The Secret Pro’s Guide to the 2019 Tour de France

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The Tour de France is almost here. Are you ready? I’m ready.

I know the start list isn’t out yet, but most of us know if we’re going to Le Grande Boucle or not. In fact, I just found out. The good news: I made the squad. Even better, CT asked if I’d write a little newsletter every day during the Tour with my thoughts on the race, insight from inside the peloton, maybe a little gossip. Of course, I said yes. The newsletter will only exist during the Tour, and you can sign up here:

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Now, to this pre-Tour column. This time of year, every media outlet is in full prognostication mode, making all kinds of guesses about the coming month. So I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring, too.

Let’s get into it. Here’s my Secret Pro’s Guide to the 2019 Tour de France.

Who’s going to win?

Almost certainly not me. But hey, you never know.

Unfortunately, we’ve already lost two huge names. Neither Chris Froome nor Tom Dumoulin will start this year. And actually, Primoz Roglic is out too, which means three out of the top four from 2018 aren’t even racing. I guess that’s why L’Equipe recently had a headline that would translate to, “This year, or never,” under a big picture of Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot.

Feel the pressure, boys? I’m glad I’m not French sometimes.

This really is their year, though. Just looking at the parcours it’s clear that both of them would be in with a shot, even with all the big names present. There is just one ITT, and even that is less than 30km. With a few of the strongest guys gone, we may see the first French winner since the Badger, Bernard Hinault, in 1985.

It looks good for the French, even though Ineos is still the strongest team, with or without Froome. But my primary takeaway from this season’s earlier stage races is that several teams have stepped their game up this year. Ineos won’t ride away with it that easy.

So who are the teams that will take it up to them? Jumbo-Visma, Bora-Hansgrohe, EF Education First, Astana, and Mitchelton-Scott. All these teams are full of climbing legs, and they all know this is their best shot in years to take down Ineos. That will make for some exciting racing.

Before you type an angry email about me leaving out Movistar, just wait and watch the final week. Then tell me how “exciting” they made the race. All those guys like to do is follow and I’m already asleep next to the telly thinking about it.

So who will actually be standing on the podium in Paris? Jakob Fuglsang? Think again. Bardet? Yeah, nah. Surely Geraint Thomas? Emm … no. You could see it in his face at Suisse.

It will be Pinot, Egan Bernal and Adam Yates. Not sure which order, but Bernal won’t be on the top step. He likes to go too early and explode. And I’ll put Dan Martin for the dark horse here.

Stages to watch

Let’s talk about which stages you should actually watch. I mean there are 21 of them and ain’t nobody got time for that. If I could take a few off I would.

Watch the first sprint, stage 1 in Brussels. It should be pretty exciting as everyone will be fresh.

The TTT on stage 2 will be important for the GC. Make sure you check the results at least.

The final kilometres of stage 3 will be worth your time, but skip the rest. The speed will be high in the finale and the stage win will come from a late attack by a rider in the field. Those little kicks at the end will hurt even on your couch.

Stage 6, to Planche des Belles Filles, is a must, of course, as it’s the first uphill finish and you will see some people get in their buses already crying.

Also feel free to watch stage 14, not that it will be super exciting, but at 117km it’s just long enough for the modern attention span.

Stage 18 is going to be a brute, so make sure you have a nice beer while watching the poor riders suffer and chase the time cut. As usual, the final two days are a must-see if you want a good dose of drama in your system.

Looking through the route again, one day I missed that might be actually really hard, but doesn’t look so on paper, is stage 8. There are no Cat 1 or HC climbs on that day, but it’s never flat. That just means everyone will be fighting not to get dropped. Plus the time cut won’t be as generous as mountain stages, so even if you are dropped you will be going full tilt until the line. That one’s going to hurt.

Who looks good?

So, I did some races in the lead-up to the Tour, and I watched others on TV, and of course, there’s always chatter in the peloton about who’s going well. Given all these things, I have a pretty good handle on who you might want to keep an eye out for next month – not just for the overall, but for stage wins, other jerseys, and general aggressiveness.

Feel free to use this as a guide to place all your bets, maybe even re-mortgage the house and make deals with the devil, because as you know cycling is very predictable and my word is gold. Plus I’m sure CyclingTips will cover any losses you might have. [We will not. – Ed.]

In the sprint stages, it’s hard to look past Dylan Groenewegen (so maybe time to learn his name, people). He will win three stages. Of course, count on Peter Sagan there too. Once Dylan gets fatigued a bit and the road tilts upwards, Sagan will win at least two stages and snag the green jersey, which is good because I really don’t recognize him in July without it.

Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani will win one each. Caleb might even get one of the uphill punches that are sprinkled in along the way. He’s got the sprint power-to-weight thing down.

Michael Matthews won a green jersey a few years ago, but once again has already beaten himself before the race has begun. This time with lack of confidence rather than full of confidence. Two weeks before the Tour has started and he’s already telling media that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with Dumoulin out. For goodness’ sake – two weeks! That’s more than enough time to sharpen up the sprint.

Well, I guess at least he’s starting the race this year. A few years back [ed. 2014], while he was preemptively practising his victory salutes in training, he crashed and didn’t even start the Tour.

When looking to the mountains, let’s first talk about the polka dots. Julian Alaphilippe is the favourite yet again. He has the legs to climb with pretty much everyone, and then a kick that would make any other alcohol redundant in your summer punch bowl. However, I think Warren Barguil is back to climbing well, so yet again we will see these two battle it out. If the French don’t win this Tour, at least they’ll win polka dots again.

Who else do we have who might — sorry, will — win a stage? Two different Astana riders (pick any except Houle and Fraile). Pinot will get one too. Boasson Hagen of course. Grandpa Valverde will throw his crutches to the side, stabbing some young whipper-snapper in the process, and take one. Don’t be surprised to see Christophe Laporte from Cofidis win one. And don’t worry if you don’t know who he is. He is good.

The only ITT in this bicycle race will be won by no other than Rohan Dennis. That man’s got watts for days.

A few random things

A couple more tips and things to keep an eye out for:

  • On mountain stages, what percentage of the front group is Ineos riders? If it is routinely higher than 30%, either Thomas or Bernal might win this thing.
  • Who will be the tailgunner of the Tour? Steve Cummings isn’t on the roster I don’t think.
  • How many times will a non-French rider get the most aggressive award? Answer will be between zero and three.
  • How many breaks will go without a Wanty rider in them? Again, we’re looking at zero to three.

Maybe next year I’ll tell you the rules of my TDF drinking game. By the time you get to Paris you can drink three bottles of champagne and still be thirsty.

Or maybe I’ll send that out in one of my newsletters.

‘Till then, au revoir.

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