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David L. Stanley

2019 Tour de France After Week Three:
32 Takeaways from the 2019 Tour de France

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 


Arranged in no order whatsoever, with one exception, my 32 takeaways from the Tour de France, 2019.

1. Fatigue. There is no fatigue like Tour de France fatigue. I can’t remember who said it, but this explains the Tour like nothing else: “First week you’re flying, second week you’re wasted, third week? You’re fucked.” Every single rider, from the maillot jaune to the lanterne rouge, spends Week III dancing on a razor’s edge of incredible performance and total system collapse.

In 2011, Tommy Voeckler had an incredible run, wearing yellow from Stage 9 until Stage 19 in the Alps. At the start of the Alpine stages, he was asked, “You’ve ridden with the very best in the Pyrenees. As we head into the Alps, do you think you can keep yellow until Paris?” “Oh, no,” he said. “I cannot keep the jersey through the Alps. It eez not possible.” “Why not? You rode so well in the Pyrenees,” the journo continued. “Well, the Alps are different. I have to ride the Alps after a week of racing in the Pyrenees,” said Tommy V. with a wry smile. The Tour of 2019 has 3,500 km. The last 1,200 km are far different than the first 2,300. Week III Tour fatigue, a Kraken that the riders unleash upon themselves.

Tom Voeckler

Voeckler in yellow, but cracking, in stage 19 of the 2011 Tour de France. Andy Schleck would be in yellow that afternoon. Sirotti photo

2. Julian Alaphilippe. JuJu is known amongst my racing fan buddies as The WHF – The World’s Happiest Frenchman. No one was shocked that he could climb a bit; he did earn the polka dots last year, and he is the finest all-round classics rider of the last few years, but all were shocked that he could wear yellow for most incroyable 14 days of the Tour. No one thought JuJu could hold the jersey coming out of the time trial. Or for those days in the Pyrenees. What made his run so joyful was WHF’s attitude of gratitude. Every day in yellow was a gift he’d earned. Every day in yellow was a moment to appreciate and celebrate. Perhaps finest of all was a little seen moment: JuJu rolled up next to the new yellow jersey, Egan Bernal (Ineos), patted him on the back, offered a handshake in the midst of the peloton, and exchanged words. It was kind, sincere, classy- a “Game knows Game” moment in a sport that is too often insular and posed. Of all the riders in the race, wouldn’t you want to knock back a beer or two with Julian? Of course you would.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe finishes stage twelve in yellow. Sirotti photo

3. Weather. Egan won by a landslide went the tweet I saw. It was the worst pun of the Tour. Yet, this was the Tour of Biblical proportions; instead of plagues of locusts, cattle disease, frogs, a river that turned to blood, death of the firstborn, we saw a Tour of extreme heat, snow, sleet, rain, and mudslides that would’ve done California proud. I loved Race Director Christian Prudhomme’s description, “It (calling off the stage at the top of the Iseran) was the only decision possible. The road could not be crossed. No one liked to do this but we quickly looked at several choices and this was the least bad of all of those possible decisions.”

Iseran ice

Ice on the descent of the Iseran

4. Bernal=Geraint mates-manship. Did you see Geraint Thomas’s face when young Egan donned the yellow jersey? The hug Big G gave him? See G’s face as he spoke of Bernal? You know that a man who has won the Tour de France is an incredibly intense competitor, and in private, Geraint was gutted. Yet, he put that aside. His greetings to the new champ were kind and funny and clearly sincere. Kudos, Brave Sir Geraint.

5. Egan Bernal. The 22 year old Colombian earned this win. The youngest post-WWII winner (several months younger than Fignon) was also the first rider since Andy Schleck in 2010 to win the white jersey and the yellow. Bernal was the best climber on the climbs that mattered. He rode his TT with intelligence, giving away but 1:36 to JuJu. Egan stayed calm and within himself for the first two weeks of the race as he saved his powder for the last week. He, too, exuded joy and glee throughout the 3 weeks. Bernal hugged his Dad, his girlfriend, his brother, like he hadn’t seen them for two years. He speaks 4 (at least) languages. The kid is having the time of his life, and that’s an attitude that a 22-year old world beating athlete can run with for years.

Egan BErnal

Egan Bernal climbing in stage 20. Sirotti photo

6. Nairo. A Giro win and a podium. A Vuelta win. Three times on the TdF podium. A TdF mountains jersey and twice the best Young Rider. The 29 year old is leaving Movistar, where talent goes to die, for better pastures; for Arkea-Samsic. He’ll race alongside Warren Barguil, and be managed by Sebastian Hinault. Look for the 29 year old to regain his touch. None of us truly know what went wrong these last few years at Movistar, but when a rider of Nairo’s talent and intellect goes off the rails, there is something amiss. If you didn’t cheer as Nairo solo-ed home on Stage 18, check your soul. Something’s amiss.

7. Sagan. You should notice that I put Peto #7 on my list. All of these other entries are random. Not this one. Seven green jerseys. VII. Siete. Sette. Sedem. In every language, that’s one heck of a record of consistent, high speed daring and excellence. He always has a word for his fans, he wheelies in, he goes on the attack, he signs autographs and does selfies. He’s a fine fine bike racer, and clearly gets that he is also a beloved entertainer. Hard to believe that Sagan and Nairo Quintana are the same age, isn’t it?

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan has a closetful of green jerseys now. Sirotti photo

8. Caleb Ewan. 65 inches/165 cm. 134 lbs/61 kg. I get it, he’s not tall. But he’s not a “Pocket Rocket.” He’s an Elon Musk SpaceX Falcon Heavy. To win three stages in one TdF: you get on the right wheels early, you keep your position at 35 mph, you launch yourself at 40+ mph at the right instant, and you have the top end power to turn your 54x12 over at 120 rpm. That’s not power you pull out of a pocket. That’s an Earth Thruster lighting the hell up.

Caleb Ewan

Ewan wins the final stage.

9. More ITT. I love the purity of the time trial. Nothing but you, the bike, and pain. (And yes, a DS shouting in your ear.)While I would never want to see those 60 km TT stages like Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond took on back in 1986, I would certainly like to see something longer than the 27 km this year’s riders tackled. A distance that would take them 45 to 60 minutes seems right; long enough to give the powerful rouleurs a shot at a stage win, not so long so as to unduly penalize the climbers.

10. The Team Time Trial. I also love the TTT. Love it. The Tour is about identifying the best rider, and that often revolves around the best team. This year’s Stage 2 TTT was perfect. Long enough to identify the strongest, best practiced team. Not so long so as to crush the GC hopes of a fine rider on a weaker team. Athletic beauty in action, like a 4 x 100 meter relay, or the team pursuit on the velodrome. It’s glorious-to see finely tuned athletes at the peak of their craft.

Wanty-Gobert

Wanty-Gobert racing aganst the clock. The clock always wins. Sirotti photo

11. The joyous uncertainty of the Tour. Every day, this year’s Tour gave us new possibilities to ponder. Can JuJu hang on through the Pyrenees? Can he hang on through the TT? What’s going on with Nairo and Mikel Landa and the men of Movistar? Can Geraint take some time on this stage? Can Bernal really win this thing? Will Thibaut Pinot truly come good in the last week and give France her first TdF victory since 1985? So much possibility.

12. Nibali’s stage win. Vincenzo has won each Grand Tour. He’s won 6 stages in the TdF. It was nice to see the 34 year old Shark of Messina take a stage, quite possibly his last Tour stage, on an epic day. Even nicer that he didn’t need a very sticky bottle to win it.

Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali wins stage 20.

13. Steven Kruisjwik. 33rd. 15th. 21st. 5th. 3rd. The Jumbo-Visma rider’s ascent has been clear. He can climb. He can TT. He has heart. He raced intelligently, never burning matches for the sake of showing his strength. He’s no kid at 32, and perhaps he lacks that killer punch that the Tour winners have. Still, his 3rd place was heartening for those who know that if they put it the time, and ride with their head, they will be rewarded.

14. Pinot. I was gutted for Thibaut Pinot. I had him on my pre-race podium. I thought he and Bernal would battle it out for the top step, so when I heard that he rode for a day or two with a torn muscle before he retired, it was crushing. I’ve seen other top riders in tears, most memorably Sean Kelly in 1991, after a withdrawal due to injury, and it always hits hard. To race hard, and be beaten by a better rider is tough, but that happens to every athlete. To not be able to show your strength due to injury is a special circle of Hell.

Thibaut Pinot

Thibaut Pinot climbs in the team car. He can go no further.

15. Team Ineos. Wout Poels. Jonathon Castroviejo. Luke Rowe, Dylan van Baarle. Kwiato. This year, the Men of Ineos filled a more traditional role. Instead of towing Chris Froome along as if he were motorpacing, and then unleashing him on the final climb, this year task was to keep Bernal and Thomas out of trouble until the other teams neutralized themselves. Then, they delivered their men with loaded weapons. Without these men, does Bernal win? Does GT sit second? No way. Nope.

16. Mitchelton-Scott. The best behind the scenes videos in pro cycling. Matty White is the best team director in the sport. He’s created a sense of Aussie mateship within this team that I’ve not seen in recent years in any team. The Mitchelton-Scott boys don’t just have Brothers in Yates, they are brothers in arms. Oh, right, 4 stage wins. That counts, eh? We race the races to see who’s the winner.

17. Thomas de Gendt. Off the front every damn day, every damn stage. He would go, and go, and go some more. And on that one day to St, Etienne, it paid off. Tres magnifique. Un homme forte, pour sur.

Thomas de Gendt

Thomas de Gendt enjoying the end of stage 8.

18. Fitness – Not so many years ago, riders would come into a Grand Tour two or three pounds over their best weight. The thinking was they would “ride into shape” during the first week. That doesn’t happen these days. Riders show up in absolute peak form, ready to soar from Kilometer Zero on Day One. By Week III, the riders have skin stretched so tightly over their entire bodies that they resemble the terrible facelifts you see on E! TV’s Botched! My wife has watched a lot of bike racing with me over the years. She saw JuJu with his jersey off during Week III. She exclaimed, “Oh, my God. He’s skeletal!” There’s no look like the third week of the Tour.

19. Rider safety. I’ve been shouting for a long time about rider safety issues. I’ve been screaming about a coherent concussion protocol for years. Bike racing at this level is not your office park Wednesday Night Worlds. These guys fly down mountain passes at 60 mph over roads that maybe, they reconnoitered months ago. The margins for error are slim. Go into a turn too hot, and you are launched, ass over saddle, into a ravine. Road furniture. Motos too close. Barbed wire. Backwash from the choppers. This is a high risk sport. It was nice to see the riders’ safety moved onto the front burner in this Tour.

20. Helicopter pilots. Helo pilots are the real deal. My stepson served 15 years as a Warrant Officer 3 in the US Army. He flew into hot zones with his Medevac and rescued our wounded, returned our dead to their families. I have a pretty good idea of the psyche of a chopper pilot. It is high risk, high reward flying. What the TdF pilots do in their machines to bring us incredible footage of racing and topography is Hors Categorie.

21. Luke Rowe & Tony Martin. Sketchy, but it’s okay; both the action, reaction, and the jury decision. What Tony did happens. Luke’s response happens. After the stage, or the next day, the conversation goes like this, “Dude, I threw you a little more hook than I meant. Sorry about that. Glad you stayed up.” “Yeah, it happens. No worries, we’re good.” But in this case, the optics were terrible. A top domestique, a multi-time world TT champ takes on the road captain of the sport’s most hi-vis team. Not a good look.

Ask any racer, some of his/her worst crashes were when two Freds in front of him/her were dope-slapping each other in the peloton. When you consider that Sagan got the boot in 2017 in Vittel for the mere appearance of contact with Cavendish, I don’t see how the race jury could do any less for Rowe-n and Martin.

22. Course design. It is a truism in stage racing that the racers, not the parcours, make the race. Perhaps, but this year’s route had plenty for everyone. More stages for the puncheurs? Check. Great climbs, challenging roads? Check. A few flattish stages for the sprinters, yet just lumpy enough to offer attack zones for the stage hunters? Check. And an ITT and a TTT? Double-check. Well-done, ASO.

23. The Men Who Stayed Home. Dumoulin, Froome, Cav, Phil Gilbert, Marcel Kittel. With no overwhelming favorite, with few dominant leaders per team, this was as open a Tour as we’ve had this century. We should do this more often.

24. The fans. If the racers make the race, the fans make the Tour. Did you see the men dressed as Beefeater guards who led cheers and dancing on the sides of the Alps as the hordes waited for the race? Did you see fans huddled under plastic sheets in the frigid rain as they waited for the race? And when the cameras were aimed at them, did you see the upraised beers, smiles, and massive thumbs’-ups? The fans. The fanatiques. The tifosi. Cycling has roiled the hearts of the masses for over 110 years. It shows no signs of weakening.

25. Security. I like security. It saddens me that we need it in every aspect of our public lives, but that is our world in 2019. There were large men everywhere. There were, I am certain, plenty of security that was not so obvious to the average fan. You can also be certain that not every chopper was armed with merely an HD gyro-camera.

As an aside, I was also pleased to see the Finish Area scrum filled with the Continental Tire T-shirted Men in Black. For too long, the media have been allowed to descend en masse onto exhausted, starving athletes, and add claustrophobia and general madness to their post-race issues. The Tour has been working on this for several years, but this year, it seemed that the Conti-men were more numerous and effective.

Alaphilippe

Alaphilppe is escorted by a Man in Black after stage 20. Sirotti photo

26. Romain Bardet and the polka dots. The French have done well in the mountains this decade, five of the last ten winners have been French, and it was pleasant to see Bardet ride bravely and wisely as the 27 year old, 6 foot, 143 lb climber flew to victory.

Romain Bardet

Bardet gets the dots. Sirotti photo

27. Les étoiles à venir. The rising stars. Some years, we see the old order upheld, some years we see a break-out rider. This Tour, we got a glimpse of the Tour through 2025. We saw 26 year old Emanuel Buchman (Bora-Hansgrohe) take 4th place. Egan Bernal, of course. David Gaudu, 22, (Groupama-FDJ) from Quimper, in Bernard Hinault’s home area of Bretagne, will be a star in the mountains. Caleb Ewan. Add your own U26 racer to the list.

28. Sunscreen. I am an ex-racing cyclist. I am a melanoma survivor. I wished I had worn sunscreen during those 5 hour rides in Austin, TX in the 1980s. I didn’t, and I’ve paid the price. Today’s riders are smarter. In nearly every behind-the-scenes video I saw, and that was a lot of footage, I saw riders slathering themselves in SPF. Nice work, gents. I can show you my scars, if you need any reminders.

29. Tech. I love the tech. The transponders with HR data and watts add to everyone’s understanding of what it’s like to sit in the wheels vs. get in the breakaway, how tough it is to climb the Alps and Pyrenees and Massif-Central, how much power a sprinter generates – it’s great stuff. I can’t wait for more drone footage. The cameras on the bikes - their images are so clear that I really miss being in the local peloton.

30. Colombia. Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants". The 5’9” and 132 lb Egan Bernal, our first Colombian Tour de France winner, stood firmly on the shoulders of Martin Ramirez (you might recall that Ramirez took the 1984 Dauphine Libere over Bernard Hinault), Lucho Herrera, and Fabio Parra. While Colombia has a long history, dating back to the early 1980s of aggressive racing in the Tour, it was Herrera and Parra and Ramirez who showed us all that Colombians knew how to race a bike.

Herrera

Lucho Herrera racing in the 1985 Tour de France.

31. Favorite moment. There were many, but if I have to choose one: Julian Alaphilippe rolls along beside Egan Bernal, smiles, and offers a hand in congratulations to Egan Bernal on road of Stage 20.

32. I love Paris when it sizzles. Paris and the Champs-Elysees in the early evening of summer; the sky and the bricks shimmer like gold and diamonds, truly the Elysian Fields, the resting place of the souls of the heroic, n'est-ce pas?

Chapeau to my son Aaron for brainstorming this list with me. Aaron was dragged to my criteriums and track races as a baby, a toddler, and primary school student. At age 26, he has watched hundreds of hours of cycling with me. Young man knows his stuff.


David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

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