Sir Dave Brailsford has shared his thoughts on why the 2019 Tour de France has been “one of the most exciting editions for a long time.”
This year’s race has been a rollercoaster both in the fight for stages, with 12 different riders winning in the first 12 days, to a remarkable general classification battle that remains balanced on a knife-edge on the second rest day.
As Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) maintains his race lead after the pivotal Pyrenees phase, the race now heads towards the final mountain tests in the Alps, where Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) will look to grasp the yellow jersey themselves.
Team Ineos principal Brailsford, who has overseen the British squad for all of their six Tour de France wins, says the key factors may be the absence of Chris Froome, and the dominance of Alaphilippe in the race.
Speaking at the Team Ineos rest day press conference in Nîmes, Brailsford said: “It’s a different year this year, the way its played out. You ask yourself why is that, what’s the dynamic? Obviously it’s the first time Chris hasn’t raced for a number of years, although he didn’t win last year.
“I think that has had an impact from the outset, but as the race has developed I think Alaphilippe gained time with an aggressive style of riding and his presence – he’s in the race a lot longer than people thought he would be – that has changed the way all the other teams are riding in response to that.
“That’s probably the biggest change in terms of this race. That major variable is impacting a lot of other scenarios around it. It’s having a ripple effect.”
Alaphilippe reclaimed the yellow jersey after punchy climber’s stage eight to Saint-Étienne, but wasn’t expected to hold it through the decisive middle week, which featured a hilly time trial around Pau and two summit finishes, the Tourmalet on stage 14 and Prat d’Albis the following day.
But the Frenchman denied expectations, first winning the time trial, then extending his lead over Geraint Thomas on the Tourmalet.
Thomas then clawed back a handful of seconds after a tactical misstep by Alaphilippe in Foix, setting up an unpredictable final week in the Alps.
Brailsford added: “There’s a conundrum between trying to get rid of Alaphilippe on one hand and then the normal GC guys thinking about racing each other on the other. How you do one is different to how you do the other, so you’ve got this mix of contrasting goals in a way, which is making the whole race very different.”
On Alaphilippe’s interstellar performances, Brailsford added: “I don’t think any of us predicted that he would still be in yellow at this point in the race.
“If he pulls it off, he’s another level in terms of his ability because he’s leading out sprints, he’s going off in the champagne region doing his thing, the way he’s ridden, the way he’s hanging on, and if he was to win this race hats off to the guy.
“He’d be one of the greatest cyclists of all time.”
Team Ineos find themselves in an unusual position, as they have not been leading the peloton in their usual fashion and are trailing the race leader while slowly letting time slip by to attackers like Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), but Brailsford is relishing the challenge.
He said: “It’s an interesting race. It’s brilliant fun. We’ve sat here on the second rest day of a Grand Tour many times and people said we closed the race down, it’s not been exciting. This time it’s fun to be involved in one of the most exciting editions of the race for a long time and who knows how it’s going to finish.
“What makes Grand Tours brilliant is that suspense all the way to the end, not really knowing what’s going to happen. While I think I know what’s going to happen, you just don’t know, which is good fun.