The 2019 Tour de France has so far failed to disappoint, with some incredible racing over the first week, culminating in a day of nightmares for some of the GC contenders on Stage 10. Some riders, like Julian Alaphilppe, have truly excelled, others like Geraint Thomas and Nairo Quintana are probably right where they thoughts they would be, while some like Michael Matthews and Michael Woods are looking to re-group.
Just 2mins 47sec separates Geraint Thomas 2nd overall) and Richie Porte (20th overall). When such a brutal final two weeks of racing awaits the peloton, it's hard to say at this point how much of a gap is too big to close.
If there's been a constant theme, other than the French renaissance, of course, aided by Alaphilippe and Pinot, it's been that what's to come in the second and third weeks will put significant demands on the GC contenders and they're keeping plenty in reserve.
The first up battle takes us to the mighty Pyrenees, so get comfortable with a tasty selection of #toursnacks, you'll need plenty of energy.
Thursday, July 18: Stage 12 - Toulouse > Bagnères-de-Bigorre 209.5km
Into the Pyrenees, we go! Eventually. Hang in there for this one as the approach to the first of two Cat. 1 climbs is going to take about three hours. The peloton will summit the Pyrenean favourite, the Col de Peyresourde after 146km in the saddle but this is a stage for racers with a non-technical descent off the Hourquette d'Ancizan and a fast 30km to the finish. Bonus seconds are on offer for the first riders to crest the Hourquette d'Ancizan and one gets the feeling that it will prove a tasty carrot for a handful of the GC contenders. It's the same completion to the stage as we saw at the Tour in 2013, where Dan Martin got the better of Jakob Fuglsang for the win.
It's a big day for… Thomas De Gendt is an absolute special here, and it's highly likely he'll go on a polka dot raid and disappear up the road. The parcours is also to the liking of someone like Vincenzo Nibali; although he might be chasing a stage win, so his success is dependent on the breakaway. Julian Alaphilippe's form puts him in the frame here, and you can't rule out Martin and Fuglsang going back to the future either. Perhaps a good stage for Adam Yates to make up some time.
Friday, July 19: Stage 13 – Pau > Pau 27.2km
Yes, it's a time trial, and I don't normally advise staying awake specifically for these but given it's a Friday night, you need a good excuse not to. While it's just short of 30kms, this one will have a little more bearing on the Tour's overall outcome o because it's right in the middle of the three weeks and will be another blow for someone like Romain Bardet a week after La Planche des Belles Filles. The stage isn't quite as hard as the ITT we saw at the end of last year's Tour, the out-and-back loop from Pau has rolling climbs, the toughest of which are in the opening 15km.
It's a big day for… At the time of writing, we Aussies are without a win so far but our World Champion in the time trial, Rohan Dennis. Since collecting his rainbow stripes, the South Australian collected his lone win for 2019 at the recent Tour de Suisse – which was pancake flat, unlike this stage. Dennis hasn't had to go too deep, yet so should have a fair bit in the tank. As for the Tour de France defending champion, Geraint Thomas a win was high on his wishlist in 2018, and he eventually finished third on the stage – he'll be looking for a similar, if not better result today. Wout van Aert fired a warning shot for this stage at the Dauphiné last month with his 31sec win there.
Saturday, July 20: Stage 14 – Tarbes > Tourmalet Barèges 117.5km
The Tour de France loves the Tourmalet but only flirts with the summit for a stage finish. This stage is just the third such occasion, following 2010 and 1974. The combination of the abruptness of the Col du Soulor, the Tourmalet and an entertaining stage length of 117.7km means that this is a Saturday night party you won't want to miss. Once again, there are time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds on offer for the first three riders across the line and given the closeness of the GC battle, every second counts.
It's a big day for… Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, Steven Kruijswijk, Adam Yates, Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot, Rigoberto Urán, Jakob Fuglsang, Richie Porte. These guys are the top contenders for the overall. On a parcours that promotes aggressive racing, there will be a reshuffling of the decks. Where is Julian Alaphilppe? He won't have lost eany longer be a threat to the yellow jersey, so if he's in a select group with any of the aforementioned riders on the final ascent, expect him to put on some hurt. If Vincenzo Nibali didn’t succeed on Thursday, he’ll try again here.
Sunday, July 21: Stage 15 – Limoux > Prat d'Albis 185.5km
When Monday is a rest day, you can afford to go that little bit deeper. Back at home, we're set for a highly entertaining end to the weekend. Spoiler alert: clear any meetings scheduled for first thing Monday. Another summit finish, this time in Foix after 4,700m of elevation gain. From Limoux, the peloton will traverse the Cat. 2 Col de Montségur, Cat. 1 11.4km Port de Lers and nasty Cat. 1 Mur de Péguère, which is some sections kicks up to 18%. The first three riders over the top there will earn 8, 5 and 2 bonus seconds. A fast descent and then the real fun begins up the 11.8km narrow and winding Prat d'Albis where there are more time bonuses on offer on what is a genuinely leg-sapping day. Who's got what left in the tank?
It's a big day for… If you lost ground on your GC rivals on Saturday, you might be able to play catch-up here. On paper, this is a day for Nairo Quintana, Egan Bernal, Romain Bardet and Adam Yates.