Roundtable: How does this Tour de France compare to the others?
The final glass of champagne has been poured and guzzled, and now we are left to ponder the 2019 Tour de France in all of his truncated, rain-soaked glory. What were the most important and exciting moments of the race? And how should we rate this year’s Tour?
Out of five glasses of rosé, how would you rank this year’s Tour de France?
Andrew Hood @eurohoody: A solid four. Why not five? For me, the DNS’s of two key favorites — Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin — took a little luster off the GC fight. As a result, their collective absence opened up the race and certainly made it the most dynamic and hard-fought in a long time. Weather troubles and the shortened final two mountain stages, however, drained some of the drama out of the race. The final weekend was supposed to decide everything, so to have the rug pulled out of the GC battle knocks a glass of rosé off this one for me.
Fred Dreier @freddreier: Three full glasses of rosé, with two spilled out on the floor. Hot take: This year’s Tour de France was meh, but only because of its sour ending. It was marching toward immortality after the Pyrenees—it could have been an all-time great. And then, the wind was taken out of its sails. First, the abandonment of Thibaut Pinot removed the only climber who was really capable of challenging Egan Bernal. And then, the shortened stages erased the possibility of two potentially dramatic battles. That will, for me, be the lasting legacy of this year’s Tour. It was headed toward a potential five-star rating, only to fizzle into mediocrity.
Chris Case @chrisjustincase: I’d give it four glasses. There were several incredible storylines woven through this Tour, making for fairly continuous intrigue. But there were also several stages that had me snoozing — stereotypical Tour stages that were too long, too hot, and too boring, and ultimately inconsequential, unless you count the cumulative fatigue that hurt the chances of rider’s being explosive on subsequent days. The other knock against this Tour was its ending. For me, the fact that stages 19 and 20 were shortened and Thibaut Pinot abandoned, meant that the Tour ended flat and a bit anti-climactic. If I’m being really picky, I’d say the race for the green jersey, or lack thereof, was also a bit snoozy. It would have been nice to see Sagan really have to fight for the record.
What was the best story from this year’s race?
Andy: The French renaissance. It’s been too long without the French in the mix of things. It not only invigorated the race, but energized the host nation in ways that was exciting to see. Sadly, they largely flopped in the closing 72 hours. Pinot’s early departure and Alaphilippe’s inevitable collapse seemed to put things back in place. Bardet saved his tarnished honor with the climber’s jersey. It was the best chance in decades for France to win, and they didn’t.
Fred: For a glorious 48-hour period it really did seem like Pinot had the legs to take down Fortress Ineos. He was stronger than Bernal on the steepest climbs, and was much stronger than Thomas too. To me, the whole cracks-in-the-walls at Ineos was a fun story to follow, if only because the team and its riders seemed absolutely human and vulnerable this year.
Chris: In a word: Alaphilippe. So unexpected and yet so appropriate that it was him, given how much talent he packs. It brought back memories of Thomas Voeckler’s dogged fight to hold yellow in 2004. There’s something special about watching a rider turn himself inside out, and particularly a French rider, to honor the yellow jersey. And in a greater sense, it was really nice to see a greater resurgence in French talent and panache. The exploits of Julian and Thibaut brought such incredible energy to the proud French fans, and that was amazing to see.
What was the most important moment of the race?
Andy: The neutralization and weather-shortening of stages 19 and 20. The mid-race decision to cut short the stage to Tignes due to a mud slide and a deluge of hail, rain and snow changed changed the entire complexion of the Tour. And the trimming of the stage to Val Thorens completely took the wind out of the race. That’s not to say the top-3 finishers would have been any different, but the race was permanently shaped by that twist of fate. Who knows how the final GC battle would have unfolded. Bernal likely would have won anyway. But maybe not. We’ll never know.
Fred: The moment Pinot climbed into his team car during stage 19 was the first important moment of the day, then Egan Bernal’s attack on the Col de l’Iseran was the second. Bernal went and the pack hesitated. Had a strong Pinot been in the group, my guess is he would have countered the move, and the dynamics would have been completely different. But that was the moment when it became obvious that Egan Bernal was the strongest rider in the bunch, and destined to win.
Chris: The obvious answer is the weather-halted stage 19, which, in essence, also halted the battle for the overall title. No, the race wasn’t completely over with after that, but it took a lot of steam out of it. However, I’d also say the stage 10 crosswinds were also incredibly important to shaping the race. In particular, if Pinot and Landa don’t lose those two minutes that day, just think how different the race may have played out. The repercussions were immense.
What was the most exciting moment of the race?
Andy: Stage 15 to Foix. The Alps are longer, but the Pyrenees seem to deliver more drama in the shorter but steeper climbs. That was a belter of a race, and it had it all with long-range attacks, breakaways, steep climbs, technical descents, treachery, hints of strengths and dents in amor. Pinot was on the march and everyone dared to believe he could actually deliver the French miracle.
Fred: The final kilometers of stage 14 to the Tourmalet gave us a great battle. Geraint Thomas was dropped. Alaphilippe held strong. Egan Bernal looked around to see what to do. And it was Pinot who was the most calm and confident, and he was able to finish off the job with the stage win. In that moment we were all Marc Madiot, screaming like a madman at the television.
Chris: I think there were three stages that stand above the rest. The finish at La Planche des Belles Filles never fails to disappoint. This year there were two parallel storylines unfolding simultaneously: the race for the stage and yellow, and the race between the GC contenders. Little did we know that those two storylines would effectively merge for the rest of the Tour. The crosswinds day was dramatic in and if itself, but also intriguing because it wasn’t expected to be so decisive. Those are always some of the most exciting days. And third, it goes without saying that the hail-storm-interrupted stage 19 was one that we’ll never stop talking about. It may not have been as bizarre as Chris Froome’s run up Mont Ventoux, but it still had that zany, “I can’t believe I’m witnessing this” feel to it.
What is the historical significance of this year’s Tour?
Andy: Two things stood out for me: team strength and youth movement. Though there is growing parity among the peloton, a few strong teams continue to dominate the peloton. Only eight teams won stages across three weeks of racing. Jumbo-Visma confirmed its arrival to the elite with its incredible Tour, with four stage wins, a run in yellow, and third place overall. The team was the only one to dare to bring a sprinter and GC options, and have it pay off. Ineos bet solely on GC, and it paid with an unprecedented seventh win in eight years, now with four different riders. The era of the “big teams” is firmly cemented. And Bernal, who wins at 22, confirms a youth wave sweeping the peloton. We are seeing unprecedented number of younger riders having major success across the WorldTour. From Mathieu van der Poel, to Remco Evenepoel, to Tadej Pogacar, to Wout van Aert, to Bernal, the Millennials are taking over.
Fred: Let’s officially pour one out for the Chris Froome era at the Tour de France. Egan Bernal’s ascendance officially turned the page on that long chapter in Tour de France history. While I have no doubt that Froome will return to the Tour, he will never have unfettered leadership duties at Team Ineos. And Egan Bernal, with his superb climbing and great time trialing, is going to be so difficult to beat.
Chris: I’d like to believe this Tour is a sign of better times to come for the Tour, with closer battles, more open and aggressive racing, and the lack of one dominant team. But, only time will tell. Bernal could very well be the next Chris Froome, i.e. he could become that dominant rider around which a dominant team gets built, and then we’re right back to where we were with one team heavily controlling the race and sucking the life out of the Tour. In any case, a lot of riders seemed to have gained a lot of confidence during this Tour — not just Alaphilippe and Pinot, but Wout van Aert, Steven Kruijswijk, George Bennett, Caleb Ewan, among others — and one can only hope that means good things for them (and us) in years to come.