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Talking Points from Stage 19: The Perfect Race

Geraint Thomas has shown total, total assurance.

Thomas Bardet stage 19 tdf 2018
Yes, I’m talking about Thomas.

Once Geraint Thomas got over the Col du Tourmalet today, he proved beyond all doubt that this time, he would avoid the dramatic bad day so many had predicted. He did more than that — as the race moved over the Aubisque he showed the power and souplesse which has characterised his Tour de France. Which got me thinking — I genuinely don’t think I’ve seen a better Tour de France win. Thomas has the race all but sewn up and there has been no moment where he really looked like losing it. He has never once been gapped in the mountains — the minute he looked least certain of winning came on Alpe d’Huez when Froome, his own teammate, attacked. Even then, his chances only appeared to be slimming because of etiquette, not strength. As it turned out, Dumoulin could pull Froome back and since then, this race has been all Thomas. All expectations that he would not win come from past (and by past I mostly mean three years ago) experiences of Thomas not having what it took to come back day after day. He could do it this time, in a Tour de France win that surpasses even Froome for assurance.

Part of that assurance is of course down to his Sky team, which was better and more indomitable than ever before. Day after day we saw Luke Rowe grinding the peloton over the earlier climbs before Jonathan Castroviejo — wait, let’s talk about Jonathan Castroviejo. He’s been one of Sky’s real MVPs in this Tour, which I would not have called beforehand. He left Movistar as a good, probably improving time-triallist who I do not ever recall seeing too prominently in the mountains. Now at Sky, he is dropping most of Movistar on the climbs. I was expecting Moscon to play a bigger role in the mountains, but Castroviejo (the time-triallist) was utilised after Moscon (Froome’s climbing domestique at the Vuelta last year) every single mountain stage for which the Italian was in the race. Maybe it’s the nasal strip.

I really didn’t mean to dedicate as much of these columns to the guy who’s ninth on GC, but Nairo Quintana has had his share of time on camera at the front or at the back of the peloton in this Tour de France. Today he simply blew up, not something I was expecting if also not something I was totally shocked by. Better luck next time, Nairo.

The stage itself, by the way, was of course raced in a very exciting manner, in what is a good argument on the side of “the riders make the race” theory. The most comparable stage that I can think of to this one was the Joux Plane stage in 2016, on which absolutely nothing happened, despite a close race for the podium. I don’t know the exact circumstances that led to the more highly-charged racing today — perhaps the lack of valley roads, perhaps less tired legs, perhaps merely a stronger racing instinct from the cast of characters, especially Primoz Roglic. Anyway, I expect at least one more summit finish in next year’s Tour — this Tour up to now has not been a great advertisement for downhill finishes. However, today’s stage means that they have not totally been damned in the court of public opinion.

On Roglic, he has had a wonderful race, less than three years after moving up from Continental level. Today he showed a good attacking spirit, combined with a lot of leftover strength after three weeks of racing, to win the stage and be the man to put the most pressure on Sky. He will be rewarded with a podium as well as his stage-winners bouquet. Given that this is just his third Grand Tour, his star should not wane just yet. He has shown a knack for doing well in the third week, is strong in the time-trials and knows when to attack — he won’t be left out of the conversation for Tour de France winners after this July.

Peter Sagan showed fight to stay in the race, interesting as it might be to have the green jersey up for grabs in Paris. I must say I worried for him on the day’s earliest cat. four, which he rode as though it were twice as steep, but after that he and the gruppetto managed to keep the time-gap to the front unthreatening. He will take a sixth maillot vert home.

Oh, and I’m not going to snigger at Ilnur Zakarin’s descending — it’s better than I’ll ever be able to do it. Just, er, Ilnur...someone’s going to take advantage of that some day. It’ll cost you a big race. So, maybe focus on it in the offseason? Just a suggestion.

Final word this time goes to Warren Barguil. Given how difficult it is to win a stage of the Tour de France, especially a mountain stage from the breakaway (seriously, there’s like three opportunities a year and you have to be as lucky as you are good) it’s hard to call it a disappointment when such a stage can not be won by a rider, yet it’s clear that Barguil is a few per cent off his 2017 level. The drop to pro conti level is not one that is done often by riders with such potential as Barguil, and I can’t help but feel like leaving the winning environment of Sunweb for a team that has had one victory this season may not have been the right move. Better luck next time, Wawa.