The Pyrenees have come and gone, and we now have a clear picture of the final battle that is brewing at this year’s Tour de France. French hero, Julian Alaphilippe, is taking on water. The Ineos duo of Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal are looking extremely mortal. Thibaut Pinot is a the best climber, but he must deal with his time deficit from stage 10. And Steve Kruijswijk is as tough to read as ever.
We’re in for a doozy in the Alps. Let’s roundtable!
What did stages 14 and 15 tell us about the condition of our GC favorites?
Jim Cotton @jim_c_1985: After swashbuckling his way through the first two-thirds of the race, it could be catching up with Alaphilippe. Though it was no disaster for him, he showed his first glimmers of weakness on Sunday, and he sounded like he was throwing in the towel in his post-race interview. Monday’s rest day and Tuesday’s sprint stage comes very well-timed for him. And Pinot has certainly got the fire in his belly. The ferocity of his attack to take second on Sunday’s stage was impressive. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose momentum.
Andy Hood @Eurohoody: Two things: Pinot is the strongest climber in the race. And two, Ineos is no Team Sky. The Frenchman had a superb Pyrenean run, posting a solid TT, winning Saturday and finishing second Sunday. Not only did he erase the 1:40 from his echelon losses, he surged right back into yellow jersey contention. If he has the same legs at the end of next week, he could win. Ineos, meanwhile, isn’t the same suffocating force it has been the past several years. These past few stages have revealed that the team’s depth simply isn’t what it has been. Riders such as Castroviejo, Kwiatkowski and Poels have struggled to be there, leaving Thomas and Bernal at the mercy of their rivals. Instead of setting the tempo of the race, they’re reacting to it. And it’s also clear that neither Thomas or Bernal are blowing the wheels off anyone. Having said that, Thomas or Bernal could still win if they keep holding steady and force their rivals to crack.
Fred Dreier @freddreier: We learned that Julian Alaphilippe is, indeed, mortal, and it seems like he is extremely beatable in the mountains. This Tour de France has become a six-horse race: Thibaut Pinot, Geraint Thomas, Julian Alaphilippe, Egan Bernal, Steven Kruijswijk, and Emanual Buchmann. Of these six, Pinot is the most dangerous, due to his accelerations on the climbs. Kruijswijk is in a great position, but he doesn’t have the accelerations to drop Ineos. Thomas is coming around, however he also doesn’t have the punch, and his Ineos team isn’t as strong as the Team Sky all-stars of yore. Buchman is perhaps the second best climber, but he’s outmanned. And Bernal is a big X-factor.
You are FDJ sport director Yvon Madiot. What is your plan to win the Tour?
JC: At the moment he’s got 1:50 to gain on Alaphilippe, but only needs 15 seconds to move into second place over Thomas. I think it’s a case of more of the same; riding aggressively to take time whenever he can, however he can – be it a 500m dash like on the Tourmalet or a 6km raid like in Foix. He needs to re-gain the momentum he gathered in the Pyenees as soon as he can in the Alpine stages to keep confidence. It’s a shame for him that the first mountain stage is a downhill finish, which perhaps isn’t as well suited for him in terms of gaining on others.
AH: Everyone’s forgetting about the 1:40 loss — Pinot got it back and then some. Momentum is on their side. Pinot is strong and to the brave go the spoils. The longer, steadier climbs of the Alps, however, might not be as favorable to Pinot’s explosive style as the Pyrenees. Pinot is a solid diesel and should still be able to gap his rivals, but riders like Kruijswijk and Thomas can also defend better. The plan is to keep racing aggressively and don’t wait until the final mountain summit. Pinot needs to shed Alaphilippe as well as the others, so they need to move.
FD: Like Jim said, it’s only 15 seconds to Geraint Thomas. The Alps undoubtedly suit Ineos’s crushing riding style better than the Pyrenees, so why not let Ineos do what they do best, and let them simply grind Julian Alaphilippe into paste on stages 18 and then 19? Since Pinot is the best explosive climber at this year’s Tour, he must target the terrain that suits him—a summit finish. There’s just one summit finish remaining in this year’s Tour: Stage 20 to Val Thorens. It’s not as steep as Sunday’s finish outside Foix, but it will have to do. Let David Gaudu whip up the pace on the base of the climb and then unleash Pinot to try and distance Thomas. After all, it’s only 15 seconds.
You are Ineos sport director Nicolas Portal. What is your plan to win the Tour?
JC: He’s got to make a choice between Bernal or Thomas and commit to it. Thomas said that he was left unable to push to his best ability in the final kilometers of Sunday’s stage as he didn’t want to drag other riders up to Bernal, who was up the road. While Thomas has the experience, Bernal is arguably looking stronger, and the high altitude of the Alpine stages suits him well. My heart would tell me to go Bernal, but head say Thomas. I can’t decide between the two of them, but I think Portal does need to make that call soon or both riders’ chances may evaporate.
AH: Don’t panic. Try to use the interests of Jumbo-Visma and Groupama-FDJ to help gap Alaphilippe. And if and when that happens, ride to maintain their GC positions relative to Kruijswijk and Pinot. It’s only a few seconds so time bonuses will matter as well. Save your matches until the final 5km of every climb. Don’t chase the early moves. Don’t jump too early. Use your experience and depth to race intelligently and turn on the gas when it counts.
FD: Grind it out in the Alps, and keep Pinot on a leash. Kruijswijk is a follower, not an attacker, so just keep him in the bunch. For Ineos I think stage 18 is the day to test Alaphilippe with one of their usual grinding high-tempo tests. Put Poels, Kwiatkowski, and then Egan Bernal on the front on the Izoard and Galibier and just see how long Alaphilippe can hold on. Pinot is the danger man, of course, but I don’t know if he can get enough time over the Galibier to take the lead. Geraint Thomas is going to have to dig deep on stage 20 to follow Pinot.
Who is the strongest rider in the Tour de France right now?
JC: I’d say Pinot. He gained over 1:30 on Thomas over the weekend’s stages and looks brimming with confidence in the way he attacks. His mountain men, Gaudu and Reichenbach, are looking good, and unlike Ineos, Groupama-FDJ are riding with a sole purpose and plan. Kruijswijk is quietly consistent, but I can’t see him launching the attacks he needs to make stick if he’s going to take the yellow jersey.
AH: Without a doubt, Pinot. He and Alaphilippe have been since the start. As expected, Alaphilippe is starting to show some cracks. DQS don’t have the team so Alaphilippe can expect to be equally as exposed in the Alps. He showed his inexperience by trying to follow Pinot on Sunday when he didn’t have to. Pinot has the team, legs and momentum. The only thing that could wrong is that the French have forgotten how to win the Tour and they panic and try to move too soon or too often. After all, it’s been awhile.
FD: Pinot. And boy is it a shame about his 1:40 time loss on stage 10.