Brussels – Paris
July 6th – 28th , 2019
The 2019 edition of the Tour de France starts this Saturday in Brussels, and over the next three weeks the riders will cover 3,480kms and crest 30 mountains, five of which are ‘Haute Categorie’ climbs over 2,000 metres.
They will take on 7 flat stages for the sprinters, 5 hilly stages that will favour an attacking/punchy rider or the breakaway, and 7 high mountain stages, five of which have ‘summit’ uphill finishes.
The race has already had its fair share of drama and incidents before it even started, with five-time winner and 5/4 favourite for the race, Chris Froome crashing at the Criterium du Dauphine and ruling himself out of the race and most likely the rest of the season. Then third favourite Tom Dumoulin also withdrew, the knee injury he picked up in the Giro d’Italia not having recovered sufficiently. And just to add more drama, the new 6/4 favourite for the Tour, Geraint Thomas also crashed in the Tour de Suisse and had to abandon, but luckily it was only superficial wounds to his face and he will be at the start line on Saturday ready to defend the title he won in 2018.
It does mean though that it is one of the most open races in a long time for the Tour, with no real stand-out favourite and lots of pros and cons about all of the main favourites. We saw at the Giro that someone from down the pack can win a Grand Tour, Richard Carapaz pulling off a big surprise to win at 66/1. Team Ineos do seem to two of the Aces in the pack though, with Thomas the defending champion and his young Colombian protégé Egan Bernal a formidable duo, who are almost joint favourites in the betting. But there are a whole host of riders queuing up behind ready to take them on, including form man of the season Jakob Fuglsang, French hopes Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde from Movistar, British hope Adam Yates, Steven Kruijswijk, Vincenzo Nibali and Richie Porte.
The race starts with a lumpy, but most likely sprint stage in Brussels, designed to honour the fiftieth anniversary of the first of five Tour de France won by Belgian legend Eddie Merckx. The next day will see time gaps start to form among the GC favorites as they take on a 27km team time trial around Brussels, stronger teams will put 30 seconds or more in to the weaker teams, putting some GC men on the back foot early on.
The next key stage is stage 6, a very difficult mountain stage that ends on the nasty climb to La Planche des Belles Filles, a finish that was used in 2017 when Fabio Aru won, and also in 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali won on his way to taking overall victory. This year though they have made a hard climb even harder, by adding another kilometre to it up a steep gravel forest track.
Stage 9 could be a tricky one on the road to Brioude, expect Romain Bardet to be active on his home turf. The mountains start in earnest on stage 12, they go over the Cold de Peyresourde and Hourquette d’Ancizan on the way to the downhill finish in Bagneres de Bigorre, where Dan Martin beat Jakob Fuglsang in 2013.
Friday the 13th could be a horror show for some, with the 27kms time trial in Pau, there could be some big gaps between some of the GC contenders. Stage 14 is a Saturday afternoon treat with the short (117kms) but nasty route to the top of the Tourmalet, which tops out at 2,115kms.
Stage 15 rounds out a tough few days in the Pyrenees with three Cat 1 climbs on the way to the summit finish at Foix Prat d’Albis. They come back after the Monday rest day to a rare sprint stage in the latter part of the race, but then heads in to the Alps the next day with a stage that looks nailed on to be a breakaway winner.
Stage 18 is a monster – 208kms long, two Haute Category climbs (the Col d’Izoard, 2,360m and the Col du Galibier, 2,642m), it starts the run of three incredibly hard stages that should decide the winner. Stage 19 takes them over the highest point of the race on the Col de l’Iseran (2,770m) and finshes up the uphill finish to Tignes (7.4kms at 7%).
The final challenge on stage 20 sees them race only over 130kms, but 34kms of that is the final climb up to Val Thorens, one of the longest climbs in France. If the race is still in the balance we could see a brilliant final battle on the steep final 8kms or so.
The race finishes with the customary ceremonial jaunt in to Paris and a 60km crit race around the Champs Elysees before one final sprint battle.
The main contenders
So Team Ineos, or the former Team Sky have the top two favourites in the betting, with defending champion Geraint Thomas, and the 22 year-old Colombian sensation Egan Bernal vying for favouritism following the withdrawal of Chris Froome. Thomas has had a pretty disappointing build up to the race, culminating in his crash in the Tour de Suisse, and he missed out on some vital race days there. He is a very experienced rider though, having been with Chris Froome since he won his first TDF title back in 2013 (he himself finished 140th..)
He went in to the 2018 race as understudy to the team leader Froome, but was clearly the better of the two of them out on the road and took the race with relative comfort in the end. Egan Bernal is only 22, but is a star in the making and actually looks in better shape than his team-mate at this point in the season. Winner of the Tour prep-race Tour de Suisse, climbing very well to take a stage win on stage 7 and also put time in to his rivals on stage 6, he also performed very well in the time trial to take 11th place and secure the win. Before that he also won the prestigious Paris-Nice race in March, was 3rd in the Volta a Catalunya and 4th in his native Tour of Colombia at the start of the season. 15th in this race last year, when working for Thomas, he can climb better than most, will love the high altitude climbs over 2,000m, can hold his own in TTs and is with the team that has won the race six out of the last seven times. I’d rather be on him than Thomas right now.
Third favourite is arguably the rider of the season so far, Jakob Fuglsang. The Dane riding for the Astana team won the Vuelta a Andalucia at the start of the year, finished 2nd in Strade Bianche, 3rd in Tirreno Adriatico, 4th in the Tour of the Basque Country, 3rd in Amstel Gold, 2nd in La Fleche Wallone and won Liege-Bastogne-Liege. After 6 weeks off preparing at altitude for the Tour he returned to action two weeks ago and won the key tour prep race the Criterium du Dauphine, with impressive performances in the mountains and a solid 9th in the time trial.
He seems to have all the attributes to be a Tour winner, but he has sometimes struggled in a three-week Tour and doubts still remain he will last through the tough final week, he has only finished in the top ten of a Grand Tour once in 15 attempts, in the Tour of 2013. He slipped from 4th place in the GC on stage 10 last year to 12th by the finish, losing time on some of the climbs, but more significantly, 2’54’ in the final TT. He does seem to be in the form of his life though and is with the powerful Astana squad, but too many doubts remain for me to have confidence in him at just 5/1.
Adam Yates leads the Mitchelton-Scott team and will be supported by his brother Simon, winner of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana. He is one of the best climbers here, but this year he also seems to have dramatically improved his time trialling abilities, finishing 5th in the TT at the Tour of the Basque Country on his way to 5th overall, and 6th in the TT at the Dauphine to take the lead. He could well have won the Dauphine had he not started to get sick on the penultimate stage, he slipped down to 2nd place after finishing 6th on the tough stage to Pipay, but then had to abandon due to the sickness on the final stage.
He was also 2nd in the Vuelta a Catalunya and Tirreno Adriatico, 5th in the Tour of Andalucia and 8th in the Tour of Valencia earlier this year, I don’t think there is another rider with a better record than him in stage races so far this year. He has a lot of kilometers in the legs (5,822kms) compared to say the 3,209kms of Geraint Thomas, but you know that he will be coming here fit and ready to race, he’s had three weeks to recover from the illness. He has finished 4th in the Tour in 2016 and 9th in the 2017 Giro and the team say they are all-in for him to deliver the yellow jersey.
Richie Porte crashed out of the last two editions of the race, when he was in great shape and potentially could have done very well in both. He’s had an illness-hit spring but returned to serious training and racing in the United States, where he placed a confidence-boosting 5th place, and then got some proper training in at the Dauphine as well where he placed 11th. He has been very flakey over the years in Grand Tours though, and despite his ability and signs of promise, he’s never really delivered. He was dropped too early and too often for me in the Dauphine and his TT wasn’t great, but it was a prep-race that hopefully will have got him ready for a real go at this year’s Tour.
Nairo Quintana was the Egan Bernal of his day, the next great Colombian hope, who finished 2nd behind Froome when just 23 at the 2013 Tour de France. Since then he has been unable to dislodge Froome at the Tour, finishing 2nd and 3rd to him in 2015 and 2016, but was just 12th in 2017 and 10th last year. Since then though he has won the Giro d’Italia and Tour of Spain and is still one of the best riders in the world, especially on the high mountain roads.
But he just doesn’t seem the Quintana of old to me, and his performance in the Dauphine was pretty disappointing. He is joined by Mikel Landa, who finished 4th in the recent Giro d’Italia, if he isn’t too fatigued he could be an outsider for this too. And the third prong in their attack is World Champion Alejandro Valverde, who has shown he’s ready by just winning the Spanish road race title once again. He has never been skinnier going in to the Tour and will be involved in a number of stage finishes. He tends to struggle at altitude though so might fade away in the final week.
Steven Kruijswijk has had an excellent season to date, he is very consistent and has finished 3rd, 5th, 6th in the first three stage races he’d done this year, and was on target for another top ten place in the Dauphine, but also got sick like Yates and had to abandon on the final stage. He has a very strong team here with him who will do very well in the Team Time Trial, he’s good himself against the clock (was 4th in the Dauphine TT, ahead of a lot of his rivals here) and is one of the best climbers in the race too. 5th last year, I think he is consistent enough and strong enough to improve on that and step on to the podium this year.
And then you have the two French hopes – Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet will have the weight of the French expectations on their shoulders again. Pinot has had a solid, if unspectacular season, his 5th in the Dauphine was a good sign though and he will be a top 6 challenger. He will be let down by his time trial abilities though, he might lose a minute and a half to some rivals over the two time trials.
Romain Bardet is even worse against the clock and could find himself having to try to recover over two minutes lost in the TTs. He’s not had a great season though, the 10th in the Dauphine was another sign that all is not well with him, but he has finished 2nd in the Tour in 2016 and 3rd in 2017 and 6th twice, including last year and has to be respected. I think though it will be hard for him to improve on his 6th of last year.
And then you have the likes of Dan Martin, Vincenzo Nibali, Enric Mas, Woet Poels, Emanuel Buchmann, Ilnur Zakarin, Jesus Herrada and Rohan Dennis who could all go well too. Vincenzo Nibali finished 2nd in this year’s Tour of Italy and says that he is coming to the Tour just to target stage wins and maybe the King of the Mountains jersey, but don’t be surprised to see him sneak in to the top 10.
So it looks like it has all the makings of a fantastic race this year. The course is tough and varied, with lots of lumpy stages and no more than two sprint stages in a row, to keep things interesting. I think Bernal is a very solid favorite, and can be a saver I think at 5/2 on Betfair, but I’m going to go with Adam Yates at a much bigger 12/1 with Betway and the 3/1 on him to finish in the top 3 looks good to me too. Steven Kruijswijk at 11/2 for the top 3 is also worth backing.
1pt win on Adam Yates at 13 (12/1) with Betway
2pts on Yates to finish in the top 3 at 4.0 (3/1) with Betway
2pts on Steven Kruijswijk to finish in the top 3 at 6.5 (11/2) with Betway
Egan Bernal to be the top Ineos rider – 3pts at 1.83 (5/6) with Betway