Words by Ian Boswell
What a Tour it has been for the French! Stage victories, the yellow jersey and a country that has long waited for the next Bernard Hinault. Is Alaphilippe the man to win the Tour? When you are good you are good, and he sure has been good over the first two weeks of racing. I don’t think anyone — including Julien Alaphilippe — anticipated he would be riding so high this far into the Tour. I remember first hearing of Alaphilippe in 2015 at the Tour of California. He won atop Mt. Baldy ahead of my teammate Sergio Henao and myself. At the time, he was a young rider, and to go from winning a stage in California to winning multiples grand tour stages and maybe the Tour de France is not something I could have foreseen. His win in this year’s Tour de France TT followed by his climbing legs in on the Tourmalet was a show of dominance.
All these signs make him look like a favorite, however, I don’t think he will take yellow all the way to Paris.
That’s a bold statement, but having done a few grand tours before, I know the cumulative fatigue that can set in when you are consistently riding to your limits. Watching Thomas get popped out of the front group in the last 1200 meters on the Tourmalet didn’t surprise me; he was in the box, and he also has the experience to ride at his limits and minimize his losses. Though Thomas doesn’t appear to have the dominating legs he had twelve months ago, I still believe that his age and experience will come through in the end.
Being in the leader’s jersey probably does give you wings, and it also seems to be like a ball and chain. The media in France are on fire right now, eating up the success of Alaphilippe. Did his team prepare for this attention and all the extra pre- and post-stage engagements that are required? Flying just under yellow, riders are able to cool down, shower and return to the team hotel hours before the rider in the yellow jersey.
Having spent five years at Team Sky (now Team Ineos) I’ve seen first hand the level of preparation and planning that goes into the Tour. Ineos will most certainly have two or three extra staff members to cater to a rider they have in yellow, and even have an extra vehicle at the finish so the rest of the team can get to the hotel ASAP and the rider in yellow can have their own safe and comfortable ride back once their engagements are complete. Does Deceuninck-Quickstep have this system in place? It doesn’t seem likely, and Alaphilippe is probably going to be riding the wave, soaking up the moment and not thinking too far ahead about the logistics that contribute to long term success (and which it seemed Sky had mastered when I was there). This will be Alaphilippe’s golden hour and possibly the curse that could cause him to tumble off the top tier.
At the other end of the peloton is the groupetto. The “laughing group” is anything but that. While the climbers are licking their chops and seeking time gains and stage wins, the sprinters and helpers within the peloton are slogging their way up these climbs, counting down the kilometers until the next sprint day or to their arrival in Paris.
It’s easy to identify the motivation for the riders at the front, but what keeps the riders at the back going? It’s the Tour de France for goodness sake! Of the races I have finished, it is one of the few that I reflect on as a genuine accomplishment in my career. Very few races hold the prestige and notoriety of the Tour, making it, in my opinion, the ONLY race in a rider’s career for which one’s response can be, simply, “Yes, I raced and finished the Tour de France.”
Ironically, Yoann Offredo occupies the lanterne rouge position. A rider who is always active in the long breakaways and spends kilometer on kilometer out front is now in last place in the Tour. He is paying the price for his efforts and perhaps still catching up after struggling with a stomach bug in the first week, but again, it is the Tour de France and riders endure purely for the honor associated with the historic race.
Will Alaphilippe potentially suffer for his efforts in the first two weeks? I get the feeling he is like a surfer riding the swell while it is high. Living for the moment and riding that thrill, will it last into the Alps and the last week of the Tour? I don’t believe so, however, there are plenty of riders and fans who would like to see a Frenchman win the Tour, a first in 32 years.
One thing is for sure: we will be treated to an exciting final week of the Tour.
The Alps lay ahead and in a week’s time, we will know the winner of the 2019 Tour. I’ll be following closely as the drama builds. Who will attack to gain time, who will crack and fade away? The beauty of the Tour and the unpredictable outcome seems somehow more radiant this year than in years past. Fasten your seatbelt and follow closely.
My prediction about Pinot has held true. His form is clearly at the level he needs to finish on the podium in Paris. His fitness and attacking form will continue to Paris and he will be an active rider in the Alps this coming week.
Several times in this coming week, the riders will spend time above 2000 meters of altitude. Most of the Tour riders have done some pre-Tour altitude training to prepare for this. Two-plus weeks in, the effects of altitude training have worn off, but some of the adaptation may persist. The Colombian riders will feel at home at these altitudes. We’ll see the riders who have planned their training and preparation come to the fore to make their bid for glory…
Ian will be writing Inside the Tour from the Outside throughout this year’s race. Expect to see new content each rest day and a recap the day following the final stage in Paris. Ian will be shedding light on the race with the race, his own perspective of the effort it takes to race the Tour and will share some of his stories from the road both past and present.
Join us and Ian for the Peacham Fall Fondo. Held in the historic town of Peacham, Vermont, and home to Ian and his wife Gretchen the route displays some of the most picturesque landscape in the northeast. Registration is filling up quickly so make your plans today.