and won a wee bit then you’ll know that, ‘state of grace’ when the pedals feel light and the pain is sweet, that of swift progress over the tar. That was Thomas, last year – this year we’re not to so sure but if we’re right about that then it’s all the better for Bernal; it would be hard to find a better team rider than the Welshman. Albeit, the featherweight South American won’t enjoy those Belgian stages…

Double Thomas?

*** Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FdJ and France): The cavalier but mentally fragile Frenchman should take heed of what Elvis said; ‘It’s now or never’. Next year Froome will be back, Bernal will be a year wiser and stronger, as will Roglic and them Yates boys – and that’s before we talk about the other young South Americans. If Pinot – or Bardet – are going to win the Tour de France then they’ll never have a better opportunity.If he can just avoid that ‘jour sans’.

Pinot was good at the end of 2018

*** Roman Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale and France): Twice a podium finisher but denied last year by ill-timed bad luck. He’s not as impulsive as he used to be, has panache, can climb with the best and is one of the most daring on descents. And he won’t be unaware that for a Frenchman to win the Tour for the first time since Bernard Hinault in 1985 guarantees ‘Legend’ status and would be the best thing to happen to the race and French cycle sport for decades.

France’s main hope? – Romain Bardet

*** Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott and GB): He’s been best young rider and fourth overall in this race; he was second in Tirreno and Catalunya this year, just off the podium at Liege so no question marks over form – we’ll ignore his premature exit from the Dauphine, anyone can get sick – and the team is good. A podium is well possible but difficult to see him winning.

Adam (or is it Simon?) Yates rode well in the Dauphiné

** Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma and The Netherlands): But for a moment’s inattention on a descent in the Giro, the man with the squarest shoulders in the peloton would already be a Grand Tour Winner. He can climb, is resilient and can go the distance; his problem? It’s called Dylan Groenewegen – the team will be ‘all for Dylan’ on the stages which suit the man who many contend is the fastest of them all. You can’t fault that but it’s not good news for Kruijswijk.

Steven Kruijswijk – Outside chance

* Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo and Australia): The Tasmanian pops up in these Grand Tour previews every year, so I feel compelled to mention him, however I’m reminded of the China Crisis song, ‘Wishful Thinking’. Yes, we know he’s won Paris-Nice, Romandie, Catalunya and Suisse; the ‘but’ is that 10 days ain’t 23 and never will be. However, Trek management aren’t daft and have put a lot of faith in the man.

Richie – Hmmm!

* Nairo Quintana (Movistar and Colombia): It’s not so long since we believed it was only a matter of time before the man from Combita joined the ultra-exclusive Giro-Vuelta-Tour club. Why did his progress stall? Too much too soon and a taper in motivation? Whatever it was, I believe he’s won his last Grand Tour.

Quintana might not be a Movistar man in 2020

* Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First and Colombia): Despite his respectable third spot in Route d’Occitanie and excellent morale in the team, with Bettiol’s Flanders win and the emergence of Martinez and Carthy, in the light of who he has to contend with it’s hard to see ‘Rigo’ making the top half dozen.

Will Rigo be dancing in 2019?

* Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates and Ireland): Will go for a stage win, who remembers who was ninth in the Tour?

Dan Martin needs the luck of the Irish

No stars, HdG – [Hors de Giro]
It’s now 20 years since the late Marco Pantani became the last man to do the Giro/Tour double but at the risk of upsetting the little chap’s legion of fans; it was a much reduced field in that Tour and there was more than mineral water and isotonic drinks in his team bus fridge – albeit you may argue that practically every fridge on every bus was the same.

Pantani in 1998

Since then, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome have both failed to pull off that particular duo of wins. In that light, despite their undoubted quality it’s difficult to see Messrs. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida and Italy) and Mikel Landa (Movistar and Spain) playing more than stage hunting or support roles for Mohoric and Dennis or Quintana and Amador respectively, especially after how deep they had to go in the last week of the Giro.

Team leaders or workers?

Nuevo Contador?
We know that the Vuelta isn’t the Tour but Enric Mas (Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Spain) second place in the Spanish race riding with a team which isn’t structured to support GC riders in Grand Tours was special. This year has been consistent rather than sparkling but we observe his first Tour with great interest.

Enric Mas had wins in the Vuelta’18 – More wins in the Tour’19?

And finally, the Republique also expects…
It’s time to stop ‘promising’ and deliver Monsieur Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Gobert) and how far can Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) really go?

Julian Alaphilippe and Guillaume Martin – Outsiders

Then there’s the enigma that is Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) can he roll away the stone and come back from the grave? Unlikely, but the ink wasn’t dry on this when he popped up and won the Elite French Road Championship, so we live in hope – as do his sponsors.

The return of Warren

# PEZ will be there, covering every stage in detail and ‘Rest Day Rants’ from Ed Hood. Plus serving up the finest in race photography from lens legend Cor Vos. For live action go to SteepHillTV HERE. #

But remember to do a little meditation to prepare for that post-Tour Monday morning vacuum – it hits hard, Dude…

2019 Tour de France Stage List:
Stage 1: Saturday, July 6 Brussels – Brussels 192km
Stage 2: Sunday, July 7 Brussels Palais Royal – Brussels Atomium 28km (TTT)
Stage 3: Monday, July 8 Binche – Épernay 214km
Stage 4: Tuesday, July 9 Reims – Nancy 215km
Stage 5: Wednesday, July 10 Saint-Dié-des-Vosges – Colmar 169km
Stage 6: Thursday, July 11 Mulhouse – La Planche des Belles Filles 157km
Stage 7: Friday, July 12 Belfort – Chalon-sur-Saône 230km
Stage 8: Saturday, July 13 Mâcon – Saint-Étienne 199km
Stage 9: Sunday, July 14 Saint-Étienne – Brioude 170km
Stage 10: Monday, July 15 Saint-Flour – Albi 218km
Rest day: Tuesday, July 16 Albi
Stage 11: Wednesday, July 17 Albi – Toulouse 167km
Stage 12: Thursday, July 18 Toulouse – Bagnères-de-Bigorre 202km
Stage 13: Friday, July 19 Pau – Pau 27km (ITT)
Stage 14: Saturday, July 20 Tarbes – Tourmalet 117km
Stage 15: Sunday, July 21 Limoux – Foix 185km
Rest Day: Monday, July 22 Nîmes
Stage 16: Tuesday, July 23 Nîmes – Nîmes 177km
Stage 17: Wednesday, July 24 Pont du Gard – Gap 206km
Stage 18: Thursday, July 25 Embrun – Valloire 207km
Stage 19: Friday, July 26 Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – Tignes 123km
Stage 20: Saturday, July 27 Albertville – Val Thorens 131km
Stage 21: Sunday, July 28 Rambouillet – Paris (Champs-Élysées) 127km.

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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