Five predictions for ‘week three’ of the Tour de France
We’re headed into the final week at the 2019 Tour de France, and it’s shaping up to be a thriller. That’s saying something, considering how great the race has been already.
This has been the most intriguing Tour in recent memory because it has been so unpredictable, but that’s not going to stop me from following up my week two predictions with another round of prognostications as we head into the home stretch.
Before I look into my proverbial crystal ball, however, it’s probably worth a quick recap of how my last few predictions turned out:
1. Julian Alaphilippe won’t be wearing yellow into the final week.
Alaphilippe made me look smart by holding onto yellow through the time trial, as I’d predicted, but then he turned on me and kept on leading the Tour. He remains in yellow, so this one was wrong.
2. Jumbo-Visma will seriously regret having George Bennett on bottle-ferrying duties when the peloton split on stage 10.
It’s become clear that only with repeated attacks will Alaphilippe’s rivals defeat him. Without Bennett as a GC contender, Jumbo-Visma loses a massive card to play in that game. I did, however, say that Steven Kruijswijk would falter in the mountains, and he’s been fine, so I think I don’t deserve much more than partial credit for this one.
3. The polka-dot jersey battle will be the most interesting storyline in the Pyrenees.
The yellow jersey battle has been great, so this prediction is mostly wrong — but I’ll to try to convince you that I deserve at least a tiny bit of credit. Look, the point I made in this one was that the GC battle would be a heavily controlled affair in the Pyrenees, and that was completely true for at least two of the mountain stages. I fully believe fans would have called stage 14 a snooze-fest if Geraint Thomas had not been dropped along the way. Was this one mostly wrong? Sure, but I’m too pedantic to not point out that I at least got something right.
4. Thibaut Pinot will force his way back into the GC conversation.
Phew, one that fully panned out. Pinot is the hottest rider at the Tour de France right now and a real threat to win it all.
5. Vincenzo Nibali won’t win that stage people are expecting him to win.
I take no joy in this one being correct, but correct it was. Nibali has apparently been suffering some gastro issues, but hopefully he’ll be healthy and ready to battle for some results in this final week.
Being generous, I think I come away from that scoring something like 2.5 out of 5. Not terrible but not ideal. Let’s see if I can do better in week three.
1. Egan Bernal will light up the Alps.
Tour de France organizers decided to embrace altitude at this year’s race, with several big climbs in the third week ascending high into the sky. What has already been an unpredictable race will take more twists and turns as the road rises above 2,500 meters — and Ineos’s Egan Bernal will be in the thick of the action.
With two riders in contention for yellow this July, Ineos can afford to be aggressive right now, and they’ll have to be to claw back time on Alaphilippe. Bernal has the perfect skillset to play that role. He’s an ace climber everywhere but he will really thrive at altitude, and he looked to be in great form on stage 15.
Even if he doesn’t actually win the race – I’m saving that prediction for last – I expect Bernal to dictate the narrative of these high Alpine stages with a few big attacks. He’s a good pick for any stages that don’t go to the breakaway, and no matter what happens, he’s bound to put pressure on everyone else. If and when Alaphilippe does drop out of yellow, I’m expecting a Bernal attack to be a major contributing factor.
2. One of the riders battling for yellow will completely crack in the heat.
The forecast calls for nearly 40-degree heat (that’s in the 100s Fahrenheit) for a few of the days to come at the Tour de France. After two weeks of racing, and with some hard stages on the docket, the heat will catch someone off balance. It might even catch a few someones off balance.
Geraint Thomas said after the stage 13 time trial that the heat proved a major challenge. How will he handle riding for more than just 27.2 kilometers in those conditions? Meanwhile, there should be a handful of riders who manage just fine in the heat, and without necessarily needing to put in a big attack, they stand to rise in the rankings as others fall.
3. Mitchelton-Scott will win another stage.
I promise I’m not trying to pander to the largely Australian audience here. This is pure, unbiased prognostication (and honestly it’s mostly the non-Australian riders that I’m tipping here). There are several days right around the corner that cater to the breakaway. An on-fire Simon Yates is just one of the options Mitchelton-Scott will have in its quest for stage wins.
His brother Adam Yates will be free to go on the attack now, and then there is the faster-finishing duo of Matteo Trentin and Daryl Impey, who look great for stage 17 into Gap.
The team has done an excellent job altering its focus to stage-hunting so far this Tour after Adam Yates’s GC aspirations faded, and that should continue.
4. Julian Alaphilippe will miss the final podium.
He burned me in my last set of predictions, but I’m not wavering. I don’t see Alaphilippe holding onto his yellow jersey to Paris, and I don’t think he’ll finish on the GC podium either.
Even in his rough stage 15 outing, Alaphilippe did a great job limiting his losses. He didn’t completely explode. And yet … without a GC-oriented team to cover attacks for him, I don’t see the Frenchman surviving the repeated climbs of stage 18 and 19. If his rivals are smart, they’ll try to go long and force him to chase, and eventually he will crack.
When he does, there are multiple rivals that will gladly take his spot on the podium. At least six riders sit within striking distance of his lead right now, and one or two others look strong enough to be at least a credible threat if they can manage a Chris-Froome-on-the-Finestre attack.
I’d love to be proven wrong (again), but I see Alaphilippe falling out of the top three. I’d be surprised if he finished in the top five overall. Even if he manages a top 10, however, I’ll be incredibly impressed with a performance practically no one saw coming before this July.
5. Thibaut Pinot will win the Tour de France.
It feels strange writing those words because I’ve predicted big things for Pinot in previews and podcasts over the past few years and he just has not delivered. Even as he has dramatically improved the areas of his skillset that were weaknesses early in his career – descents and time trials – Pinot has managed to find ways to fade in three-week races. His inconsistency inspired me to point him out by name as a rider I wouldn’t want to start on my Tour de France fantasy team.
Well, he’s on my team now. He has been the best climber in this Tour and will have plenty of opportunities to put his incredible form on display in the coming days. Given how he rode stages 14 and 15, I think he would be a clearer favorite to win this Tour if not for his propensity to suddenly collapse just when things are going great in a Grand Tour.
That could still happen, but this year’s Pinot feels like a different rider. He has done everything right so far (apart from dropping time in the crosswinds on stage 10), and the way he crushed stage 15, I wonder if one bad day in the Alps would even sink his Tour. He looks capable of picking up minutes at a time on the hard climbs. Pinot’s Groupama-FDJ squad has looked stellar this July as well.
His track record may not inspire confidence, but I’m buying a ticket for the Pinot train and hoping to ride it to Paris.
So there you have it. Five predictions to follow for the next six stages as this unpredictable race hurtles into its finale. I know I’ll be enjoying this wild ride of a Tour de France no matter what happens, but feel free to never let me live down my predictions if they fail to eventuate.