NÎMES, France (VN) — The French media has understandably been cock-a-hoop (that’s Australian for ‘very excited’) with the successes of local stars Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot in their quest for glory in this year’s 106th Tour de France.
French television, radio, and newspapers — not to mention French websites — have been full of in-depth coverage of the race. The French public have also found new belief and joy in the Tour that has not been won by a Frenchman since 1985 when Bernard Hinault claimed the last of his five titles.
I have enjoyed the French renaissance of ‘their’ Tour. And I felt compelled to see what my colleagues in the press room were also thinking about the race, and how it may unfold by its finish on Sunday.
So, after the Tour moved from the Pyrenees to Nîmes for the second rest day, I asked five journalists from five different countries the same questions about the Tour so far, and what may come this final week.
This is what they had to say.
With the Pyrenees behind us and six days of racing left, including three in the Alps, who will win the Tour?
Jean-Luc Gatellier, France (l’Equipe): Geraint Thomas is the favorite again. He was in trouble on the time trial and at the Tourmalet, but his form is ascending. He will be stronger in the Alps. Look at his position: He is second without having made a great attack.
Leon De Kort, The Netherlands (New Skool Media): Thibaut Pinot might have a fair chance to make the French crazy. He deserves the victory because he is the only one of the top overall contenders who shows guts to go on the attack every moment he thinks it’s possible.
Bonnie Ford, United States (ESPN.com): Pinot. He’s in-form, has solid strategic support from David Gaudu in the high mountains, is profiting from greater parity among top teams — in this race, at least — and heading into very friendly territory in the Alps.
Fernando Llamas, Spain (MARCA): My crystal ball tells me Pinot will win. He has shown he is the best in the mountains, and the Alps are good for him historically. Pinot has more experience than Egan Bernal, climbs better than Thomas this year, and Mikel Landa is too low in the standings.
Tom Cary, United Kingdom (The Telegraph): Who knows? Anyone who claims they do is a bare-faced liar. If you were a betting man you’d probably stick your money on Pinot. He had the best legs of the GC riders in the Pyrenees and is only 15 seconds behind Thomas; I don’t see Julian Alaphilippe hanging on. But if Thomas is to be believed, and he has got over his post-time trial blip, and Wout Poels and Michal Kwiatkowski turn up in the third week, he could yet win a second successive title.
Who gained the most in the Pyrenees?
Jean-Luc Gatellier: It’s Pinot. Until now he has been limited in the Pyrenees. In 2013, he was paralyzed by pressure on the descent of the Pailhères pass. In 2016, he was dropped on the first pass, the Portet-d’Aspet. This year he avoided the bad fate of the Pyrenees by winning on the Tourmalet. This was a very important victory for his career.
Leon De Kort: Again Pinot. He got a stage win, took time, and on Sunday also finished on the podium. He finally seems to have found the right way to prepare for a grand tour.
Bonnie Ford: Pinot, in terms of both time and morale gained from a stage win and a virtual GC coup back-to-back on Sunday.
Fernando Llamas: Spanish rider Mikel Landa has overcome his deep depression after the accident caused by Warren Barguil in Albi. He has not been able to win in the Pyrenees, but has been strong. Although, he lacked a bit on the Tourmalet, he feels well surrounded by his team — except Nairo Quintana. His case is a bit like that of Pinot, sad after not making the front echelon in the stage that ended in Toulouse, but in his case due to his crash caused by Barguil.
Tom Cary: Pinot. Not only did he recover all of the time he lost in the crosswinds last week, he won the psychological battle. He proved he had the best legs — he dropped the best climbers in the world — and now has all of France rooting for him. That has to make a difference.
Who lost the most in the Pyrenees?
Jean-Luc Gatellier: Thomas may be my favorite for the yellow jersey, but he remains the loser of the Pyrenees — I’m including the time trial. He will surely reach his peak form in the Alps.
Leon De Kort: Adam Yates. He must be aware of the fact that he’d better change into a stage hunter, like his brother, instead of trying to finish one time on the podium. There are only a few guys in the world who are able to fight for that goal, and unfortunately, he’s not among them. That’s no shame. There’s nothing wrong with winning stages in grand tours every year.
Bonnie Ford: Nairo Quintana, who has left the GC conversation in reverse gear. It’s hard to parse how much is due to him, and how much is due to the dysfunction of Movistar.
Fernando Llamas: Without looking at the classification, it seems Thomas has lost some hope in the mountain stages of the Pyrenees. It was also a blow for him that Julian Alaphilippe won the individual time trial in Pau by 14 seconds. Ineos as a whole has also lost a little bit in this section of the Tour.
Tom Cary: A lot of contenders here: Adam Yates, Dan Martin, Quintana. In fact, the entire Movistar team had a bit of a shocker over the weekend.
What has been the biggest story?
Jean-Luc Gatellier: Pinot’s “reconciliation” with the Tour de France. Until now, the only reliable French rider was Romain Bardet. Pinot has shown that he has grown, and that he is no longer afraid of the Tour. I think he will finish second or third. Without this error in the 10th stage, when he lost 1:40, he would now be ahead of Thomas in the classification with a lead of 1:25!
Leon De Kort: The fact that the unstoppable train of Ineos is not unstoppable. We might get a wonderful last week, with battles all over the place, and there is a big chance that a rider in another outfit will have the yellow jersey next Sunday. Great for cycling, no?
Bonnie Ford: The long-abandoned notion that the Tour could be won by someone who is not the stereotypical GC contender. Alaphilippe presented the classic Tour dichotomy, provoking simultaneous admiration and questions.
Fernando Llamas: The absence of an absolute patron which adds interest for race followers. I do not remember a Tour in which to predict the name of the winner was so complicated. I think that, with all respect and regret for his injuries, the absence of Chris Froome has been positive.
Tom Cary: The French renaissance has been a wonderful story. FDJ released a video after Pinot’s win on the Tourmalet and it really captured the atmosphere of this race; the sense of joy and excitement that having not one, but two, French riders up on GC brings to the Tour. It has been a long time since the country has felt so connected to what is, let’s face it, a French national treasure. It was taken away from them for a while. Now there is a possibility it might be theirs again. No wonder Emmanuel Macron is turning up for photo ops in the Pyrenees. It’s a vote-winner.
What has been your biggest national story?
Jean-Luc Gatellier: The first French rider in Paris will certainly be Pinot. For now, the beautiful story is that of Julian Alaphilippe. He is the first rider of the hegemonic decade of the Sky-Ineos team to have shown as much determination and audacity in an unexpected role of outsider.
Leon De Kort: The Jumbo-Visma successes. It’s had an incredible first 10 days, with great winners — Mike Teunissen, Dylan ‘the expected one’ Groenewegen, and the amazing Wout Van Aert, but also their tremendous victory in the time trail. And last but not least: Stevie Kruijswijk, who will be climbing on the podium this Sunday in Paris. I don’t know if he will be first, second, or third, but Jan Janssen and Joop Zoetemelk will get company in the history books.
Bonnie Ford: It’s been a rather subdued race for Americans, with only four starting and three left — all support riders. I’ll default to my second home of France, where I grew up ages 12 to 17, and repeat that the shifting fortunes of Pinot have been most compelling.
Fernando Llamas: Landa aside, it has been the Spanish rider closest to winning a stage. It was in Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Pello Bilbao was second in a three-way sprint behind British winner Simon Yates and Austrian Gregor Mühlberger who was third. Pello was the fastest man of the trio in theory, but Yates was smarter. But that Pello was in the breakaway despite his daily task for Astana of helping their leader Jakob Fuglsang, seemed important to me. He had already excelled in the Giro d’Italia, winning two stages. He has developed slowly… We will see him again take some stage wins.
Tom Cary: The state of Team Ineos and whether they are as strong as they have been in recent years. Losing Froome wasn’t ideal, but this is still virtually the same team which dominated last year. The absence of a crack team of Ineos riders drilling it up the final climb day after day has been intriguing — leading to inevitable questions as to whether this is the ‘end of an era’ — and has made for an exciting and open race.
What is the funniest thing you have seen in this Tour?
Jean-Luc Gatellier: On the evening of the Tourmalet stage, we heard the sound of big bells from inside the press room. It was the cows that had approached, pushed by their curiosity of what was inside, and regained possession of their territory lost by all the Tour infrastructure.
Leon De Kort: How some PR-officers of ‘named’ riders run for their lives to the daily podium, followed by their rider, then back to the bus. This really doesn’t make sense!
Bonnie Ford: On the way off the Tourmalet, I was stuck in the usual tedious traffic. Then a donkey walked right up to my car window to greet me.
Fernando Llamas: In one of the early stages when Giulio Ciccone was still the overall leader, he walked down the mixed zone for television rights holders asking if anyone wanted him to speak in Italian because he was tired of answering in English. He asked a journalist, “Do you know how to speak Italian?”
“Yes, ‘vaffanculo,’ [“Go screw yourself”]” the journalist replied.
“Great! Very well,” Ciccone said. Another English interview.
Tom Cary: The video of Marc Madiot celebrating Pinot’s win on the Tourmalet was pure gold, as was Thomas’s Twitter response to George Bennett’s tweet regarding some booing in the Pyrenees: “Ah, I think they were booing you mate.” Brilliant. Outside of the race, Rupert Guinness’s plans for a charity cycling journalist calendar next year!
How does this Tour compare to other Tours you have covered?
Jean-Luc Gatellier: This is the 25th Tour since my first in 1988. I place the 1989 Tour where Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon by only eight seconds in first place; and the 2019 Tour in second place for the show offered by the French riders and indecision that reigns one week from the finish.
Leon De Kort: This Tour is one of the nicest so far of the last, let’s say, 10 years. Every day there are battles, surprising moves, and just beautiful stages. Yes, I like the Tour again. My first Tour was 1994, since then I have covered all 26 from start to finish.
Bonnie Ford: I first covered the Tour in 2000 and have been back 14 times. It’s been refreshing not to know what will happen next. The storylines involving French riders are not just wistful thinking this time, and there’s no super team suffocating suspense. It has been helped by a fantastic course that ASO got just right.
Fernando Llamas: It’s a weird and exciting Tour. Maybe it has something to do with the first one I did, in 1990. Since then I have covered the Tour 13 times. In 1990, a break in the first stage, to Futuroscope, saw a 10-minute lead go to four riders: Frans Maassen, Ronan Pensec, Steve Bauer, and Claudio Chiappucci. LeMond was the big favorite, but Chiappucci took the lead and resisted the American until the time trial on the penultimate stage at Lac de Vassivière.
Tom Cary: The best by a distance. My first Tour was 2014, which was incredible for its Grand Depart in Yorkshire, but a dud thereafter. Team Sky pretty much parked the bus for the next few years after that. This Tour has been a delight; unpredictable, unmissable.