The biggest cycling race of the year is just around the corner so it’s high time we had an in-depth look at the key stages and riders to watch, as well as at all the gorgeous bikes that will be filling our TV screens for the next three weeks…
The key stages
This year’s Grand Depart takes place in the Belgian capital of Brussels with a long and lumpy sprint stage that features two infamous Flandrian climbs, the Bosberg and the Muur van Geraardsbergen. The peloton will stay in Brussels for stage two where they’ll complete a testy 27km team time trial around the city centre. This stage won’t decide the winner of the 2019 edition, far from it, but it will certainly throw the proverbial cat among the pigeons and create some gaps between the overall contenders.
From Brussels, the race heads down France’s border with Germany and towards the Vosges Mountains, the location for stage six’s dramatic summit finish up the infamous La Planche des Belles Filles. This climb has featured on a number of editions over the past decade, but this year marks the first time that the climb clambers up to the steepest summit of the mountain, tackling an unpaved road in the process.
Going into the second week of the race, the riders will enter the Pyrenees, a mountain range famed for steep, lung-busting climbs. The toughest of these climbs comes on stage 14 with a summit finish atop the gruelling Col du Tourmalet. This is a monster of a climb and should spark one incredible GC battle, especially considering it comes just a day after the race’s one and only individual time trial.
The mountains don’t relent going into the third week, if anything they get even tougher, the peloton facing down the likes of the Col de Vars, Col d’Izoard, Col du Galibier and Val Thorens on stages 18, 19 and 20. It’s on this trio of Alpine stages that the final GC will be decided, a fitting mountainous end to one of the toughest Tour de France routes of the past decade.
Ones to watch
With Chris Froome out of the race after a nasty crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné, the mantle of main favourite now falls on his two talented teammates – Geraint Thomas, the defending champion, and Egan Bernal, the recent winner of the Tour de Suisse.
Both Thomas and Bernal will be riding the super versatile Pinarello Dogma F12 at this year’s Tour, a bike that has proven again and again its race winning credentials in both the high mountains and on the flatlands.
Another team double-header to keep an eye on is the young yet established duo of Emanuel Buchmann and Patrick Konrad of Bora-Hansgrohe. The pair have yet to prove themselves at a Grand Tour level, but if their one-week stage racing form is anything to go by then they’re certainly going to excel here. They’ll be riding Specialized’s S-Works Tarmac throughout the race, the lightweight climbing machine returning to snatch even more stage wins after taking two just last year under the control of French swashbuckler, Julian Alaphilippe.
Another GC contender to look out for is Trek-Segafredo’s Richie Porte. He’ll be riding Trek’s nimble and super stiff Emonda as we head into the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, aiming to attack from the front and catch the other GC contenders off-guard.
The yellow jersey isn’t the only prize up for grabs this July; we’ve also got the green jersey for riders to battle it out for. The two favourites for this classification, Peter Sagan and Elia Viviani, will both be riding the aero-optimised S-Works Venge, levelling the playing field and making their rivalry a pure man-to-man drag race.
Also throwing themselves into the green jersey mix will be Fabio Felline and Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo. While they won’t be winning any bunch sprints, they’ll be hoping that they can steal a few intermediate sprint points, perhaps an uphill stage finish or two, aboard their super slick Trek Madone aero bikes.
After all this Tour talk you’re probably itching to get out there on your own bike. If you are, then why not head down to the store before you do and get a quick service – you’ll be flying up the climbs after we’ve given it a touch with the ‘magic spanner’…