Every rider and fan wants to see the race decided by form and tactics, but not by crashes and mechanicals.
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The biggest loser was Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) who misjudged a corner and almost went into a hedge. Although not a huge crash, it was enough to see him distanced from the GC group and from then on he only lost time. He slipped from second to 10th overall.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) also went down and was forced to ride the final 20km on Geraint Thomas’s bike. His jersey and shorts were ripped and he had some noticeable road rash on his back. The race leader struggled in the final kilometres but only lost a handful of seconds to those in the top 10.
Earlier in the day, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) went down early in the day before the rain started – which was the cause of many of the later incidents – and was forced to withdraw from the race with a wrist injury. Very bad news for his Olympic time trial ambitions.
Romain Bardet attacks to salvage France’s home race
Although France hasn’t produced a Tour de France overall winner since Bernard Hinault’s fifth yellow jersey in 1985, they’ve always managed to pick up stage wins in the intervening years.
However, at the start of stage 19 the home riders had not been first across the line once. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) attacked the GC favourites probably more in mind of moving up on the overall rather than going for the stage as Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) was still up the road.
Bardet caught Costa, rode with him for a little while and then left him behind. The young French rider pushed on and took the stage, and moved his way up from fifth to second on the overall classification.
There is one climbing day left on stage 20 and Bardet is 16 seconds ahead Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in third. If both riders continue their form trends of the last few days, Bardet should be on the second step in Paris.
Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage 19 highlights
Team Sky’s strong team once again made the difference
Wout Poels and Mikel Landa shepherded Froome through the closing kilometres up to the summit finish at Saint-Gervais-Mont Blanc to ensure that he didn’t lose too much time, even slowing on the final bend to keep him chugging to the finish line.
Long before that, Froome’s chief helpers were on hand to keep things under control and every time someone seemed to be attacking they would come back round and reaffirm their authority on the now reduced group.
While nearly all of his rivals were without teammates, the Team Sky leader always had someone on hand to assist.
Adam Yates loses his grip on the podium
Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) has had a fantastic Tour and that remains true regardless of where he might find himself come the final classification after stage 21.
The white jersey wearer was seen in his usual position towards the back of the group for much of the latter part of the stage, which at that time wasn’t of any concern.
However, he started to struggle as the pace went up and the rest of his rivals attacked and counter-attacked. He repeatedly got back on the back but it was one effort too far when Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Quintana pushed in on vain to catch Bardet.
Yates finished bravely but dropped from third to fourth overall, nine seconds behind Quintana and 25 seconds behind Bardet.
Both gaps are bridgeable, but may be a big ask when considering the parcours of stage 20 and how much energy he expended today.
Finally some real attacks
Some fans have complained about this being a bit of a damp squib when it comes to entertaining viewing. Team Sky have been much stronger than all other teams and as long as Froome handles his bike better in the final two stages, the yellow jersey is his.
There was a fear that some of the top 10 were slipping into a trend of defending the position they already held rather than reaching out to improve it. However, stage 19 changed that and was a great race to watch.
Bike changes, attacks, counter-attacks and a shake-up of the top 10 – many of the elements that may have been lacking lately.
With any luck stage 20 will be more of the same, and hopefully Yates can win the stage and get himself back on the podium.