The Tour de France starts this Saturday. For the next three weeks, we’re all fans.
Few sporting events evoke such a passionate following as Le Tour. For three weeks, the world only has eyes for France. Even casual cyclists make an effort to follow every stage, form a loyal bond of their favorite rider, and eagerly await the mountain top finishes that punctuate the furious flat sprint days. It’s an event that pulls you in, holds your attention and, with the conclusion of every stage, makes you want to get out and ride. Admit it: you’ve ‘won’ a few solo breakaways or bunch gallops in your neck of the woods, racing phantom rivals or a few well-chosen riding buddies.
This year’s event is jam-packed with favorites, but in the absence of Chris Froome, it’s a race that feels more wide open than ever. Even last year’s surprise winner, and Froome’s teammate, Geraint Thomas, doesn’t feel like a sure bet. After a lackluster spring and crashing out of the Tour de Suisse, it’s his Ineos teammate, Egan Bernal, who feels like a more credible challenge. The beauty of riding in the former Sky outfit is that no matter which leader take the reins, they’ve got the deepest support squad in the game, with riders like Wout Poels and Michal Kwiatkowski waiting to do damage.
Jakub Fuglsang has had the best season of his career, punctuating a string of spring one-day runner-ups with a Liege-Bastogne-Liege win before a success slew of one-week stage races, including a big win at the Dauphine. Astana isn’t as packed with talent as they once were, but they have plenty of firepower for three weeks.
Outside of that trio, most of the other contenders come with plenty of questions marks. Can Richie Porte get through Stage 9 after crashing out on that stage the past two years? Will the dangerous triumvirate of World Champion Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana, and Mikel Landa be able to put their own chances aside to make the most of their numbers? Can Steven Kruijswick put together three strong weeks?
With the first mountain stage coming on the sixth day of racing, we’ll have a really good idea of which riders pose a real threat after the day’s summit. Leading in, however, are a number of flat and punchy stages that should see Classics stars like Greg Van Avermaet, multiple green jersey winner Peter Sagan, and pure sprinters like Michael Matthews will have plenty of chances to add to their stage win tally and give themselves something to ride for in the points classification before the race leaves for the high mountains.
A tidy team time trial on Stage Two should also entertain. While it’s not long enough for serious time loses, it’s a day that could put plenty of GC riders in the hole. Perhaps most vulnerable here is Bahrain-Merida’s Vicenzo Nibali. A deficit makes him dangerous, however, and if he’s more than a handful of seconds back as the race hits the summit finishes, don’t be surprised to see the 2014 Tour champion gamble.
There’s no bigger or better day to gamble than the trio of stages in the Pyrenees. Stage 14 is our pick to the most decisive, with the race’s first summit finish on the Tourmalet since 2010. Stage 17 sees a visit to the Galibier before a downhill finish into Valloire, the first of three days in the Alps before the race returns home to Paris.
There are plenty of stages to look forward to, riders to cheer on, and unforgettable moments to absorb. July is a treat for every cycling fan, and if 2019 looks to be unpredictable and a bit off-script, then we’re sure we won’t be disappointed.