On the surface, stage 19 of the Tour de France between Castelnau-Magnoac and Cahors looks like a dead cert bunch sprint.
But this is 48 hours from the finish in Paris and everyone is on their knees. It won’t be nearly as straightforward as that. If they want a fourth bunch sprint of the race, the sprinters’ teams will have to face down a lot of breakaway moves.
For the attackers, not to mention those teams who haven’t won a stage yet, this is a last meaningful opportunity, as the stage 20 time trial and Champs-Élysêes grand finale will only realistically suit a handful of riders.
This could turn into a hell-for-leather breakaway world championships, basically. Just rewatch last year’s highlights of stage 19, which was on a similar profile.
The fight to get away was fast, furious and sustained. 20 riders ended up putting 20 minutes into the bunch. After a blizzard of accelerations, Matej Mohorič decided the issue by going on a 25-kilometer solo to victory.
Whether an escape succeeds or not will come down to the composition and size of the break. If a big, well-represented group works well together, that could spell trouble for a long chase in the heat behind. They might give up the ghost.
There are a fair few motivated riders with energy left in their legs. That man Mohorič for starters, then other 2022 Tour animators who haven’t got that precious stage victory yet, such as his Bahrain-Victorious teammate Fred Wright, Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo).
Otherwise, if it comes down to a bunch finish on the slight uphill rise in Cahors, expect usual suspects like Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Dylan Groenwegen (BikeExchange-Jayco), Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) and green jersey Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
And then there’s a potential curveball: what if the wind blows a bit harder and a few teams wants to carve up the bunch? Weather-wise, there’ll be a westerly wind as the peloton heads north, gusting at 15-20km/h. In his post-stage 18 interview, Geraint Thomas mentioned his concerns about crosswinds.
It’ll be a coup to pull off splits, but far from impossible. The GC contenders will be on high alert; yellow jersey wearer Jonas Vingegaard will be hoping for a trouble-free day that edges him one step closer to coronation in Paris.
And unsurprisingly in this scorching edition of the Tour, temperatures will be around the 90-degree mark during the race.
What’s on the route
It’s goodbye to the Pyrenees. The route heads north through Auch and through the Gascony region, better known as the French heartland of another sport: rugby.
The race also goes through Valence-d’Agen (105km), where there was a famous finish line protest at the 1978 Tour against split stages, led by a young Bernard Hinault.
The closing 60 kilometers have bumps and rises, with category-four ascents Côte de Lauzerte (135.5km) and Côte de Saint-Daunès (152.5km). There are a few rollers in the finale, which would benefit a cool-headed breakaway attack.
Also worth noting is the uphill finish in Cahors and the twisty final 3,000 meters, which forms a U-shape after crossing the river Lot. Ideal for a lone breakaway to make good a narrow advantage.