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Who will win the 2019 Tour de France? We haven't a clue

Martin James
22 Jul 2019

This year's race has been a celebration of the unexpected, with all the key moments generated by the race itself

The rest day, like all other parts of the Tour de France, is a far simpler prospect for those watching the Tour than it is for those riding it.

For them, it’s about rest and recovery, trying to find a little peace in the madness of the three-week rolling circus that is the Grand Boucle.

For us, and particularly on the final rest day of a Tour that is very much still all to fight for, it’s about picking through the ashes, looking at the form, the look in the eyes and the slant of the shoulders as the contenders have crossed the line over the past few days.

It’s about looking at all the tiny details and considerations, tallying it all up and answering the question everyone is asking on the final rest day of this Tour: who is going to win the 2019 Tour de France?

And never has it given us greater pleasure to give the answer, ‘We haven’t a clue.’

It’s not through lack of trying, to be clear. But day after day, whenever an overlying narrative has looked like emerging to define how the 2019 Tour will be decided, something happens to shake things up and suggest an entirely new set of possible outcomes.

It’s like a complex and ever-changing kaleidescope of possibilities whose moving parts are rearranged daily as they make their way across the French countryside.

Best of all, almost all the key moments that have defined this year’s Tour to date have been generated by the race itself. Yes, some of the talk going into this Tour was of the non-possibility of Chris Froome winning it.

But good luck hearing literally a single mention of Froome’s name on the slopes of the Planche des Belles Filles (where he’s a previous stage winner), or the finish line after the Pau time-trial, or at the summit of the mighty Tourmalet after Saturday’s French one-two.

Weighed down

That’s exactly how it should be of course, but too often cycling’s biggest race has seemed too heavily weighed down by its own billing, too confined by the perceived need for exactly the kind of narrative this year’s race has so gloriously failed to conform to.

Back to those key moments, though, and it's also worth mentioning that this year's have come from a surprisingly wide array of sources too. It seems fitting to start with the yellow jersey himself Julian Alaphilippe. Few of us genuinely thought the French Deceuninck-QuickStep dynamo would still be in yellow at this point, never mind with a relatively decent margin. Literally none of us had him winning Friday’s time-trial, then finishing second on the Tourmalet the day after.

Thibaut Pinot won that stage of course, which was the Groupama-FdJ rider’s own Big Moment of the 2019 Tour so far. But arguably his second place yesterday behind Simon Yates could prove even more significant given the time he gained on the other GC contenders.

Then there’s Geraint Thomas, the defending champion from Team Ineos. For all the plaudits Alaphillipe gained on the Planche des Belles Files for his audacious and unexpected late attack from the peloton, who was the only rider who actually caught him and pulled ahead by the finish line? That’s right, it was Thomas.

Thomas: Dangerous and human

In his first attempt at it, this year’s defending champ has succeeded in something the team’s usual bearer of the number 1 at the Tour has never managed, and that is to look both dangerous and human.

You don’t quite know what he’s going to do next, and whatever it is might not work, but you want to watch him try either way. That not a slight on either Chris Froome or Team Ineos, it’s just an analysis of what has made this year’s Tour de France so refreshingly different to most recent editions of the race, which Froome (and the former Team Sky) have dominated.

With six stages of the Tour remaining – or four if you ignore the final day’s procession and tomorrow’s flat stage around Nimes – any of those three are credible winners. Alaphillipe will likely either hold on valiantly to win the Tour, or blow totally on one of the big mountain stages. Pinot has the high mountains to look forward to, and a stronger team behind him than his countryman. But it feels like Thomas hasn’t quite yet given his absolute maximum yet, and has a stronger team still than Pinot.

Which seems like the obvious point – okay, it's probably long overdue if we're honest – to mention Ineos's Egan Bernal, the young Colombian who is still fifth overall, just 122 seconds from the yellow jersey and very much still a potential winner. And while we’re at it, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann is just 12 seconds further back in sixth.

And we haven’t even mentioned Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk, who’s actually above both of them and even Pinot in the overall classification, sitting tidily in third place overall, 1:47 down on Alaphilippe and just 12 seconds behind Thomas.

Did we mention that this Tour was impossible to call?

The ultimate destiny of this year’s yellow jersey will come down to three back-to-back stages in the Alps: Thursday’s 207km run to Valloire, involving the ascents of the Izoard and Galibier; Friday’s high-altitude ride to Tignes which crests the 2,770m Iseran; and Saturday’s 131km Stage 20, culminating in the brutal 33.5km ascent to the finish at Val Thorens.

The presence of Bernal in the top six could prove pivotal as it means Team Ineos are the only team with two GC options going into the race’s decisive phase. Even then, that doesn’t necessarily give them an advantage, as yesterday’s stage proved when Thomas held back on the final climb to avoid working against Bernal, who was ahead, and so lost time to Pinot.

Victory by stealth?

So far, Buchmann and Kruijswijk have done remarkably little by comparison to contribute to their high overall position. They’ve benefited from the support of strong teams, haven’t made any mistakes or lost any serious time where it mattered, and have consistently finished around the top GC riders day after day.

But they’ve also managed to feature in just about zero key moments in the race so far, and have inspired few if any headlines.

It feels odd in this most surprising and entertaining of Tours that not one but two riders could get themselves into such strong contention for victory basically through stealth alone.

But then, wouldn’t Kruijswijk or Buchmann emerging as the Tour winner be the ultimate in unexpected narratives? Quite possibly. But we wouldn't think about it too closely for now – who knows what surprises the 2019 Tour de France still has in store for us between now and Sunday?

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