This might be the week where you take Friday off – Thursday night is huge, and in this final week of the Tour, you deserve it. An abandon here would be devastating. Just over two minutes separate our top contenders. The shuffling of the decks started late last week, and there’s more to come.
This week consists of a sprint, a day for the breakaway and then a whole lot of climbing before the traditional burn through the streets of Paris.
Will it be a new winner, or will Geraint Thomas go back-to-back? You better be comfortable. Here’s how it will be decided.
Thursday, 25 July: Stage 18 - Embrum > Valloire 208km
Richie Porte has said from the very first week of the Tour that it’s the third week that will indeed decide the race and it’s stages like this that he was warning us about. This is the hardest day of this year’s Tour. It’s a lung buster. There are four climbs for the stage, three of which are over 2000m in altitude, the Col de Vars (2,109m), Col d’Izoard (2,360m) and the mighty Col du Galibier (2,642m). The first rider over the top of the Galibier will earn an eight-second time bonus, awaiting after a fast technical descent into Valloire, is a further 10 seconds. If there was a breakaway, they should have been reeled in by the final climb and so, these bonus seconds become crucial for men locked in the GC battle.
It’s a big day for… Egan Bernal is going to feel right at home on this stage. Just 27 seconds separates the Colombian from team leader Geraint Thomas. The question remains, is Thomas having a day like he experienced on the Tourmalet? What role will Bernal be playing? Today is the day to do some serious damage to the lead of Julian Alaphilippe. The more prolonged stage, with relentless climbing, will not be to his liking.
It’s also an important day in the battle for the polka dots. Tim Wellens will be looking for the break to get a head start on the points because it’s the GC contenders that are coming for his classification lead.
Friday, 26 July: Stage 19 – Saint Jean de Maurienne > Tignes 126.5km
It’s a reasonably short stage, which should mean that it will be raced at a different pace to what we saw on Thursday. Just how much does the peloton have left in the tank? There are five climbs all up, on what is essentially a gradual ascent up to the fourth, the Hors Catégorie Col de l’Iseran at 2,770m, where there are also bonus points on offer in the battle for the polka dot jersey. The Col de l’Iseran also marks the highest point on this year’s Tour, and so the Souvenir Henri Desgrange is up for grabs - €5000.
The peloton will then descend into Val d’Isère, before the final ascent at Tignes.
It’s a big day for… All eyes are on the GC battle. You can’t leave it to chance on Saturday’s penultimate stage. The key will be to pile on the pressure so that fewer of the lead GC guys are left to fight it out on the final climb. From what’s been seen over the second week, that role could fall to the likes of Groupama-FDJ and Jumbo-Visma.
Saturday, 27 July: Stage 20 – Albertville > Val Thorens 130km
Three weeks comes down to this. A mountain stage, exploring 4,450m of vert is far more interesting than a penultimate stage time trial. From Albertville, the peloton climbs to the Cat. 1 Comet de Roselend, via the Col du Méraillet. The two peaks cover a distance just short of 20km averaging 6 per cent. After descending to Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs, there’s a short drag to the Cat. 2 Côte de Longefoy – short and sharp at 6.6km and 6.5 per cent. Another descent and then the final climb of the 2019 Tour de France. Val Thorens. A rise of 33.4km and 5.5 per cent, the kick 5km before the finish line jumps up to just over 9 per cent - victory will be earned. How close is the GC battle? If it matters, time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds are on offer for the first three men across the line.
It’s a big day for… How secure is the yellow jersey? In all likelihood, not very. The race is won and lost today.