A first look at the 2019 Tour de France
The 2019 Tour de France route was unveiled in grand style some weeks ago. It’s being billed as the highest ever, with three stage finishes above the 2000-metre mark for the first time. We’ve spent some time studying the route, so let’s take a deep dive into the details, pinpointing which promise to be the most exciting and decisive stages, and who the overall contenders are likely to be.
If you’re as much a fan of the Tour as we are then you really should experience the real thing – nothing beats the atmosphere roadside, especially in the high mountains. It’s one for the bucket list for sure, and we’ve got a few tips for where to be next July for the biggest show of them all.
Le Tour de France – 6 to 28 July 2019 – 3,460km
Tour de France organisers have apparently tried their best to reduce the dominance of Team Sky, winners of six of the last seven races, but 2019’s route doesn’t look like it’ll bring them any closer to achieving that goal. In fact, reigning champion Geraint Thomas feels the route may favour him even better than the one he just won. He might need to knuckle down to some training though – he’s still doing the chat show circuit a fair few weeks after most professionals begun their build-up to next season in earnest, not to mention the Froome-shaped elephant in the room…
Stages for the diary
The 106th running of the Grand Boucle honours Eddy Merckx with a Grand Depart from Brussels – easy to get to for the opening weekend. The first stage includes the notorious Tour of Flanders climb, the Muur van Geraardsbergen, wherethe cobbles might provide an uncomfortable start for the lightweight mountain goats. Stage 2, a 27km team time trial, could produce some early shuffling of the pack and teams will need to be on their game if they’re to keep their leaders well placed early on. We’re looking at you AG2R and Monsieur Bardet.
Pau is a great place to be in July – the Tour wouldn’t be the Tour without a visit – and there’s a real double-whammy waiting the riders here on stages 13 and 14. You’ll be where the first big hits of the race will be landed, right in the heart ofthe Pyrenees.
Stage 13 (19 July) might seem a simple rolling 27km individual time trial around Pau, but GC hopefuls will need to be on top form to protect crucial seconds. The following stage is likely to be spectacular, finishing atop the 2,115m Col du Tourmalet, the Tour’s most used climb, after a relatively short and snappy 117km day out. It will probably be madness, but it will certainly be worth it.
The three days in the Alps (25-27 July) look particularly brutal, with Stage 18 likely to be the decisive one, crossing over the Col du Galibier and finishing very fast downhill into Valloire.
Stage 19 starts at St Jean de Maurienne, making it a good place to stay for these three days – it’s a good-sized town with incredible riding on your doorstep: Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col de la Madeleine, Les Lacets de Montvernier, the list goes on. To get to the Valloire finish from here on the 25 July it’s a beautiful ride along the valley and over the Col du Télégraphe.
The final fight in the Alps is Stage 20 from Albertville, just around the valley (or over the Madeleine) from St Jean de Maurienne. The final 33km climb (gulp) to the finish at Val Thorens will crown the overall winner – expect some big punches to be thrown here should contenders be close on GC.
Tips for spectators
It would be an understatement to say the Tour is popular. Accommodation books up fast, so if you’re determined to go and don’t own a campervan, you’ll need to get booking as soon as you can.
Watching a bike race is about a whole lot more than just seeing your favourite riders flash by. Uphill sections in the natural amphitheatres of the high mountains make the best viewing, and if you can, bring the bike and ride up to your viewpoint; roads are usually closed to vehicles, but those walking and riding can get where they want to up to a few hours before the race passes.
Lastly, don’t forget travel insurance.
GC riders to watch
One striking element of the 2019 Tour is the paucity of flat roads – there are really only six stages for the sprinters. With the 2019 Giro similarly challenging, it’s unlikely we’ll see anyone putting in a serious pitch for the double.
Tom Dumoulin is one who has cast doubt over his participation in the 2019 Tour de France and could target the Giro instead. Similarly, Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru might favour their home race, and Simon Yates has put on record his desire to return to Italy for another crack.
If one team has proven ability at recent Tours, it’s Sky and their embarrassment of riches. Many are convinced that young Egan Bernal will win a grand tour before long, but 2019 is surely too soon? It will be interesting to see who Dave Brailsford and co back next July, but with a record-equalling fifth yellow jersey in his sights, it’s hard to look past Chris Froome. You never know what might happen out on the road though…
French fans will as usual pin all their hopes on Romain Bardet, who’s descending skills could work in his favour. He’s going all-in this year, and the lack of serious time-trialling may help. Another Frenchman to consider, so long as the weather isn’t too hot, is Thibaut Pinot who had a strong finish to 2018.
Other names likely to thrive in a “climb-heavy” race are Spain’s successor to Alberto Contador, Enric Mas, ‘Condor of the Andes’ Nairo Quintana and Bury Clarion’s own Adam Yates. Mitchelton-Scott has developed into a serious grand tour team in recent years, and Yates is tactically astute and powerful enough to equal brother Simon’s stellar 2018 performances.
As always, we’ll be glued to the action come next July. Finally, if you do head over there to soak up the atmosphere and take on some of the stages yourself, make sure you and your bike are both insured – we’ll try to hide our envy!