TOULOUSE, France (VN) — While stage 12 of the Tour de France is not expected to produce as many fireworks as the three stages that follow it — the lone individual time trial and two big mountain stages — teams are preparing for anything and everything in the Pyrenean hors d’oeuvres on Thursday.
The stage covers 210 kilometers to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, with two passes that top out above 1,500 meters and a 32-kilometer descent to the line.
“Maybe Egan Bernal is right, maybe nothing will happen, but maybe not!” race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) explained after putting on the race leader’s yellow jersey. “But in my mind, I will prepare myself for the favorites to do the race all out — this is the Tour de France after all.
“All the riders who will want to gain time, they are looking at me. I’m just happy to be in the yellow jersey one more day. I’m prepared for everything.”
Most are preparing for the days to follow stage 12 to Bagnères-de-Bigorre: three serious tests for those who want to win the overall. But like stage 11, which saw crosswinds tear the race apart, the riders will need to be ready for anything on a dynamic stage 12.
“I would say this is the hors d’oeuvres, the starter — there are still two hard climbs, the Peyresourde and the Hourquette,” Team Ineos sport director Nicolas Portal explained. “It’s a pretty hard climb, it’s on a small road, all in the forest, pretty steep, and then on the top, still a lot of kilometers going down, descending to the finish.
“We can expect to be attacked by anyone, but we have to stay all together and work as a unit. But it will be more about making sure our leaders ‘G’ [Geraint Thomas] and Egan [Bernal] don’t spend energy and we bring them to the finish.”
Thomas tops the list of potential 2019 Tour de France winners by four seconds over his teammate Bernal, 15 on Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), and 33 on Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe). Other dangerous contenders, who lost time on that decisive stage 10, sit farther back, like Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and they may need to try something.
Those riders at the top, though, will want to save as much strength for the time trial Friday and the two summit finishes this weekend, to Tourmalet and to Prat d’Albis.
“There are some riders who need to make time up on GC, so I think that we are in a really good position and we don’t need to take many risks before the time trial,” said Colombian Bernal. “Tomorrow’s stage will be the first one in the mountains and I don’t know what to expect. I just hope to feel good. I think it’s too early to go on the offensive, especially with the TT and another difficult mountain stage to come right after. But, in any case, I’m sure there will be some attacks.”
Kruijswijk, who has been encouraged by the strength of his Jumbo-Visma team thus far through the Tour, believes the race is in Ineos’s hands.
“The pressure lies mainly with Ineos; it is up to them to control the day,” Kruijswijk said. “We don’t have a team like them in the mountains. I’m more looking forward to the Tourmalet ride. Then we are above 2,000 meters and you get a very different picture. Then the week of truth in this Tour will really start.”