Caleb Ewan, the dominant sprinter of the Tour de France
It looked as though no sprinter would emerge dominant in the 2019 Tour de France, with each of the top-tier fast-men taking one stage each in the first half of the race.
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Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was the first and only sprinter to pull ahead when he took a second stage victory deep into the race in Nîmes, but he and his sprinting rivals faced the daunting task of surviving the impending Alpine stages before their final opportunity on the Champs-Élysées.
Miraculously, all the major sprinters made it through the last mountains without incident, setting up one of the most tightly contested sprints in Paris in recent seasons.
Ewan opted for a different sprinting technique on the rough finishing straight, instead riding more upright and forgoing his customary extreme aero tuck, and the tactic worked perfectly.
Starting from a long way back, Ewan sprinted into the gap of riders in front of him to catch their slipstream as three rivals were spread across the road, the huge injection of speed allowing him easily to pass on the right-hand side of the road.
Only Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) came close to matching Ewan on stage 21, as the Dutchman went left but couldn’t equal the massive acceleration of the Australian.
Ewan’s first time in the Tour has been an unmitigated success, as he finishes a Grand Tour for the first time and emerges as the dominant sprinter, having won all three sprint opportunities in the second half of the race.
Chaos in the Quick-Step train as Elia Viviani misses out
Elia Viviani will have been desperate to win arguably the most prestigious sprint of the year in Paris, having been unable to prove himself as the most talented powerhouse in this year’s Tour.
Fortunately the Italian claimed his stage win early in the race on stage four, easing the pressure on himself and from the team, but Viviani will still have been itching to notch another victory in France after taking his first Tour win.
The frustration of having missed out to cyclcross star Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on stage 10 and again to Caleb Ewan on stage 11 will have nagged Viviani.
But something went very wrong in his Deceuninck – Quick-Step in the final kilometres of stage 21, as Viviani found himself detached from his train with 1,200 metres to race.
The narrow run-in prevented him from moving back up to regain contact with his team, who were drilling the pace on the front into the final turn.
Viviani hit the final straight in 13th wheel, well out of contention for the stage, so Quick-Step opted to back Argentinian champion Max Richeze in the sprint instead.
Lead-out rider Richeze put in a valiant effort, hitting the front of the race for a margin of a second before Caleb Ewan and Dylan Groenewegen fired past on opposite sides of the road.
While even one stage victory is enough to make a rider’s season a success, Viviani will no doubt be frustrated at not being able to repeat the glory and his performance in Paris shows we are not seeing him at his best this year.
The familiar sight of Team Ineos in yellow
Since that first win back in 2012, we have grown accustomed the the familiar sight of the yellow-adorned jerseys of Team Sky – now Ineos – raising their champagne glasses on the roads around Paris, and 2019 was no different.
The British outfit have now won seven of the last eight Tours de France with four different riders, this year making history once again by putting the first ever Colombian on the top step after stage 21.
Egan Bernal is also the youngest Tour winner in the post-war era and the most junior rider to ever win in the yellow jersey (which was introduced in 1919), making this a momentous occasion for a team that may be getting bored of winning.
The 2020 Tour will be far from the minds of the riders, but management may already be considering how to the balance the ambitions of three proven champions, with Geraint Thomas finishing second this year and Chris Froome on the comeback trail after horrific injuries suffered last month.
How will the most elite of all elite cycling teams navigate future Grand Tours with their embarrassment of riches? Watch this space.
Peter Sagan crosses the line in green for a seventh time
Speaking of familiar sights, how about Peter Sagan draped in the hulkish green of the points classification?
In a Tour of historic moments, Sagan’s successful attempt to win a seventh green jersey may have been buried beneath the dozens of other memorable moments.
Sagan is now the most consistent winner of the Tour’s points classification, waltzing ahead of Erik Zabel who held six.
This year’s Tour may have been a comparatively quiet affair for the Bora-Hansgrohe superstar, with Sagan taking just one stage victory, but his nine top-five finishes reaffirmed his remarkable consistency across all sorts of terrain.
It’s likely to be all focus on the Yorkshire Worlds for Sagan now, to see if he can retake the rainbow bands that have also become an emblem of his glowing palmarès.
Romain Bardet settles for polka dots instead of yellow
The great French hope Romain Bardet has been one of the major disappointments of this year’s Tour, as I’m sure he will admit himself.
With the absence of both four-time winner Chris Froome (Team Ineos) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) due to injury, twinned with the prevalence of high mountains, it looked as if 2019 could be the year for Bardet.
But it wasn’t to be as the 28-year-old repeatedly lost time over the three weeks, with the 20 minutes he lost on the Tourmalet stage the final nail in the coffin of his GC hopes for this year.
With Ag2r La Mondiale not winning any stages of the 2019 Tour, it looked as though the French squad could be leaving empty handed, but their Tour was somewhat salvaged as Bardet took the lead in the climber’s classification on stage 18.
Thanks to bad weather conditions, two climbs were removed from stage 20 making the task of holding the polka dot jersey that little bit easier for Bardet, who rolled through Paris wearing white jersey and (controversial) white shorts with the prestigious dashes of red.
While Bardet said winning the polka dot jersey was a childhood dream, we know in reality he will be disappointed not to take home the yellow, with the King of the Mountain jersey a poor consolation for such a talent.