Five talking points from stage 20 of the Tour de France 2019
Talking points from the final mountain stage of the 2019 Tour de France
Egan Bernal wins the Tour de France
After three weeks of highs, lows and topsy-turvy drama, Egan Bernal is set to be crowned winner of the 2019 Tour de France.
In doing so, he breaks all sorts of records. At just 22-years old, he is the youngest yellow jersey winner in the modern era, as well as the first ever South American, and the fourth different winner from Team Ineos in eight years.
>>> Egan Bernal sets up Tour de France 2019 win as Vincenzo Nibali takes stage 20
Given the form he was on, today’s single climb to the finish never looked likely to be enough for anyone to dislodge Bernal from the top of the classification, and indeed he was barely put under pressure as his GC rivals were happy to mostly follow domestiques all the way to the finish.
Better still for Team Ineos, Geraint Thomas overtook Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) on GC, meaning the team complete a one-two in GC - the first time they’ve done so at the Tour since Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome at the 2012 edition.
They might not have dominated in their usual fashion, and this year’s edition was an uncharacteristically open race. But they did all they needed to today, setting tempo at the front of the peloton when they needed to, and with Wout Poels sticking with his leaders until virtually the top of the final climb. Ultimately, the outcome arguably makes this their greatest Tour de France to date.
And the future looks like it could even brighter for the team, with a new bona fide superstar crowned in Bernal who looks primed to dominate the Tour for years to come
Heartbreak for Julian Alaphilippe as he slips off the podium
Throughout the Tour we’ve been speculating as to if or when Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) would at last crack. Over the past two days, all those efforts he made earlier in the race to go out on the attack and then dig deep to defend the yellow jersey at last seemed to catch up on him.
Not only was he dropped today, he was dropped very early, with around 13km of the final climb of Val Thorens still to ride. With Geraint Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) all still looking strong at the front of the peloton, from that moment his podium spot looked doomed.
As he has done all race, Alaphilippe continued to dig deep, and by the finish had lost three minutes - so not a complete capitulation, and enough for him to finish fifth overall, which is still a hugely commendable achievement.
One rider’s loss is another’s gain, and Steven Kruijswijk will be delighted at making the podium at the Frenchman’s expense. The Dutchman did not ride in an especially exciting manner, and made no effort to take on Egan Bernal in the yellow jersey, instead choosing to sit on his team-mates’ wheels up the climb to take Alaphilippe out of contention and defend himself from immediate rival Emanuel Buchmann (who road in a similarly passive manner).
But after suffering his own heartbreak three years ago when he crashed while leading the Giro d’Italia, to at last make a Grand Tour podium for the first time in his career is some redemption.
Vincenzo Nibali shows his class with stage win
Few pundits gave the breakaway any chance to surviving on a stage as short as today, with some suggesting that a break might not even form at all.
But it did, and contained some top quality climbers, including Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Michael Woods (EF Education First) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
>>> 'The last few hundred meters felt never ending': Nibali goes long to take hard fought Tour de France stage win
Even then, they were never allowed to get far up the road, with Jumbo-Visma taking to the front of the peloton at the start of the climb and setting a fast tempo.
Nibali proved himself to be the strongest in the break when he attacked a small group including Zakarin, Woods and Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) to strike out alone, whereupon he embarked on a mission to claim the stage victory.
It still seemed like a long shot with 6km to go, when, with Nibali less than one minute ahead, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) instigated the action in the chasing peloton with an attack. But, after a flurry of counter-attacks, things calmed down again in the peloton giving the Italian a chance.
Every other rider who had been a part of the break were eventually swallowed up by the peloton, but Nibali remained resolute, and a lack of attacks by the top GC men helped him stay clear to the finish to claim a memorable solo Alpine stage victory.
The win is Nibali’s sixth at the Tour in his career, and further evidence that the 34-year-old still has was it takes at the very highest level.
The stage goes ahead
It might not have been the thrilling finale that such an exciting Tour de France merited, but we were grateful to have any stage at all to watch.
After the profile for the stage was heavily reduced yesterday, with the first two climbs bypassed for having dangerous roads, there were rumours this morning that further adverse weather might mean that the stage would have to be cancelled altogether.
Even after the stage got going, there were still concerns that it might have to be shortened, with the word being that a revised finish line 11km from the summit of Val Thorens might have to be implemented.
But fortunately conditions smiled on the race, and there was no need for further intervention by the organisers as the riders were left to race on the climb untroubled.
Romain Bardet is king of the mountains
The removal of the first two climbs planned for today’s stage meant that only the Val Thorens remained to determine the winner of the king of the mountains classification
With 40 points available for the first rider to reach the summit, there were five riders still with a mathematical shot of taking the polka-dot jersey from Romain Bardet - Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Egan Bernal (Ineos), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Merida) and former leader Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal).
Wellens gamely gave it a go, by attempting in vain to get into the break with Thomas De Gendt, but the severity of the climb meant that only the purer climbers had any real hope.
Simon Yates was one such rider, and also showed aspirations towards the jersey when he attacked the diminished peloton 6km from the top, but he didn’t have the legs to sustain the move and was soon caught and then spat out by the group.
From this point, the only rider with any chance of dethroning Bardet (despite the fact that the Frenchman had been dropped much further down the climb) was Egan Bernal, who was preoccupied by the more significant matter of defending the yellow jersey.
Nevertheless, the Colombian came within a whisker of winning the classification - he finished fourth at the top of the climb, when third would have been enough.
The result is great news for Bardet, who partially redeems his Tour after the disappointment of his failed GC bid, and a consolation for French fans who were left devastated by the fortunes of Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) over the last two days.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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