Sean Yates is former British national champion, wearer of the yellow jersey and is now an ambassador for Ribble Bikes.
The Tour de France now turns to the Alps and it’s survival of the fittest among the overall contenders.
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Julian Alaphilippe has exceeded all expectations (my own included), leaving the race wide open and it’s going to be blow-by-blow in the final mountains.
Obviously Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) is the big surprise, having won the time trial and Pau and finishing in the front group on the Tourmalet, but on the final stage in the Pyrenees he showed signs of weakness. He’s definitely not a pure climber and he has been getting up the climbs because he’s on the form of his life, that’s undeniable. But Prat d’Albis showed on staged 15 that there are better guys, like Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), who took his chance and put others to the sword.
Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) had a hard time on the Tourmalet, but he came back on that last mountain stage so has found a glimmer of hope, then you’ve got Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) who has a strong team and looked great, but didn’t really make a move. He may regret that because at this stage you can’t let an opportunity pass.
Between Alaphilippe, Pinot, Thomas and Kruijswijk, they’re all going to be swinging punches when they feel good – when a guy drops his guard in the third week and gets one on the chin, it’s going to be a knockout blow.
It’s not an easy one to call, we just know it’s going to be down to the wire, which is great for the sport of cycling.
No one is really in control; everyone is trying to make the race happen for them on any one day; no one has got a grasp on it; everyone is chasing each other, trying to hang on, trying not to have a bad day.
This Tour has been great, lets hope it continues that way.
Looking at the final week, it would be the surprise of the century if Alaphilippe took the yellow jersey to Paris and I still can’t see him hanging on.
If the other guys had a crystal ball and they knew he’d win the time trial, and knew how strong he’d be on the Tourmalet, then they wouldn’t have let him go on stage eight to Saint-Étienne, when he reclaimed the jersey.
The first time Alaphilippe rode away, no one chased because they didn’t see a potential winner, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and if he did make it to Paris then the losers will look back and realise if they had chased, they could have won the Tour. In the future, Alaphilippe is not going to get away with that kind of move.
Movistar have had a very disappointing Tour and they’ll want to win a stage at least. They’re leading the team classification, but that’s a small recompense for a team like that. Obviously they won the Giro, but a lot of their so-called stars, like Nairo Quintana, seem to be leaving, so I think they will continue to try to animate the race.
Pinot has a good history in Grand Tours, he’s been around longer, and if he won the Tour he would be the star of the decade.
Both Alaphilippe and Pinot are French, but Pinot is in a French team and it would be huge for him, the boss Marc Madiot and for the sponsor, who have been around for years.
Pinot believes he can do it and he’s got the form, but you never know when fatigue is going to sneak up behind you and grab you. One day you’re the hammer, the next day you’re the nail.
But will he pay for those efforts on the Tourmalet and Prat d’Albis? I don’t think so, everyone is on the limit and he had the balls to make the move.
We saw Egan Bernal chasing Pinot, but he looked to be right on the edge and he did crack.
My prediction: G is going to win, but that comes with some massive ‘ifs’ – the gaps are just so small and the climbs so long.
But G believes he can do it, he’s strong mentally, he’s easy going, he won’t feel the pressure as much, and of course he’s done it before.
Whatever happens, it will go down to that final stage. As Vincenzo Nibali proved in the 2016 Giro d’Italia, it’s never over until the last mountain is crossed.