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.

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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.

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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

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

  1. popeye

    stage 18 is when everything will fall apart for alaphilippe and thomas, and it will be the distance that matters. they’ve both shown they can handle the short sharp types of efforts, then hang in so long as the pace stays consistent. if ineos is really struggling the way they appear, there’s no grinding lead out to bring back something like a landa-pinot long range attack. everyone is just climbing way too good for those shorter stages to add up to much this year.

    landa is going to go for broke on the izoard or maybe even the vars and pinot and kruijswijk will join or bridge, maybe bernal can follow for awhile.

    what’s really struck me about this race is that only two in the top 10 and one in the top 5 have ever even won a GT, let alone the handful riding the GC for the first time. it feels like a lot of improvisation on the road.

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    1. I agree that the distance and multiple high mountain passes are going to find out Thomas and Alaphilippe. The Landa wildcard is also something to keep an eye on. Going to be a great final week.

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  2. Nice analysis Spencer. I’ve been rooting for Alaphillipe from start, and I’d say it’
    s pretty clear we DON’T have another Tommy Voeckler on our hands this time. Plusthere’s likely no data available on the emotional push you get while being the home town favorite.

    Like

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