Tour de France Stage 19 Preview
The first day in the high Alps delivered. Although it seemed as if the strenghts were balanced between the main favourites, it allowed freedom to some riders including Nairo Quintana who took a solo win and redeemed himself, leaping back into the Top 10. The first hour of racing was brutal and another group of over 30 got away, attacked came but none stuck until Quintana attacked in the foot of the Galibier, Romain Bardet and Alexey Lutsenko were the most direct chasers but could only manage minor places. In the peloton Movistar moved in the Izoard but with no attack, INEOS took the race from there on and Bernal was the only one with legs to attack his rivals. Alaphillipe lost contact with the group but got back in the descent where they arrived together most of the favourites, 32 seconds after Bernal who rises to the second place overall.
Positive: Besides Quintana who looked to have a great day, like last year he looked below himself all race long but had one day where he was the best. Climbed back into the GC fight. Fellow Colombian Bernal did the same, winning time on his direct rivals and being Alaphillipe's most direct chaser, the Frenchman resisted another stage.
Negative: Most of the GC contenders arrived together, Valverde and Barguil were the first ones to loose time but in the big picture the GC remains fairly the same, today was a day that took the riders to the limit and it will definetely be felt tomorrow (and Saturday of course).
Stage 19 is my favourite in this year's race, I'm a big fan of altitude stages and it's not often that it's a factor in the Tour, but this year it was definetely considered, mainly in this stage. It is set to be a brutal one, with only 126.5 kilometers in lenght it isn't that long, the climbs in the begining aren't that hard but the fact that from the start to the base of the l'Iseran there are 75Km, a 1200 meters of altitude game with almost no downhill. From a very fatiguing set of valley roads the Col de l'Iseran may be the biggest challenge of the race, I've seen riders crack for less, but the highest point of the race is in a 12.9Km climb at 7.5% average gradient.
I think the combination of 19 days of racing and a totally different effort, one that's much more constant followed by a hard climb at a massive altitude may have riders suffering.
The summit is with 37Km to go, after follows a descent through the Val d'Isere and an ascent to Tignes, another hard climb, but not as hard as the previous. The finish line is 2Km after the summit, but the gaps will be set in the climb to the Ski station.
Threatening rain and thunder once again, tomorrow it didn't confirm but there is indeed forecast of light rain that can worsen at any minute. As for the wind, mainly from the east, again something that should come as an advantage to the attackers, but only in the high grounds should it be felt as only the gusts are strong.
A different type of effort
As I mentioned tomorrow is a different kind of effort. If anything today was a sign of just how many riders are willing to ride into the breakaway, of actual GC candidates making moves from far, tomorrow is an intense effort, straight from the start. I am mentioning this as the question wether Alaphillipe can actually win the race or not, he passed every test and is a legitimate contender but tomorrow is yet another huge hurdle, a climb that pretty much begins where the stage does, it will be a very painful road up to the base of the l'Iseran and there it will be even harder, he resisted today but in the climb his fragility was exposed.
If he doesn't resist the attacks that are sure to come in the l'Iseran I doubt he can come back, the descent isn't as technical as he needs despite his great abilities. INEOS specially have gotten a great boost today, and the altitude really did seem to favour the Colombians so I assume they'll try again, INEOS looked better today and Bernal has no reason not to test the competition.
The way today showed itself, I would see the Colombians... Quintana has nothing to loose pretty much, he did something great today and between him and Landa one of them should move early on the day and make sure that they can take advantage of a big group again, despite the gaps Quintana should be more free to move and in the position Movistar are they have nothing to loose, all three riders could sacrifice their races as they don't have much to loose.
In the case of a breakaway which has been the case the Movistar trio are to look at, some riders saved themselves today and can be big weapons tomorrow, no GC pressure and much fresher legs, they could keep up with the GC riders almost, Simon Yates, Pello Bilbao. Guillaume Martin and Fabio Aru also rode quite strong today, inside thr Top15 they could try to make a move and try to move up or consolidate their places. Dan Martin, Vincenzo Nibali and Jack Haig are all names to take into acount but I don't know about their actual form to be able to take a win in such a stage even with favourable conditions.
Bernal and Thomas looked the strongest today, that can be a sign, if Alaphillipe doesn't crack they should test their rivals in the penultimate climb, I expect at least Bernal to do so, FDJ looked a bit more sensitive today and Pinot didn't have his Pyrineen legs but we can't discount him still of taking the win.
Kruijswijk and Buchmann don't seem to have the legs to attack but they're consistent, they'll be racing conservatively as non-explosive riders and Alaphillipe will want similar, he is virtually hanging by a thread and any help is good help, he is still in yellow with a solid gap.
I see Barguil also trying something, fits his style of racing and the rider behind him in the GC is over 7 minutes behind, Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran are also there low in the Top10 but they will likely try to protect it, and maybe come up a bit if possible.
⭐ Kruijswijk, Bilbao, Nibali, Valverde, Uran, Barguil
Eyeing today's performance and how the race is shaping out I see Bernal as possibly the biggest favourite for tomorrow. The stage will be short, the start very fast but the break won't have enough time to gain a huge gap, here there is ground for the GC riders to try and gain time on each other and bonifications aswell which are looking more and more important as the race goes by.
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