6 Bold Predictions : 2019 Tour De France ~ Bicycling Magazine
The 2019 Tour de France will start on Saturday, July 6, in Brussels, honouring the Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx. While there’s still much to learn, we have a few ideas as to what might happen on the road to Paris.
We know the route, for example, with its uphill bonus sprints and finale in the Alps. We also know that several top contenders are expected to compete. Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) will bring the defending champ, Geraint Thomas, as well as his teammate, four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, to chase record-breaking titles. Movistar’s Nairo Quintana will join them, as will AG2R La Mondiale’s French contender, Romain Bardet.
Aside from this, plenty can change between now and July. See if you agree – or disagree – with these six bold predictions for the 2019 Tour.
1. Kittel Won’t Even Start
Of all the prior guesses we made about the Tour this year, Marcel Kittel’s continued implosion seems like the only correct one. After ending his 2018 season in August, the German won the one-day Trofeo Palma in February, a good sign. But things went downhill quickly, with the Katusha–Alpecin rider failing to take any titles since. At the moment, he hasn’t raced since early April, when he finished 99th in the Scheldeprijs, a race he won five times previously.
Rumours also surfaced that Kittel doesn’t take his training seriously, something he disputes (despite the unfavourable results). Unless he turns things around soon, we suspect the 30-year-old might find himself absent from his team’s Tour roster for the second time in his career – and even worse, out of job entirely given that his contract expires at the season’s end. (Update: Looks like we got one right. On May 9, Katusha–Alpecin announced that Kittel had ended his contract with the team and will take a break from pro cycling.)
Mark Cavendish won four stages in the 2016 Tour, putting him four away from tying Eddy Merckx’s total record of 34. But after he crashed out in 2017 and dropped out in 2018, we wondered if the Briton’s best days were behind him, leaving Merckx’s record safe for another generation. But after spending the second half of 2018 recovering from mononucleosis, Cav is healthy again and showing small signs that his form could return. For a rider who took his last win in February 2018 and has only seven top-10 finishes since, expecting even a single Tour de France stage victory is bold indeed. But Cav thrives in proving his doubters wrong, and we think he has enough left in the tank to take at least one stage, maybe two.
3. No Green for Sagan
Peter Sagan has started seven Tours, taking the green jersey as winner of the Points Classification in six of them – which ties him for the record with Germany’s Erik Zabel. Throughout that span, only the referees have proven able to defeat the Slovak, controversially kicking him out of the race in 2017 after a crash at the end of Stage 4. This year, though, we think a rider might beat Sagan on the road.
He isn’t having a great season; he’s won only once, in January, and thanks to an illness during a key training block, looked off his game in the spring classics, his best races. He certainly has time to turn it around, but with riders like Michael Matthews (who won the green in Sagan’s absence in 2017) and Elia Viviani (who should finally get a chance to lead a team at the Tour) off to terrific starts, we’re guessing Sagan struggles to break Zabel’s record.
4. Thomas Falls Outside the Top 10
We were as surprised as anyone that Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas won the Tour last year. While talented, the Welshman had never before finished higher than 15th in a three-week Grand Tour. But Thomas rode brilliantly, never putting a foot wrong on his way to what looked like an effortless victory. That said, we expect him to fall back to earth and outside the top 10 this year. Winning the Tour brings a great deal of pressure, as media requests and public appearances suddenly clog one’s calendar—pressure to which many riders, especially those considered “surprise winners,” succumb.
Most importantly, there’s Chris Froome, Thomas’s teammate. Froome came into last year’s Tour six weeks after a hard-fought victory in the Giro d’Italia, a calculated risk that left him good but not great in France (he finished third overall). That won’t be the case this year, as Froome is putting all of his focus on becoming the Tour’s fifth five-time champion. Sorry, Geraint, but you have the looks of a one-hit Tour wonder.
5. A Porte Podium Finish
Poor Richie Porte. Despite coming into the last two Tours as a top pre-race contender, the Australian crashed out of both on Stage 9, a terrible coincidence. Now riding for Trek–Segafredo, however, Porte’s bad luck may be behind him. He’s had a quieter start to 2019 than prior seasons, but that means he’ll be fresher come July – and perhaps somewhat of an under-the-radar contender, given his recent performances and infrequent race days. Of course, this could all change if he scores a top finish in a major pre-Tour warm-up event. But if he does, it may leave him feeling ready and confident heading into July. One of the sport’s most complete grand tour riders in that he can both climb and time trial, we expect to finally see Porte on the podium in Paris.
6. A Colombian Wins the 2019 Tour de France
This could be the year a Colombian wins the Tour de France. The timing is certainly right. Thomas looks shaky, Froome is aging, and other top contenders like Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin, and Primož Roglič are focusing their efforts on May’s Giro d’Italia. Our money is on three-time podium finisher Nairo Quintana, who has aimed all his training toward July and impressed in the few races he’s completed so far this season. And don’t count out Rigoberto Uran, who finished second in 2017, or his young teammate, Daniel Martínez, who won the “Queen Stage” at Paris–Nice this spring and whom many consider a Tour contender in the making.
And we know it’s a stretch, but let’s throw in Egan Bernal. The 22-year-old burst onto the radar riding in support of Thomas and Froome in the mountains last year. He then won the General Classification at Paris–Nice in March, turning heads as he proved himself more of complete rider than expected. Unfortunately, he broke his collarbone while training for the Giro, which means he may adjust to be at his best for the Tour. If he does, he’ll likely be asked to support Thomas and Froome again, but this kid’s too talented to stay on a leash for long. If Thomas and Froome falter – and crazier things have happened – don’t be surprised to see Bernal take home his country’s first yellow jersey.
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