Tour de France Stage 20 Preview: Last Contest in the Mountains
After Friday’s almost-unbelievable events (Thibaut Pinot’s shock DNF, a hailstorm and mudslide that ended the race early), it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen on the 2019 Tour’s last mountain stage.
Stage 20 is another short (130K), sharp Alpine route with three climbs, ending at high altitude in the Val Thorens ski resort. The true work starts just 15K in, with the Category 1 Cormet de Roselend (almost 20K with an average gradient of 6 percent). Next comes the Category 2 Côte de Longefoy (6.6K at 6.5 percent) before the final summit finish.
Val Thorens is a particular kind of monster. It’s the Tour’s longest climb at 33.4K, but it averages just 5.9 percent, thanks to several flat sections and slight downhills that come roughly a third and two-thirds of the way through. There’s also a slight dip just before the final kilometre. Climbs like this are tough, because the changing gradient makes it hard to keep a rhythm. That said, it’s also the last place to fight out the Tour’s final podium, so expect attacks.
We’ll almost certainly see another substantial break go early, on the order of 20-30 riders – not just stage hunters, but also strategically placed riders from teams like Ineos and Jumbo–Visma. Among the overall contenders, it’s possible one will make a long-range attack on the Longefoy or low down on Val Thorens, but the last third of the final climb provides opportunities for attacks as well.
Riders to Watch
In the initial break, Romain Bardet and Tim Wellens will be locked in a battle for the polka dot jersey. Separated by just 12 points, they’ll fight for a total of 16 available to the first rider across the Roselend and Longefoy, and 20 at the finish in Val Thorens. As it’s the last real chance for everyone with unfinished goals at the Tour, look for each and every team to try and make it into the breakaway.
For the overall, it pretty much comes down to Egan Bernal or Geraint Thomas on Ineos versus Jumbo–Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk. Julian Alaphilippe may make one, long-shot attempt to regain the yellow jersey he lost to Bernal on the truncated Stage 19, but the Val Thorens climb is longer than he likes. Look for Kruijswijk to try to isolate Bernal from Thomas and then duke it out one-on-one.