One of These 6 Riders Could Still Win the Tour de France

With two real stages left, the overall contenders still have a hard road ahead.

Joe Lindsey |

Bike racing is all about the bluff. You want your opponent to think you’re weaker than them, right up to the moment you make your attack. But with 18 stages of the Tour de France done, only six riders are left who could win the race – and they’re all more or less stripped bare of any surprise advantage.

Whether it’s current race leader Julian Alaphilippe attacking on descents, or Egan Bernal using his comfort with heat and altitude to make others miserable, each of the six knows exactly what the others will try to do. It’s just a matter of who makes the right move at the right time.

Here’s what Alaphilippe, Bernal, Geraint Thomas, Steven Kruiswijk, Thibaut Pinot, and Emanuel Buchmann must do to pull off the win.

Julian Alaphilippe

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Chris Graythen Getty Images

Current position: race leader
Time gap: 1:30 ahead of second place
Likelihood to win: very low

Alaphilippe is cooked, and everyone knows it. He was dropped Thursday on the Col du Galibier and, had it been a summit finish, might have lost even more than the 15 or so seconds that opened between him and the other overall favourites. Instead, he managed to chase back on the descent and momentarily push the group before the road flattened out.

Both remaining mountain stages are summit finishes, and Saturday’s at Val Thorens is the same kind of long, grinding ascent as the Galibier. Alaphilippe’s best shot is Friday, where he could try to stay in contact on the Col de l’Iseran and then push the pace on the descent in the hopes of catching one or more of his competitors out and dropping them.

It’s the perfect move, because it leverages his descending skills to gain time without using a lot of energy. If he can gap at least some of the other GC riders, he’ll gain a little more padding for the final climb to Tignes. If he succeeds, he may just find enough gas in the tank to survive on Saturday.

Egan Bernal

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Tim de Waele Getty Images

Current position:
Time gap: 1:30 to lead, :05 ahead of third place
Likelihood to win: high

Before the Tour, many pundits, us included, felt Bernal was the rider to beat. And while he’s had some up-and-down moments, that prediction may yet come true. Bernal grew up in Bogota, Colombia, which at 2,639 metres is close to the elevation of the Tour’s highest passes. He’s also well acclimated to heat and seems to have the most zip in his legs of any climber, other than possibly Thibaut Pinot.

On the second rest day, his Ineos team tried to claim he’d ride for leader Geraint Thomas, but Thursday’s stage exposed that as mere misdirection (and it’s doubtful anyone bought it to begin with). Bernal’s best plan is to use his team strength to cook Alaphilippe off, then attack in the final kilometres of one or both summits to pad his slim lead to Thomas and the rest. If he can do that on Friday, it may all but seal his win.

Geraint Thomas

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Luc Claessen Getty Images

Current position: third
Time gap: 1:35 to lead; :12 ahead of fourth place
Likelihood to win: medium

Thomas didn’t look too pleased about Bernal’s attack on Thursday. His own counterattack may have limited Bernal from gaining even more time, but the defending Tour champion can no longer count on his teammate’s support. He doesn’t have the same climbing explosiveness as Bernal and Pinot, which further narrows his path to victory. What he does have is time trial skill.

His best tactic is to follow wheels, especially Bernal’s, on Friday and try to gain time on one or more of his other rivals. Then, for Saturday’s stage, he can make a long-range move that leverages his high power output and threshold, where he can maintain tempo rather than respond to attacks. An ideal spot: the Category 2 Cote de Longefry, with a summit at 80K into the stage and 50K from the finish (yes, it’s a long way out, but it worked for Chris Froome in the Giro d’Italia last year).

Thomas can take advantage of the slightly flatter terrain there, and the 15K of descent and flats before the start of the final climb, where he can churn out a steady pace. It’s a long shot, but what else does he have?

Steven Kruijswijk

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Current position: fourth
Time gap: 1:47 to lead, :03 ahead of fifth place
Likelihood to win: medium-low

Pity Steven Kruijswijk, who was on track to win the Giro a few years ago when his hopes ended up crashed in a snowbank. To win the Tour, he’ll have three separate challenges. First, crack Alaphilippe, something well within his Jumbo–Visma team’s abilities. Even after Tony Martin’s DQ, it’s the strongest squad in the race and probably fresher than Ineos after Thursday. With Alaphilippe dispatched, Kruijswijk will have to contend with the Bernal-Thomas duo.

He hasn’t shown enough of a spark on climbs to drop both on his own, but he may be able to play them off one another. Finally, he’ll need to get himself clear for a shot at the win. He can try on the last third of the Tignes climb, which ramps up from the middle and provides a few short kilometres to create a gap. If he can hold that on the 2K false flat to the finish and nab yellow, then Saturday is hunker-down-and-defend territory.

Thibaut Pinot

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Current position: fifth
Time gap: 1:50 to lead; :24 ahead of sixth place
Likelihood to win: medium

Pinot is the most tantalising possibility of the six. An explosive climber in the Pyrenees, he also hates the heat and has significant gaps to make up. Even if Alaphilippe cracks, Pinot may need multiple attacks to take yellow. His best approach is to wait for the summit finishes and hope Jumbo and Ineos can burn Alaphilippe off the pace, which then makes the GC spread much more manageable (44 seconds across five remaining contenders).

Pinot would do well to be patient and hope Bernal puts in an attack he can follow. If he can regain a handful of seconds at the Tignes finish, that may set him up for a late attack Saturday at Val Thorens, where he must simply empty himself somewhere in the final few kilometres. The wrinkle is that there’s a short downhill section just before the finish, so he may need to go further out than he’d prefer.

Emanuel Buchmann

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Current position: sixth
Time gap: 2:14 to lead
Likelihood to win: unknown

Of the six, Buchmann has the most to gain and the least to lose. He’s already notching a career-best Grand Tour finish, and even with Nairo Quintana’s ride on Thursday he’s still 1:40 ahead of the Colombian in the standings. But he also has the most time to make up among the GC contenders. His best shot is to attack early on one of the summit finishes, going far enough out that the others let him escape, thinking he can’t sustain the pace or that they can pull him back. He can target Val Thorens. Friday’s action may have already blown up Alaphilippe and perhaps one other contender, and Buchmann can simply follow wheels again and stay out of the spotlight.

Val Thorens is a drag, a 33.4K climb that’s never too steep and has a few flats and slight descents. Then there’s one long, unbroken stretch, starting with 9K to go. That’s where he can attack. But Buchmann’s biggest issue is not whether he can stick such a move, but whether he wants to. Is the lure of a Tour win enough to risk a shot at the podium, which he could make with some smart, defensive riding as others blow up in their attempt to win?

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