That’s all I have to say after watching stage 19. In all my years as a cycling fan, I’ve never seen anything like what happened on Friday. Ever.
But then, from the beginning this Tour has treated us to one surprise after another, from team tactics that made no sense, to the emergence of unlikely challengers to the yellow jersey. More days than not, I found myself exhilarated at the end of a stage, thrilled to have witnessed an outcome I couldn’t have predicted. I got up every morning full of anticipation for what might happen.
Ugh, and then there was today.
I really don’t have the heart to recount all of it so I’ll give you the highlights and send you to the video recap.
Thibaut Pinot, the young Frenchman with perhaps the best chance at a podium placement in Paris, abandoned the race early on thanks to a leg injury. As he dismounted from his bike, sobbing with disappointment, I wanted to cry with him. Not many cyclists survive three weeks of a grand tour in fifth place overall; being thwarted by injury is too cruel a fate for someone who’s worked so hard.
Ah, but such is cycling.
Julian Alaphilippe, whose tenure in the yellow jersey has been questioned every day he’s managed to stay in it, was behind the proverbial eight-ball today: the long, steep climbs finally seemed to get to him; he lost time when Egan Bernal attacked on the Col de l’Iseran.
He wasn’t the only one, though. Bernal dropped everyone but Simon Yates who, I’m sure, envisioned a stage victory for himself after the final ascent. As the rest of the lead group began their descent, it looked like Alaphilippe was gaining time. He practically flew down the road, throwing caution (and probably good sense) to the wind.
I love this guy’s heart! Fight to the end.
Alas . . .
As the riders chased each other down the mountain, we began to hear weather reports from the base of the next climb: hail, heavy rain, and mudslides. Okay, I thought, never seen a stage interrupted by weather so I’m sure the organizers have a plan for that.
Turns out Mother Nature pulled a fast one on the organizers and riders alike: a whole swath of road had been washed out by a stream of water. To make matters worse, the hailstones were melting into a pile of slush in the middle of the race route. Tignes, the town hosting the finish today, sent out bulldozers and tractors to try and clean the roads.
To no avail.
An announcement came just minutes later: the stage had been canceled. There would be no winner declared, and times for the general classification would be taken at the top of the Col de l’Iseran.
Totally unfair to Alaphilippe, who was steadily gaining on his rivals during the descent. A gut punch to Simon Yates, who most certainly would have won the stage, increasing his haul to three in this year’s race. And placing an asterisk on the yellow jersey that Egan Bernal might have won fair and square at the end of the day.
So, yeah, ugh.
Final standings at the end of stage 19:
- Egan Bernal – current race leader
- Julian Alaphilippe – + 45 seconds
- Geraint Thomas – + 1 minute and 03 seconds
- Steven Kruijswijk – + 1 minute and 15 seconds
- Emanuel Buchmann – + 1 minute and 42 seconds
Even though the ending was anticlimactic and I hate everything about it, what’s done is done. In all fairness to race officials, they had few options other than what they did. Safety of the riders must always come first. Period.
See for yourself how it all went down:
What to Expect on Stage 20
Our last day in the Alps will be no picnic, especially after the last two days; and this mountainous circuit around the city of Albertville will decide who wins the Tour de France. Per tradition, the final stage to Paris is ceremonial, with respect to the yellow jersey competition. Whoever leads after stage 20 is considered the winner. (On the other hand, the race to Paris is perhaps the biggest thrill for the sprinters: everyone wants to win on the Champs Elysées, and they go all-out!)
But tomorrow’s outcome is anything but assured. The top five contenders are separated by just a minute and forty-five seconds. There’s just too much that could happen: legs that have survived for three weeks of harsh punishment may just give up; we might encounter a plague of locusts or run into a lake of fire along the way. Who knows?
This Tour has thrown something crazy at us at every turn. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Tour de France by the Glass Recommendation
For some reason I can’t get excited about a particular wine for Saturday’s race. Probably because I feel like I need a couple of shots of tequila to keep me from jumping out of my seat!
Instead of a wine, I’m going to send you in search of a snifter of nice, strong Armagnac. It’s chilly in the Alps (or in Miami, in the summertime a/c) so hows about we warm our bones with something strong enough to see us through whatever drama awaits?
Yes, Armagnac comes from the western side of France, I know. But I’m grasping here. Anyway . . .
I became quite a fan of this brandy while I studied for my WSET Diploma exam in Spirits. Maybe, pardon the pun, it’s in the proper spirit of the last full stage of Tour de France 2019 if we sip something with a little more bite to it.
Enjoy the stage; I’ll circle back with some fun suggestions for Paris on Sunday. Really, there’s only one thing we can drink to celebrate the end of the best race in the world. Any idea what it might be?