Tour de France Rest Day Ramble: Who is Trending Up & Team Ineos’ Leadership Battle

As the Tour de France heads into the final week, the race is as wide open as we’ve seen in recent memory. Six riders are clustered within 2:14 of the lead, which is astonishing in a race where the winner has been all but decided by the second rest day.

Endless questions hang over the third week, like what the hell happened to Team Ineos(Sky), who is the leader at Ineos, and most importantly, who will emerge as the race winner by this time next week?

While Julien Alaphilippe currently holds a hardy 1:35 lead over Geraint Thomas, he isn’t a proven elite climber over the highest Alpine passes. With world-class climbers like Egan Bernal and Thibaut Pinot and powerful diesel-engines like Geraint Thomas and Steven Kruijswijk all within 2 minutes, his lead appears tenuous with three brutal days in the alps, featuring horrid climbs like the Izoard and Galibier, still to go.

To help visual the direction each contender is trending, I laid out the gap each one had to Alaphilippe following the first true mountain stage on Saturday’s along with the gaps facing them after Sunday’s Stage 15, along with the pros and cons for each rider’s chance at overall victory.


Egan Bernal

  • Following Stage 14:
    3 minutes down on Julien Alaphilippe
    46 seconds down on Kruijswijk
    58 seconds on Geraint Thomas
  • Following Stage 15:
    2 minutes 2 seconds down on Julien Alaphilippe
    15 seconds down on Kruijswijk
    27 seconds on Geraint Thomas

Pros: Has to be considered one of the best climbers in the race just as we head into three difficult and high days in the Alps. Looked strong in the finale of today’s stage. He is a better climber than the three riders in front of him on GC.

Cons: Completely unproven in a leadership role in the third week of a grand tour. Was gapped by Thibaut Pinot in the last few hundred meters of today’s stage.

Steven Kruijswijk

  • Following Stage 14:
    2 minutes 14 seconds behind Alaphilippe
    12 seconds down on Thomas
  • Following Stage 15:
    1 minute 47 seconds behind Alaphilippe
    12 seconds down on Thomas

Pros: Incredibly consistent rider. Tends to not go too deep and his fifth place at last year’s race shows a proven history of riding strong in the third week.

Cons: Had to ask George Bennett to slow down in the final few kilometers of Saturday’s stage. History of the third-week crash and time loss in the 2016 Giro still hangs over him.

Geraint Thomas

  • Following Stage 14:
    2 minutes 2 seconds behind Julien Alaphilippe
  • Following Stage 15:
    1 minute 35 seconds behind Julien Alaphilippe

Pros: As things currently stand, Thomas is the main benefactor of an Alaphilippe collapse in the high mountains.

Cons: He appears to at less than his best and has lost significant time in the last two mountain stages. Currently in an open war-of-words with co-leader Egan Bernal.

Thibaut Pinot

  • Following Stage 14:
    3 minutes 12 seconds behind Alaphilippe
    1 minute 10 seconds behind Geraint Thomas
    58 seconds behind Steven Kruijswijk
    12 seconds behind Egan Bernal
  • Following Stage 15:
    1 minute 50 seconds behind Alaphilippe
    15 seconds behind Geraint Thomas
    3 seconds behind Steven Kruijswijk
    12 seconds ahead of Egan Bernal

Pros: Appears to be the strongest rider/climber in the race. If Alaphilippe cracks, Pinot has an extremely manageable amount of time to make up on the riders currently in front of him and his punchy nature makes him the most likely to nab precious time bonuses.

Cons: Lost time in the crosswinds on stage 10. Has a history of inconsistent performances late in grand tours. Claims to struggle in the heat with a major heatwave rolling through France for the final few stages.


The first thing that jumps out is how extremely tight the race is behind Alaphilippe. Pinot is only 3 seconds behind Kruijswijk, 15 seconds behind Thomas with Bernal only 12 seconds behind him. This means that if Alaphilippe slips and loses the lead, the Tour could very well be decided on finishing time bonuses on these final mountain stages. This has the potential to set up the most exciting final weekend since Lemond triumphed over Fignon by 8 seconds on the final stage in 1989.

The second trend that jumps out is just how quickly Pinot made up the time he lost in the crosswinds on stage 10. He nailed back 1 minute 41 seconds on Thomas in just two mountain stages by just being simply stronger than the rest when the race goes uphill.

The third is how Bernal is emerging as Ineos’ best shot at overall victory. The Colombian stumbled in the time trial, but has furiously eaten into that deficit and made up time on co-captain Thomas over the weekend.

When we look ahead at the profiles for the brutal final three alpine mountains stages (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), it is clear that climbing prowess will be key to riding into Paris in Yellow.


Many pundits have said that Ineos has to pick a leader and that Thomas is the safer choice, but I’m curious how they are coming to that conclusion. Thomas is hemorrhaging time in the mountains just as the race heads into the Alps. Meanwhile, his teammate who is only 27 seconds in arrears is clearly the superior climber. If I was forced to pick one, Bernal has to be considered the most likely to ride into Yellow in the Alps.

Another issue is the team’s mysterious case of missing form. While some have said it is simply not the Sky team of yore, they came to the Tour with the exact same support team in both 2018 and 2019 (subbing Dylan van Baarle for the injured Chris Froome in 2019). If they continue to lack their usual firepower, it will have major implications in the final few mountain stages where a team leader could be isolated from their team with 50km and an HC climb before the finish.

An entire team losing their mojo in 12 months is incredibly strange and something we’ll explore in more depth in a later feature.

Podium Prediction:
1st Pinot
2nd Bernal
3rd Kruijswijk

Tour de France Diary: What Happened to the Team Ineos (Sky)Train on Stage 6?

Geraint Thomas removed any lingering doubts about his form when he threw down an incredibly impressive performance by distancing every major rival on the brutally steep La Planche des Belles Filles. Some had questioned how the lackluster form Thomas’ displayed so far in 2019, an assurgent young teammate, and the lack of preparation racing would affect his chances, but the Welshman answered those questions in a few short minutes on Thursday and appears to be the favorite to take the overall for the second year running.

While Thomas might be back on the form that saw him dominate the 2018 edition, his Ineos’ team trademark train was notably absent on the final climb. Wout Poels was dropped on the day’s penultimate climb and Ineos was down to one helper shortly after starting the final climb.

It is possible this is an incredibly measured strategy to save energy for the brutal third week. However, when we consider the team’s lackluster performance in the team time trial, where they lost a whopping 20-seconds to Jumbo-Visma, the fact that they are simply not as strong as years past is a very real possibility.

With a full 4km left on the final climb on stage 6, viewers were treated to the highly unusual sight of Ineos not leading the peloton up a climb at the Tour de France. When Alejandro Valverde went to the front to drive the pace for his Movistar teammates, we knew something was seriously amiss.

Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.19.37 PM

A little over a kilometer later, Ineos was on the front, but the pace had lagged to the point that attacks were able to come over the top and immediately get distance off the front. We can even see Michal Kwiatkowski, leading the peloton, radioing back to the team car in a sign of mild panic and confusion.Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.20.50 PM

Less than a kilometer later, Kwiatkowski was dropped while the team’s two leaders, Thomas and Egan Bernal, were left to fend for themselves on the wheels of Groupama–FDJ (just let that sink in for a minute).

Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.21.19 PM

Thomas ultimately nullified any potential issues the lack of team strength presented with his individual strength, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on as the race advances. Ineos has kept the race on an extremely tight leash in Tour’s past, and if they aren’t able to do the same this year, Thomas could be forced to deal with attacks and isolation in a way he wasn’t during his winning ride in 2018.

Other Notes:

  • Richie Porte finished with Egan Bernal, Adam Yates and Jakob Fuglsang 9-seconds behind Thomas on stage 6. While his Trek Team’s dismal performance in the stage 2 TTT put him in a serious hole, the Tasmanian is flying under the radar and appears to be riding as well as he has all season.
  • Nairo Quintana limited his loses to 7-seconds on a stage 6 finish that certainly didn’t suit him.  This is likely one of his best chances to win the race overall and he looks to have sorted out the form issues that have plagued him for the past few seasons. Keep an eye on the slight Colombian when the race hits the high mountains.
  • If Thomas won the battle for the general classification on stage 6, Thibaut Pinot came in a close second. The French rider appears to be as relaxed and on form as we’ve ever seen him.
  • Current race leader Giulio Ciccone has a substantial gap on the serious climbers and time trialists. The young Italian is certainly a talented climber and it will be interesting to see how long he can hold Yellow. I have a feeling it will be for much longer than the conventional wisdom is giving him.
  • Thursday’s stage 6 saw the likely end of GC riders for Romain Bardet and Vincenzo Nibali. This is great news for fans as the two riders will look to animate the race in the third week as they hunt for spectacular stage wins.