Grand Tours can be tough to follow down here in the southern hemisphere. The time difference means that dedicated viewers are feeling something akin to a medical experiment towards the back end of week two, right when the race is starting to get interesting.
As cycling fans know all too well, anything can happen at any time – look at the last few weeks. For the seasoned professional, a great Tour de France can make or break a season. For the couch peloton, a great Tour de France is one with a considered approach to the things that matter, from your #toursnacks to your sleep patterns. To help, and to keep you on the right side of your boss, I’m going to give you a rundown of the stages that are must-watch so that you know when you can roll back through the bunch and head to the autobus to catch up with the highlights. Luckily, with the help of the SBS On Demand, you won’t miss a moment of the most exciting 23 days in July.
Ahead of Saturday’s Grand Départ, here’s the opening installment of the 2019 Tour de France stages to watch – it’s going to be a big first week or so; the sleep bank had better be overflowing. I’ll give you a rundown of the next stretch on the first rest day.
Saturday, July 6: Stage 1 – Bruxelles > Brussel 194.5km
We’re in Belgium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Eddy Merckx’s first of five Tour de France wins, and there’s a distinct classics flavour in the air, probably along with that of fried food and beer, but don’t let it fool you.
The parcours will take the peloton over the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg however, nearing the 50km mark, they won’t impact the race other than delivering the first points for the polka dot jersey.
It’s a big day for… the sprinters as the agenda will be set for the green jersey with a bunch sprint to decide the first man to wear yellow. The finish is ever so slightly uphill over the last 500m. Can Dylan Groenewegen continue his winning streak, will it be Elia Viviani opening the Wolfpack’s account for the Tour, or can Australia’s Caleb Ewan earn a dream debut?
Sunday, July 7: Stage 2 – Bruxelles Palais Royal > Brussel Atomium 27.6km
From the mid-70s through to the mid-90s, you would be hard-pressed to find a Tour de France without a TTT. Nowadays, if they’re included – there’s been just five in the last 14 years - the shorter, the better.
It’s a big day for… the GC contenders. A below par performance today could put a dent in a bid for the overall win without being utterly devastating.
We’ll also get a great insight into Team Ineos’ leadership dilemma with the best GC-hope usually the first rider past the post at the finish. Will it be Geraint Thomas or Egan Bernal? On paper, and even without Chris Froome, Ineos should be favourites. Bahrain Merida, Sunweb, Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott will fight it out for the minor placings.
Monday, July 8: Stage 3 – Binche > Épernay 215km
This one has a sting in the tail, and if you like the classics, Stage 3 is for you. But not all the action is expected at the end of the stage with the winds likely to cause splits in the peloton on the run south. The GC contenders will need to be on their guard. It’s a stage for the puncheurs with five short Cat 4 and 3 climbs in the last 50km to decide the final selection.
It’s a big day for… Michael Matthews. The Aussie claimed pre-race that his sole focus had been on supporting Tom Dumoulin. Today we’ll get a true indication of his form – this is a stage made for Bling. Given Julian Alaphippe’s shape, expect him to be in the mix, and of course, Peter Sagan. If Greg van Avermaet’s form has improved, this is a stage where he typically thrives.
Wednesday, July 10: Stage 5 - Saint-Dié-des-Vosges > Colmar 175.5km
This is a tough stage and just a taste of what’s to come. Three key climbs await the peloton in the final 66km. Given what’s ahead on Thursday, the break might be given the nod here, or it would be a great day for a late attack.
It’s a big day for… Jakob Fuglsang. The stage should suit the reigning Liège winner and ten bonus seconds for being first across the line might come in handy. This is a day for those who excel in the Ardennes. Will Valverde be let off Quintana’s leash?
Thursday, July 11: Stage 6 – Mulhouse > La Planche des Belles Filles 160.5km
The finale today is designed to put the more than a few members of the peloton in the hurt box. There are seven climbs in total – four of them, including the summit finish Cat. 1s for a total vertical gain of 4000m. Ouch. We’ve been treated to a finale on La Planche des Belles Filles before, but not like this. The previous finish line has been moved up the road about a kilometre, the vast majority of which is a gravel road, which kicks up to 24%. The GC battle will be on.
It’s a big day for… Thibaut Pinot. The French favourite’s hometown is about 20km away and much of the day’s stage is on his regular training roads. This familiarity could be both a blessing and curse given the intense focus on Pinot’s fortunes at the Tour in 2019.
Saturday, July 13: Stage 8 – Mâcon > Saint-Étienne 200km
If you’re a race organiser, this is the sort of stage that you keep up your sleeve to truly test the peloton and given what the GC contenders have already had to navigate before the rest day, and knowing what’s to come, it’s a wily play. Because of the challenge ahead in the Alps and Pyrenees, there’s a good chance we’ll see a breakaway disappear over the seven punchy climbs.
However, the constant up and down of the stage also opens the door for a few of the GC contenders with questions marks over them to kick a bit of time into their rivals.
It’s a big day for… Romain Bardet and Dan Martin. Two guys at risk of landing in the back of the GC’s top 10, if not further down the order. The parcours suits both and as such, it’s an excellent opportunity to claw some time back.