There is much intrigue ahead of the 2019 Tour de France Grand Départ in Brussels on Saturday.
The loss of four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome and 2017 Giro d’Italia winner has well and truly put the pressure on two French hopefuls, while the battle within Team Ineos for leadership is as curious as ever. Not all contenders are created equal, so how do they stack up?
Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
Best Grand Tour result: 2nd GC Tour de France 2016
2019 wins: 0
We didn’t see Bardet racing at his best at the Dauphiné but the Mont Ventoux Challenge, where the Frenchman finished second to Jesús Herrada, was a much better indicator. Bardet failed to get any distance over the Spaniard as the pair battled for the win inside the final 10km.
Along with Thibaut Pinot, Bardet will carry French hopes, courtesy of his two previous podium performances. This year’s Tour ITT isn’t a long one, but given Bardet’s poor track record against the clock it still stands to make or break his overall performance.
Egan Bernal (Col) Team Ineos
Best Grand Tour result: 15th GC Tour de France 2018
2019 wins: Paris-Nice; Tour de Suisse
If Geraint Thomas was the internal threat to Chris Froome’s title defence last year, then Bernal is the foil to Thomas this time around. And with good reason. Bernal is flying heading to the start line in Brussels.
The Colombian has said that he’s going to the Tour to support his teammate, but the fact is, he’s the stronger rider and leadership will ultimately be decided on the road. The biggest hurdle Bernal will face is his relative inexperience.
Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
Best Grand Tour result: 7th GC Tour de France 2013
2019 wins: Critérium du Dauphiné, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol; Stage 5 – Tirreno-Adriatico.
Fuglsang is currently enjoying the season of his career. The question is, can he finally pull it all together, fulfilling his promise as a grand tour winner at the Tour? If Fuglsang stays on his bike, absolutely. Astana has an in-form team of solid climbing support around the Dane.
Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
Best Grand Tour result: 1st GC Giro d’Italia (2016, 13); 1st GC Tour de France 2014; 1st GC Vuelta a España 2010
2019 wins: 0
Runner-up at the Giro d’Italia, the Italian must be itching without Froome and Dumoulin on the start-line despite talk that riding for yellow isn’t on his radar. Nibali has had a cruisy run post Giro with a focus on recovery.
Can you trust a shark? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a racer of Nibali’s calibre in the peloton If Nibali gets a sniff and he feels good; he could be staring down the barrel of another Tour win five years on from his first.
Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama – Groupama-FDJ
Best Grand Tour result: 3rd GC Tour de France 2014
2019 wins: Tour de l’Ain, Tour du Haut Var
A serious contender for yellow, Pinot is a realistic chance of the podium, if not for the overall. From the back end of last season where he collected his first Monument at Il Lombardia, to his win at the Tour de l’Ain and then his comfortable 5th at the Dauphine, means that all eyes will be on the Frenchman.
It’s the sort of pressure that Pinot has bolted from in recent years, riding the Giro and Vuelta. L’Equipe’s front page screamed ‘this year or never’ about Pinot and Romain Bardet just last week. How Pinot responds to the French press and adoring home fans will ultimately decide his fate.
Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo
Best Grand Tour result: 5th GC Tour de France 2016
2019 wins: Stage 6 Tour Down Under
It hasn’t been the season that Porte would have wanted for himself to date, but the Tasmanian has managed to find himself starting the Tour with a team concentrating on his GC ambitions. Porte dreams of a podium finish in Paris, but the closest he’s got to that was three seasons ago with two DNF’s following crashes his most recent experience, and it feels like he’s a fair way from the form of 2016.
Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
Best Grand Tour result: 1st GC Giro d’Italia 2014; 1st GC Vuelta a España 2016
2019 wins: Stage 6, Columbia 2.1
If not now, when? Last year, predictions of a Movistar triple threat to Team Sky failed to materialise, and Quintana finished a distant 10th overall. Quintana, of course, is capable of much better and a reasonable assumption would be that he’ll be on the podium this year. The Movistar line-up is impressive, but once again, they can’t let Team Ineos dictate the terms, and this seems the hardest habit to break.
Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Ineos
Best Grand Tour result: 1st GC Tour de France 2018
2019 wins: 0
As defending champion, Thomas is the automatic pick for Ineos’ leadership position. However, while he wears dossard No. 1, there are serious question marks over the Welshman’s form. Abandoning Tirreno-Adriatico, and then crashing out of the Tour de Suisse last month means that Thomas doesn’t have the racing in his legs and he’ll arrive in Brussels a long way from the rider he was this time last year.
Adam Yates (Gbr) Mitchelton-Scott
Best Grand Tour result: 4th GC Tour de France 2016
2019 wins: Stage 4 Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, Stage 1 Tirreno-Adriatico (TTT), Stage 3 Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Stage 6 Itzulia Basque Country
Another rider with a less-than-ideal preparation for the Tour. A former best young rider and fourth overall, Yates on paper certainly has the potential. Some early climbing and a Team Time Trial in the first week should play into the hands of the Mitchelton-Scott line-up.
There’s no doubt that the team will be prepared to defend yellow if they’re in this situation in the first week, but it’s the second week where the pressure will be turned up. Could be top five, or not.
Keep an eye on:
- Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) BORA – hansgrohe – Having a cracking season and might break into the top 10.
- Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma – The team is hedging their bets with Dylan Groenewegen chasing sprint wins, so should you.
- Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar – If Quintana falters, Landa won’t miss an opportunity.
- Dan Martin (Ire) UAE Team Emirates – Will race aggressively as always and has some excellent support in the mountains in Sergio Henao.
- Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education First – The only thing more difficult than making an assessment pre-race on this guy is picking next week’s lotto numbers.