The final week is here, and have we ever had as exciting a Tour as this one has been? Not as I can recall, and I do spend a bit of time thinking about this sort of thing. At the second rest day there are 6 riders from 5 teams in with a genuine chance of being crowned champion next Sunday, and no one predicted that at the start of the whole thing.
Particularly not me. Let’s pretend I made no predictions at all: that would give me another chance to get everything spectacularly wrong all over again. Here’s the runners:
1 Julian Alaphilippe Deceuninck - Quick-Step 61h 00' 22''
2 Geraint Thomas Team INEOS +1' 35''
3 Steven Kruijswijk Team Jumbo - Visma +1' 47''
4 Thibaut Pinot Groupama - FDJ +1' 50''
5 Egan Bernal Team INEOS +2' 02''
6 Emanuel Buchmann BORA - HANSGROHE +2' 14''
Obviously Juju has been the revelation of the Tour, setting the thing alight despite no one (including himself) giving him any chance of winning anything other than a stage or two, along with our hearts. Getting the yellow jersey was a beautiful bonus, but should he still be wearing it? To be honest he would have been better off giving it up at the TT, allowing him to recoup his strength and then push for another stage win, but no one’s going to give him that chance now.
And he’s probably exhausted. Which doesn’t mean he’s going to give up – he clearly doesn’t know how – so the rest of the GC teams are going to have to attack him. And they will.
Led, presumably, by Ineos. By their standards this Tour has been a bit of a dud, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to win it. Geraint is in P2, and if everyone is writing him off because of a slightly off day on Saturday then that’s probably the way he likes it. The Alps suit his riding style more than the Pyrenees, and he will sit and wait and watch when we get back to the mountains. And then he will attack.
Bernal has been attacking his “team leader” under the auspices of the other GC favourites getting away on a few stages this year. This won’t be forgotten by Thomas, and the long, grinding mountains will suit the Welsh rider more than the Colombian, even if the latter lives at altitude.
Pinot will be ruing his echelon disaster before the last rest day even more now, on the heels of 2 incredible mountain stages to recoup his lost time. He’s clearly the strongest climber in the tour right now, but can he really ride a grand tour without a jour ans? We’ll find out this week.
Kruijswijk has done everything he has to in his effort to banish the painful memory of that Giro snow bank, but has he done enough? He has 2 strong riders in Bennett and De Plus, with them arguably both stronger than their leader but losing time earlier that they’d dearly like to have back. The Dutchman doesn’t seem to have done much work so far to justify his GC position, but he will be tested in the week to come. And maybe the rest will work in his favour.
Buchmann. No one has discussed him, but he’s there. He stayed with Bernal when he was tested, and he’s clearly been stronger than anyone gave him any credit.
So now, to the stages to come.
Stage 16: one for whatever sprinters remain. Remember when we used to look forward to sprint stages for the variation? That’s so 2018. Might be windy, so FDJ will punch anyone who even looks like saying the word echelon.
Stage 17: So many teams have got nothing out of this stage that it must be one for the breakaway riders, including big names like Nibali, Yates and the like. Can a GC team throw a spanner in the works and attack? You’d have to think they’d be crazy to do so, but this Tour proves that crazy is simply a preview of the news. And Landa will be wanting to get onto the podium, so why wouldn’t he attack now? This stage will cause some sleepless nights.
Stage 18: Col de Vars. Col d’Izoard. Col du Galibier. If Alaphilippe isn’t already broken there’s little doubt that the others will attack today. Should suit Pinot (who still needs to find some time) and Thomas. Buchmann will probably sit on their wheels all day, scaring the shit out of them as he looms constantly, or might jump over to Bernal as he attacks his leader again on Galibier.
Stage 19: Col de l’Iséran. The highest point of the Tour. Bernal will need to attack, but will he have help from Landa or one of the other teams looking to save their Tour with a stage win?
Stage 20: Val Thorens. Should be a Thomas style climb, but frankly who knows what condition everyone will be in by then. It’s the last chance to find some time, so everyone will attack: there’s no other choice. Whoever survives this will be a rightful winner.
Stage 21: Should be just a photoshoot and a trundle to the Champs Elysees. Which means that, because it’s the 2019 Tour, it will be a full gas attack between the 3 remaining riders who have 10 seconds between them at the top of the GC…
My heart wants it to be Pinot, my head thinks it will be Thomas, but frankly if the remaining stages are as good as the previous ones then I don’t care who wins, I will simply enjoy the spectacle and drink to their good health.