Preview: What you need to know about the 2019 Tour de France
It’s time for the biggest race of them all: Le Tour de France. Ahead of the Grand Depart this Saturday, get yourself up to speed on the riders to watch, the stages to watch, and more. This is CyclingTips’ preview of the 2019 Tour de France.
After two days in the Belgian capital of Brussels, the 2019 Tour heads south in France on stage 3, then swings east towards Germany. On stage 7 the route heads south west towards the Pyrenees, heading through the Massif Central via a rest day after stage 10. Stages 12 through 15 will be raced in the Pyrenees before the second rest day, and then it’s up towards the Alps.
Stages 17 through 20 are all held in the mountains before the now-customary long-range transfer on the eve of the final stage. As ever, the 2019 Tour finishes with a sprint on the most famous boulevard in all of cycling: the Champs-Elysees.
How it might unfold
With just two time trials (a total of only 55km against the clock) and three summit finishes above 2,000m (a first for the Tour), this year’s course should favour the climbers among the GC contenders. We’ll likely get a sense on stage 6 of who’s going well but, as ever, it will be the third week that really determines the race overall.
Here’s a breakdown of each stage. The days with an asterisk are the ones we expect to shape the GC:
Stage 1: Early climbs of the Bosberg and ‘the Muur’ but should be a bunch sprint.
Stage 2: A 27.6km team time trial. A little lumpy but nothing terribly difficult. *
Stage 3: Five small climbs in the last 45km, last with 4km to go. Slightly uphill finish.
Stage 4: A bunch sprint into Nancy.
Stage 5: Four climbs, last with 19.5km to go. Flat finish. Breakaway?
Stage 6: First summit finish: La Planche des Belles Filles (7km at 8.7%).*
Stage 7: Three early climbs, but almost certainly a bunch sprint.
Stage 8: Seven climbs, up and down all day, 3,800m of climbing. Breakaway?
Stage 9: A lumpy day with three climbs. Last is 3.6km at 7.2%, 13km from the finish.
Stage 10: Four small climbs but should be a bunch sprint.
Stage 11: Another bunch sprint to start the second ‘week’.
Stage 12: Two big Pyreneean climbs late. Last is 30km from the finish, downhill to line.
Stage 13: Only ITT of the race. 27.2km long. A little lumpy but nothing terribly testing.*
Stage 14: Second summit finish, at the Col du Tourmalet (19km at 7.4%).*
Stage 15: Third summit finish, at Foix Prat d’Albis (11.8km at 6.9%). 4,700m of climbing.*
Stage 16: Almost certainly a bunch sprint.
Stage 17: Late climb is 5.2km at 5.4%, 8.5km from the line. One for the break?
Stage 18: Three mountains. Last is the Galibier (23km at 5.1%). Last 19km is downhill.*
Stage 19: Fourth summit finish (7.4km at 7%) which tops out 2km from the finish.*
Stage 20: Fifth summit finish: Val Thorens (33.4km at 5%). 130km stage.*
Stage 21: Bunch sprint on the Champs-Elysees.
The overall contenders
In the absence of Tom Dumoulin (second last year; knee injury), Chris Froome (third; multiple injuries) and Primoz Roglic (fourth; raced the Giro), the 2019 Tour is considerably more open than it might have been. With that in mind, here are the riders we think will be vying for the podium, if not the overall victory.
Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal (Ineos) – Ineos might have lost Chris Froome but it’s still the strongest team on the startlist and it still starts with two riders who can win the Tour. Geraint Thomas is the defending champion and showed last year that he can be the perfect all-round rider when everything goes to plan.
Unlike last year though, when he won the Criterium du Dauphine, Thomas hasn’t had a great lead-in this year. He hasn’t won a race yet in 2019 and crashing out of the Tour de Suisse certainly doesn’t count as ideal preparation. Egan Bernal, meanwhile, has had a much stronger build-up.
So far this year Bernal has won Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse. After missing the Giro due to a pre-race crash, he’s arrived at the Tour in great form. He’s one of the best climbers in the world and his time-trialling is coming along very nicely. Quite simply, he can win the Tour, even though this is only his second Grand Tour and he’s just 22 years old. If he does win it, he’ll be the third-youngest Tour winner in history.
Ineos has said that Thomas and Bernal will go in as co-leaders, which is interesting given, just a few weeks earlier, Bernal was saying he would ride for Thomas. Do they know that Thomas won’t have what it takes? Either way it will be intriguing to see how Ineos deploys its considerable resources and who ends up being the stronger of Thomas and Bernal.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) – This is probably the Dane’s best chance to win the Tour. He’s having the best season of his career, winning the Criterium du Dauphine and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and with the likes of Froome and Dumoulin out of the picture, Fuglsang’s chances have improved considerably.
If all goes well, Fugslang should improve on his best of seventh overall (in 2013) and could even win the thing if Ineos and others falter. It will likely come down to whether he can consistently follow the likes of Bernal uphill.
Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa (Movistar) – The Spanish squad has two compelling options but it’s hard to see them winning the Tour. Quintana hasn’t been at his best over three weeks since early 2017 and a reversal of form here seems somewhat unlikely. Normally he’d have a handful of wins for the season so far but in 2019 he’s only got one (at the Tour Colombia).
Landa is perhaps a more compelling option but the big question will be whether he’s recovered enough from the Giro. Landa rode to fourth there as his teammate Richard Carapaz took the win overall. If Landa can stay fresh for the whole three weeks he’s certainly a chance for another top five, if not the podium.
Note that Movistar also brings world champion Alejandro Valverde to the Tour. The 39-year-old is capable of a top 10 in his own right (he’s done so on six occasions), but will likely ride in support of Quintana and Landa. He’ll be at his most dangerous if he’s given the chance to go for stage wins. On his day he can win on just about any terrain and given his recent wins at La Route d’Occitanie and the Spanish Nationals, he’s certainly in good form (when is he ever not?).
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) – Adam Yates has flown a little under the radar ahead of this year’s Tour but he absolutely needs to be factored in. While he pulled out of the Dauphine due to illness he seems to be back at full strength.
Mitchelton-Scott and Yates are aiming for the podium — a realistic goal, particularly now that Adam’s brother Simon will be there on super-domestique duties too. With Simon and Jack Haig looking after Adam in the mountains, the younger Yates is very well placed. It would be no surprise for Adam to match or improve on his best of fourth overall (2016).
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) – A few weeks ago the 2014 Tour champion was saying he’d target stage wins at this year’s race. That wasn’t surprising given he’d raced the Giro in May, finishing second no less. But now, on the eve of the Tour, Nibali has said he might target the GC after all. More specifically he’s said “I will listen to my feelings” and that “I will see where I am” after the stage 6 summit finish.
This is an intriguing prospect. It’s hard to see Nibali being fresh enough to challenge for the overall victory, even if he does tend to get stronger towards the end of Grand Tours, relative to his rivals. But if the GC battle does prove too much, Nibali targeting stage wins will be great for the race. Either way fans should be treated to some exciting racing from the Shark of Messina.
Note as well that Rohan Dennis is in the Bahrain-Merida line-up. After his second overall at the recent Tour de Suisse the Australian is clearly in excellent form, but how that will translate to the Tour really isn’t clear. His big target will be the one ITT (where he’ll be the favourite) but if he can stay high up on GC throughout, and particularly if Nibali falls away, Dennis could well try for a high overall placing.
Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) – It’s no secret that Porte hasn’t had a great year. He’s battled several illnesses in 2019, and while he won his traditional Willunga stage at the Tour Down Under, that’s his only win and he’s looked a long way off his best for most of the year.
Porte will be hoping to ride himself into better form as the Tour goes on, likely with the goal of finishing on the podium. Look to the summit finish on stage 6 to see how he’s progressing. Of course, part of Porte will probably be happy just to finish the Tour unscathed, after crashing out on stage 9 the past two years.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) – To say there’s pressure on the French GC contenders this year would be quite the understatement. Indeed, L’Equipe recently ran a headline saying “This year, or never”.
Bardet does have a good shot this year, particularly on a route that appears to favour the climbers. Bardet’s season so far mightn’t look impressive (no wins) but that’s not unusual. He didn’t win in 2016 before finishing second overall. Another podium finish is very achievable.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) – Unlike Bardet, Pinot does have some wins on the board in 2019. He won the overall at the Tour du Haut Var and the Tour de l’Ain. Recently he was fifth at the Dauphine and rode well in the mountains. Pinot is another rider that benefits from the climber-friendly course. Can he match or improve his best of third overall (2014)? Yes, if everything goes perfectly to plan.
Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) – The Dutchman was very good at last year’s Tour and finished fifth for his troubles. On paper, with last year’s second-, third-, and fourth-placed finishers missing this year, the podium is now a possibility. Of course it’s not quite as simple as that, but expect for Kruijswijk to be around the mark.
He’s had a good start to the year: of the three stage races he’s finished, his worst overall placing is sixth. Another Tour top five is well within his grasp and if everything falls into place, the podium certainly isn’t beyond him. Note that George Bennett is in attendance too. The Kiwi will certainly be a handy super-domestique for Kruijswijk or a good second option for Jumbo-Visma if Kruijswijk falls by the wayside.
Beyond those that are likely to challenge for the final podium, there’s a bunch of riders who should also be in the conversation for the top 10.
Rigoberto Uran and Michael Woods (EF Education First) – It would be a surprise to see Uran on the final podium, but the same was true ahead of the 2017 Tour when Uran finished second. Uran hasn’t won a race this year but he didn’t before the Tour 2017 either, so write the EF leader off at your peril, particularly with three summit finishes above 2,000m. The top five is very doable.
As for Woods, well, he continues to improve as a GC contender and was seventh at the Vuelta in 2017. It sounds like the Canadian might be more focused on stage wins than the overall but if he does focus on GC, the top 10 isn’t beyond him.
Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates) – Martin has finished top 10 in each of the past three Tours with his sixth in 2017 being the high-water mark. Another top 10 seems a fair bet for the Irishman, who will have Fabio Aru in his corner this year. If Martin falls out of the GC race, expect both Martin and Aru to be dangerous stage-hunters later in the race.
Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) – The German climber has ridden four stage races this year and his worst overall finish was seventh at the Tour de Romandie. Third overall at the Dauphine and Basque Country and fourth at the UAE Tour are no joke.
Buchmann was 15th overall in 2017 (he didn’t race the Tour last year) and it’s not hard to see him sneaking into the top 10 in 2019.
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) – The lanky Russian has made a habit of finishing inside the top 10 of Grand Tours, with four such finishes in the past three years. Another similar result is possible at the Tour, but that will likely depend on how well he’s recovered from the Giro, where he finished 10th. Note that Zakarin isn’t the best descender in the peloton so he might lose time on the likes of stage 18, with its 30km descent off the Galibier to the finish.
Enric Mas (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – While Mas’ Belgian squad will focus on stage wins at the Tour, the young Spaniard is well worth keeping your eye on in the GC battle. He’s been nibbling away inside the top 10 of stage races all year (including ninth at the recent Tour de Suisse) and as he showed with second at last year’s Vuelta he’s more than capable over three weeks. A top 10 finish for the talented 24-year-old wouldn’t be terribly surprising.
In all likelihood there’ll be seven stages decided in a bunch sprint at this year’s Tour, possibly more if a few of the lumpier stages are raced defensively. Here are the sprinters to beat:
Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep): In just his second Tour de France, Viviani will be looking to bounce back from a frustrating Giro d’Italia earlier this year. The Italian has six wins for the year, including two victories at the recent Tour de Suisse. It would be a surprise if Viviani left the race without his first Tour de France stage win.
Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) – Over the past couple years the Dutchman has developed into one of the best sprinters in the world. He’s won 10 races this year, including two at Paris-Nice, and he should add to his three career stage wins at the Tour in the coming weeks.
Note that Wout Van Aert is also in Jumbo-Visma squad. The Belgian has shown himself to be more than competent in bunch sprints lately, and even beat the likes of Sam Bennett to win a stage of the Dauphine recently. Groenewegen will likely be the Dutch team’s main man, but Van Aert should get an opportunity at some point. A slightly uphill finish perhaps?
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) – Ewan finally gets to make his Tour debut this year and does so with a great shot at a stage victory. The Australian won two stages of the Giro in May before heading home early, meaning he’ll be well rested for the Tour. A win on debut is a real possibility.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – It will be odd to see Sagan racing in regular team kit on stage 1, but it’s not hard to imagine him ending up in green (or yellow) before too long. As with Viviani, it would be a surprise to see Sagan leave the Tour without a stage win to his name. But unlike Viviani, who needs a mostly flat sprint, Sagan can win on tough uphill drags as well.
The Slovakian brings good form into the Tour — he won a sprint at the Tour de Suisse — and while he’s only got three wins for the year, he’s likely to add to that at the Tour.
Michael Matthews (Sunweb) – Matthews might have been unsettled by the withdrawal of his GC leader Dumoulin, saying he hasn’t worked on his sprint, but it would be foolish to write off the Australian. Like Sagan, “Bling” is great in a tough finish and if he has been working on his climbing like he says, he might factor in stages he wasn’t able to previously.
Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) – The withdrawal of Fernando Gaviria (due to a lingering knee injury) is a blow for UAE Team Emirates but in Kristoff the team has a very solid second option. He’s a three-time stage winner at the Tour and while he’s a little past his best, the same was true last year when he won on the Champs-Elysees.
Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) – The European champion is very strong on the tougher finishes and already has two Tour stage wins to his name. Watch for him to tussle with the likes of Sagan and Matthews.
Andre Greipel (Arkea Samsic) – Greipel is probably unlikely to take a stage win, but it’s not out of the question. The 36-year-old German only has one win for the year (at the UCI 2.1 Tropicale Amissa Bongo) and he won’t have nearly the same lead-out train he did in his heyday. But the veteran is crafty and powerful and he’d love to show he can still mix it with the youngsters.
The opportunists and stage-hunters
The Tour isn’t just made up of days for the sprinters and days for the GC men. There are plenty of chances in there for riders with the strength and courage to get off the front. Here’s a selection of the riders you should keep in mind:
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – The Frenchman is probably the most versatile rider on the planet at the moment. Reduced bunch sprints, tricky uphill finishes, breakaway wins in the mountains — Alaphilippe can do it all, and has. He won two stages last year en route to winning the KOM jersey and another stage win is probably an expectation at this point.
Most of the Astana team – While Astana will be largely focused on Fuglsang’s GC ambitions, the team has plenty of riders that can get up the road and snag a stage win. Pello Bilbao won two stages of the Giro doing exactly that, Luis Leon Sanchez has had a very good year and is a big threat (he was second beyond Valverde at the Spanish Nationals last week), and Omar Fraile won a stage last year from a break. The Kazakh squad has plenty of options and a stage win is very likely.
Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) – The former U23 world champ already has a stage win at both the Vuelta and the Giro and he’s certainly capable of completing his collection this year. Loves getting away late and is very dangerous when he does.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) – A late escape, a reduced bunch sprint – EBH can win from either. He’s a three-time Tour stage winner already and another win wouldn’t be a surprise, particularly after his bunch sprint win at the recent Dauphine.
Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) – The Olympic champ’s Spring Classics mightn’t have gone to plan but another Tour stage win would be a terrific consolation prize. His two wins so far have come from a late escape and from a long breakaway in the hills. He’s capable of repeating either (or both) this time around.
Note that for the first time in its history CCC doesn’t have a GC contender for the Tour. As such, the whole team will be in search of stage wins. Watch for the likes of Paddy Bevin (in the ITT or in a big late-Tour breakaway), Alessandro De Marchi (from a mountain breakaway) and Simon Geschke (likewise) to be particularly visible.
Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) – The recently crowned Latvian champion will likely be given free reign at some point (when he’s not riding for Porte). If he can get up the road, he’s very dangerous.
Niki Terpstra and Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie) – The former is a great bet for a late move on the lumpier days. The latter won a stage from a mountain breakaway a few years back. Both are worthy of your attention.
Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) – Won a stage of last year’s Giro from a breakaway. Very dangerous in tough, hilly races. Expect to see the new German champ up the road on several occasions.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) – De Gendt getting into breakways is a given at this point. And he’s not just there making up the numbers — the Belgian can certainly win another stage this year.
The green jersey battle looks to be an interesting one. Sagan is the favourite to win a record-breaking seventh jersey, but he’s got some stiff competition. Matthews won green in 2017 and will likely be keen for another bite of the cherry, particularly with no Dumoulin to worry about for GC, and particularly given he’s been working on his climbing.
Wout Van Aert is a fascinating wildcard. He sprints very well, time trials like a boss, and if he find his way into breakaways in the mountains, he could just give Sagan and Matthews a run for their money. Whether the green jersey is even a goal remains to be seen.
As for the KOM jersey, well, it looks likely to be a mainly French affair. If Alaphilippe wants it again he’ll be very hard to stop. Then again, the in-form, newly crowned French champion Warren Barguil is capable of disrupting those plans — after all, he did win the polka dots in 2017. It will be interesting to see if this year’s Giro KOM Guilio Ciccone will be allowed to attempt the double, or if he’ll be required to ride for Porte. The latter seems more likely.
And as for the best young rider, well, if Egan Bernal finishes the Tour he will almost certainly take the white jersey. Enric Mas is perhaps the next-best-placed in that battle.
How to watch the race
If you’re watching from Australia, SBS has you covered with a combination of live streaming via the Tour Tracker app, SBS OnDemand, and TV broadcasts. Check out the SBS Cycling Central website for all the details.
If you’re in the US, NBC Sports is a solid go-to, so too is Fubo.tv. ITV4 will have every stage live in the UK, while Eurosport is a solid option throughout Europe. As ever, be sure to check steephill.tv and your local guides for the most up-to-date information.
Who’s your pick to win the 2019 Tour de France? What are you most looking forward to about the race?