The 106th running of the Tour de France concludes this weekend, and a nation is nervous, hoping that a 34-year drought will finally be brought to an end. Riders from the United States, Ireland, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Australia, and Great Britain have won the Tour since France’s Bernard Hinault last rode triumphant through the Champs-Elysee in 1985. This year, in one of the most wide-open, unpredictable Tours in recent memory, Julian Alaphilippe (6-1) carries a country, along with the yellow jersey, through 17 stages on Wednesday. Fellow Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot (13-8) might be Alaphilippe’s strongest threat. Colombian Egan Bernal (4-1), and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas (7-2) round out the favorites.
There was some unexpected excitement of a different sort toward the end of the run to Gap on Wednesday. Two riders— Tony Martin of Team Jumbo-Visma, and Luke Rowe of Team Ineos— were disqualified from the Tour for “acts of violence.” Viewers could clearly see Martin attempt to push Rowe off the road; less clear is what Rowe did, either to retaliate or instigate. After Stage 17, both riders shook hands and issued a joint statement apologizing for what happened in the heat of the moment. The Tour wasn’t interested, expelling them both. Bernal and Thomas will be without one of their stronger teammates, in Rowe, which may be to Pinot and Alaphilippe’s advantages.
Italian Matteo Trentin won Stage 17, but with three Alpine stages left to go, overall leader Alaphilippe is ready. Four riders are within 2 minutes, 2 seconds of Alaphilippe, with Thomas 1:35 behind the leader. Of the hilly, 200 km ride from Pont du Gard to Gap, the 27 year-old former soldier said “it was a peaceful day, it did me good, we reserved energy in this dreadful heat.” His rivals have been predicting Alaphilippe would crack under pressure, but he insisted Wednesday that while “my legs are tired . . . in my mind, I have never felt better.”
Pinot, by contrast, “prefers fishing trips to heart rate monitors, dog walking to wind tunnel testing,” A native of the French heartlands, Pinot will likely shun fame and return to his animals, regardless of the outcome. A “tiger on the bike,” Pinot is said to rely on “passion and feel, instead of science.” Pinot is a prodigious climber, probably why he’s favored through the Alpine stages. Another factor to his advantage will be the weather. Pinot struggles in the heat, and conditions are expected to worsen through the weekend. Pinot will welcome the cold.
Team Sky have won six of the last seven Tours, and Thomas and Bernal stand the best chance of continuing that dominance. Still, the contrasts, and rivalry, between Groupama-FDJ’s Pinot and Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step are already providing cycling fans a welcome change.