Where’s Chris Froome? Other riders to watch at the 2019 Tour de France plus a few words about the route

Geraint Thomas (via YouTube)

I always thought that the great danger of blowing your nose while cycling in strong winds was that you might end up with a streak of snot across your face. Apparently you could also lose control and break your neck, hip, leg, elbow and a bunch of ribs.

Chris Froome learned this lesson the hard way and so The Man To Beat will not actually be there to beat in this year’s Tour de France. Team Ineos will instead have to fall back on… the reigning champion.

Disappointingly, last year’s runner-up won’t be riding either. Tom Dumoulin bust his knee during the Giro d’Italia and hasn’t fully recovered.

Geraint Thomas, Team Ineos

Last year Geraint Thomas didn’t really concede any time, to anyone, at any point. This is a pretty decent way of going about things and he duly won the Tour de France. He’ll also have the full support of the strongest team in the race, which is pretty handy.

Egan Bernal, Team Ineos

Egan Bernal was Plan C before Froome’s crash but is now Plan B. Some bookies have him down as the overall favourite, which tells you all you need to know about why people are a bit sick of Team Ineos’s massive budget. Bernal was 15th last year despite shuttling around doing odd jobs for Froome and Thomas. This year he’ll have fewer odd jobs to do. He won the Tour de Suisse the other day.

Nairo Quintana, Movistar

When Nairo Quintana came second in his debut Tour de France in 2013, pretty much everyone agreed that he’d win it one day. The Colombian has been working hard to change people’s minds ever since. Another second place in 2015 was followed by third in 2016, 12th in 2017 and 10th last year and he feels as far away from victory as he’s ever been. I therefore fully expect him to win the race by about nine minutes.

Richie Porte, Trek-Segafredo

If Quintana seems as far away from a Tour win as he’s ever been, what can be said about Richie Porte? In terms of his physiology, he seems to be made for Grand Tours, but somehow it never quite works out. He finished seventh in his first three-week race, the 2010 Giro. Here are his results in them since then: 80th, 72nd, 34th, 68th, 19th, 23rd, DNF, 48th, 5th, DNF, DNF, 84th. This is a man who could, in theory, win the biggest race of all. And those are his results.

Jakob Fuglsang, Astana

Jakob Fuglsang is the form outsider. Seventh in 2013 and 12th last year, he doesn’t have extraordinary pedigree, but he looked like he’d found another level in the spring classics and maybe that means something or maybe it doesn’t. He won the Critérium du Dauphiné the other week, a race that has foreshadowed three out of the last four Tour winners. The exception? Fuglsang in 2017.

Adam Yates, Mitchelton-Scott

Assuming the Yates twins like to take it in turns to be The Best Yates, then it’s Adam’s turn because Simon wasn’t ‘all that’ in the Giro d’Italia. Adam finished fourth at the Tour in 2016. He was second ahead of the final stage of the recently-completed Critérium du Dauphiné but had to pull out because of the wild shits. Simon Yates is riding too, in support, which takes me back to the days of The Schlecks.

Thibaut Pinot, Groupama-FDJ

Big French hope. Good in the mountains. Has previously finished on the podium. Won’t win.

Romain Bardet, AG2R

Big French hope. Good in the mountains. Has previously finished on the podium. Won’t win.

Rigoberto Uran, EF Education First

Almost never wins bike races, but came second two years ago, so has to be worth a mention.

Steven Kruijswijk, Jumbo-Visma

His nickname is De Kleerhanger, which means ‘The Coathanger’ because his broad, angular shoulders make it look like he’s left one in.

Dan Martin, UAE-Team Emirates

Bit of an outsider, in the sense that he’s always seemed to do better on hills than in the mountains, but he gets a mention thanks to three top ten finishes in the race and also because I like him.

A few others

Enric Mas (Deceuninck-QuickStep) is only 24 and came second in last year’s Vuelta a Espana.

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) probably isn’t going for the overall after finishing second in the Giro, but could change his mind.

Mikel Landa (Movistar) is in the same boat as Nibali.

The route

Essentially a little triangle from the north-east down to the south-west, across to the south-east and then back up again. If you know your geography, this is not uncoincidentally the part of France that is not flat.

“Week one” is actually half the race and those first ten stages are a lot more challenging than they normally would be.

Here’s a summary.

  1. Saturday. Pure sprint
  2. Sunday. 27.6km team time trial
  3. Monday. A little flurry of 1km long hills towards the end
  4. Tuesday. Sprint but with a 3km climb to shed a few people 15km from the finish
  5. Wednesday. A handful of generic 5km climbs
  6. Thursday. Mountains and a tough summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles (7km at 8.7%)
  7. Friday. Pure sprint
  8. Saturday. 200km featuring countless mid-level climbs. Interesting
  9. Sunday. Bastille Day. Slightly fewer categorised climbs, but similar terrain again
  10. Monday. Probably a sprint, but there are a few climbs and it’s an unusually long week

Thursday is the focal point, but Saturday is the most interesting. While we always focus on the racing the mountains, a lot of contenders will lose time or hope this week through crashing or getting caught the wrong side of a split in the peloton. Slow starters and the more one-paced climbers might even find themselves distanced on some of the shorter, sharper hills.

I’ll be back a week on Tuesday to give you a state-of-play round-up kind of thing.

You can sign up to get it emailed to you here.