clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tour stage preview: draft day

New, 2 comments
AFP/Getty Images

For those of you who are new to the café, welcome! For those of you who were around this time last year, Conor and I are again running a “draft” of our favourite stages as we did 2018, but this time with Shawn and Jens along for the ride.

Here’s how we described the mechanics of last year’s draft – and little has changed.

I was joined by m’colleague, Conor, and asked him to pick the stage he’s most looking forward to watching. Not necessarily the best, or the most important, just the one he’ll give up the most to watch. We argued for a bit, and then I picked my favourite of the remaining 20, until none were left.

The four of us have been holed up on slack for the last few days (with occasional breaks for cricket and golf, for which our insincere pseudo-apologies will have to suffice) identifying the days that we’re most and least excited about as the caravan starts to assemble in Belgium ahead of 21 stages of madness.

With four people along, this is a snake draft, so the person picking 4th also picks 5th, whilst the person picking 1st also picks 8th (and 9th).

Let’s see what went down (the chat has been lightly edited, and pictures and profiles thrown in). Let us know what we got wrong in the comments.

Andrew

Morning all. First up, a quick reminder - stages are here. Officially, we have:

  • 7 flat stages
  • 5 hilly stages
  • 7 mountain stages and 5 mountain-top finishes (La Planche des Belles Filles, Tourmalet, Foix Prat d’Albis, Tignes, Val Thorens)
  • 1 individual time-trial stage
  • 1 team time-trial stage
  • 2 rest days (please, don’t draft the rest days. Eyeroll).

Second up, to get things moving, I did a random number drawing for the draft order and came up Jens, Me, Shawn, Conor. So, Jens, you get the first pick. Shawn gets 4 & 5. We might need to play around at the end because lumbering Conor with 20 & 21 seems unfair.

With that, Jens is on the clock…

Jens

I’ll start out with an obvious one. Stage 18 Embrun-Valloire. I see a few stages that may or may not have a bigger chance of being the highest impact stages on GC but I don’t see how you can go wrong with with Izoard and Galibier opening up three decisive days of Alpine stages. Maybe it’s meant as a leg softener for the following two days and some will ride conservatively but I don’t think it will matter, this will be cracking either way.

Conor

I’m watching Ireland attempt to play cricket so I’m sorry if I delay a little when it’s my turn.

Andrew

Picking second, I get to take my number one choice (thanks, Jens!) with stage 14. I admit it, I’m a sucker for a trend and I lurve me a short mountain stage. 117km, three categorised climbs, and a finish atop the Tourmalet. Yes, it is a big beast of the Tour that we all know well, but it has a few things all MTF finishes should have - altitude (2,115m), a sting in the tail (sections at 10% plus towards the finish) and thousands of lunatic Basque fans all over the road. You can overthink early picks, but I am looking forward to this one the most.

Shawn

Man, this is reminiscent of the vds draft for me.... only I’m the one showing up 12 hours late and holding things up. While I’d like to be an iconoclast (affectionately know as pulling a Kurt Stoebel and picking Pascal Ackermann 2nd overall) and pick the individual TT as it’s likely to be one of the most decisive stages, I’ll go with stage 6 - the first mountain test for the GC riders on La Planche des Belles Filles.

The climb has been used three times previously-- in 2014 the winner-- Nibali-- went onto winning the Tour. In 2012, the winner, Froome, went onto being the shadow winner of the Tour behind Wiggins. And in 2017, it was won by Aru, who-- and this seems like such an improbability now-- took the yellow for 2 days on his way to finishing 5th.

Conor

Fools rush in where Shawn fears to tread. I’m going to pick the individual time-trial, stage 13, for the same reason that I picked it last year and will continue to do so when possible for any time we do these drafts — time-trials are where races are won. It’s only 27 kilometres this year but that will be enough to put up to ninety seconds into a struggling fellow contender. Mountain stages are usually more dramatic and exciting even if you do get the occasional dud but the impact this stage will have simply cannot be ignored. Fuglsang, Bernal and Yates all can register a good test but I could see any of them having a bad day and a favourite slipping out of contention is gripping no matter the terrain.

Conor

Oh, Christian. Oh, Thierry. It didn’t have to come to this. I do not, even slightly, want to type these words but you have forced my hand. Over the last few years we have gotten simply used to Sky riders having a minute’s advantage on everybody else by the end of the first week. They have deserved this advantage but it has been made too easy for them. By putting these goddamned team time-trials on the route. Yes, my next pick is...stage 2. [Explosions are heard in the distance]. Any stage where it is possible, even likely that the INEOS riders will take a minute or more on their rivals in the first week, striking a practical and psychological blow that will have lasting consequences is a stage that cannot be left until the latter drafts. It shouldn’t be in the race. The reward for having a strong team is being able to chase attacks down and being less likely to fall off your bike. None further is necessary. This stage won’t be the fifth-most exciting but I will be watching to see what the damage will be.

Jens

Conor is clearly not going for the easy crowdpleasers. I for one am not really looking forward to the old “do TTTs ruin stage races debate” again but I do acknowledge the risk.

Andrew

Yeah, those aren’t picks for the “most fun” stages. Definitely the most important two of the ones that are left, but I’ll be watching something else during both stages. On the other hand, a TTT might be good news for Ineos but the ITT is mighty short. If I’m G, I’d rather have a chance to put more time into my biggest rival. Of course, if EAB gets dropped in the TTT by G, get the popcorn ready.

Shawn

Wow, Conor! Not only a TTT but a TTT that wastes a day in Belgium. You are brave! Well, this feels kind of like Peter Sagan falling to the second round. I’ll go with Stage 20- the summit finish on Val Thorens.

The only time that the Tour has gone there before, there were minutes separating the leaders (it was in 94 when Indurain won the overall, but only because there was approximately 482 kilometers of time trialing). It’s a short stage (trendy!) but with a long ass climb at the end of over 33 kilometers. Might not be the most exciting stage, but it’s the last day to make a difference and there will be time gaps.

Andrew

Yeah, a penultimate day MTF in the Alps sounds great, but a 33km, 5% climb with knackered riders sounds to me like a chance to watch Castroviejo pulling a half-arsed peloton along for a long hot Saturday. Good, but definitely second-round stuff.

In my self-appointed role as “looking for the fun” (AKA anti-Conor) I’ll pick a stage that almost certainly won’t impact the overall dramatically, but that I am really looking forward to. 200km through the criminally under-used Massif Central, seven categorised climbs and hardly a metre of flat ground plus a tough uphill finish. The Tour’s second Saturday will feel like a semi-classic thrown into a GT, and they’re always fun. Stage 8 is the pick.

Jens

Doh! Andrew steals my hipster pick right under my nose. I was going to take that and highlight the fact that this is an edition that actually manages to hit the four big mountain ranges, Vosges, Massif Central , Pyrenees and Alps.

Andrew

I’m so hip I have difficulty seeing over my pelvis, Jens. Sorry.

Conor

I think we need an anti-Conor in more contexts than just this one.

Andrew

The breadth of climbs is a good thing with this otherwise underwhelming route, I think. Makes a change from the usual criticism of the Tour for only have two sets of climbing days.

Jens

Right then, I’ll go with Stage 1 because of the pent up pressure, the thrill of all the sprinters (except Cav) fresh and hungry, a yellow jersey up for grabs. Plus the Grand Depart fun/nonsense, in this case likely to be an extreme number of mentions of Hometown Eddy.

Andrew

I thought Boss-Hog was Norwegian?

Jens

Before I run, I’ll take stage 19. If I were a betting man, I’d put this down as the one out of the three Alp stages that ends up most significant in the GC. It’s short, it has the super high Iseran that can put a few favs who struggle at height in trouble, and the final bit to Tignes might be just the right amount of steepness to make a good racing climb. Guessing which days riders will see as the days to make a difference is usually as hard to do in advance as it appears obvious with hindsight though.

[This section has been edited to hide the fact that Jens left the draft to play an afternoon’s golf at this point. Because, gentle reader, we know that information would upset you. Especially with Conor off watching cricket earlier in the draft.]

Andrew

I’ll take stage 12 at this point. Early enough to be intriguing for the climbing pecking order, with a downhill finish (which is always fun). I know Will’ll go through Hourquette d’Anzican in detail, but my take on it is simple - I’m glad they’re doing this climb instead of the Aspin, and I think it’ll be selective. By the third round, that’s enough for me. This should also be a pretty day for countryside-watchers such as myself.

Shawn

Hmmmm.... well, I guess I need to pick a stage in the Pyrenees to add to my mountain range triumvirate of picks-- so I’ll go with Stage 15. I’ll leave Will to the actual deets of the climbs, but can I tell you that as someone who is really into profile porn, when you start seeing black sections on those profiles, it really gets my engine running and this stage has those sections in spades. The Col de Peguere in particular, with a penultimate kilometer that averages over 14%, looks to be a great place to launch a long range attack before the final climb.

Andrew

Profiles with double-digit inclines also get [name of cyclist withheld to avoid trouble]’s motor running. That’s a fun climb and a fun day for this far into the draft. I can’t remember how long it took me and Conor last year to reach the “ugh, I suppose I’ll pick x” stage, but it happened sooner than it will this year.

Conor

Mind the Gap
Getty Images

Ah, the stage to Gap. Not iconic for the same reason as many Tour de France stages, but iconic nonetheless so stage 17 is my next pick. Things have happened on the way to Gap in the past and so they can happen again, especially if it rains.

And next I’ll take stage 3. It’s less of a waste of a Belgian day with five steepish climbs making it at least a challenge for the sprinters. There’s a chance of a good win for a finisseur, which is always fun.

Shawn

You know what? This draft is convincing me that this is a pretty good course this year. That perception will probably all be for naught after the rebranded Sky train gets some rubber on these mountains. But for now, I’m cautiously optimistic. And with that optimism, I’ll pick another Vosges mountain stage - Stage 5. It’ll probably be a day for Alaphilippe-- with the climb of the five castles and then steep descent to a flat run in at the finish. But perhaps he can get the group back together and bring his ol’ buddy Fuglsang along for the ride.

Also - is golf in the same category as cricket around these parts? If not, I have a motion to make.....

Andrew

I’ll take stage 9. Gives me the Bastille Day stage, nicely set up for a break, some fireworks and a lively finish. Just a shame the steepest roads come so early.

Jens

I’ll then go for stage 10, the sprintish looking stage to Albi that looks lumpy enough to be a given day for a breakaway. We’re still deep in the central of France with rough roads and likely brutal temperatures. Could be more fun than you would think.

And after that I’ll go for the Champs Elysees, champagne and hopefully an open sprint between a bunch of riders who want to fill the void of the Cavs and Kittels of the world. Impossible to know who will be in the mix at that point but I’d love for it to be Groenewegen, Kristoff and Viviani in a photo finish.

No more narrow roads
Getty Images

Wow. My cheat sheet now only contains days I had simply marked as SPRINT . Guess this draft needed a lover of the sprints to balance things out and champion the flat days?

Andrew

Yeah. 10 and 21 were the last two I was interested in. I suppose the next question is who the dominant sprinter is, and that is normally obvious early. On that basis I’ll take stage 4 to Nancy, henceforth known as the day that Groany establishes clear blue water between himself and the rest.

Shawn

Well, if we have to go with a sprint stage, I’ll take one that will be scenic- Stage 16. This stage will contain the tallest Roman aqueduct - the Pont du Gard and according to Prudhomme on the official site, “the peloton will have the very special privilege of riding on the Pont du Gard.” I think ASO is really upping their game this year-- forget about cobbles and gravel-- they’re including UNESCO World Heritage Sites as obstacles.

Andrew

So, that all leaves Conor with 7 & 11. I look forward to reading his justification as to what made them so memorable. Or any residual mockery.

Jens

If there’s mocking to be done from my side it will be the Tourmalet and Val Thorens picks. We all remember how thrilling Schleck vs Contador was on the Tourmalet, the saddest bit of shadow boxing in the last 10 years at the TdF. And I think Andrew already picked apart Val Thorens thoroughly. A custom made Ineos-stage that we last saw in an Indur.....zzzzzzzzzz....ain Tour, how come I’m more thinking a comfy well earned snooze on the sofa after three weeks of good Tour-watching more than anything?

Shawn

I’ve gotta stick up for my Vas Deferens pick a little bit. First and foremost, Jens, isn’t it Conor that deserves the brunt of our collective mockery for picking both of the time trial stages with his first two picks. I don’t know if you play fantasy football, but that’s like drafting kickers back to back in the first and second round.

But rather than just deflecting from my own pick, I have to go back to the old cliche that the route doesn’t make the race, the riders do. Sure, the Stage 20 finish looks on paper to be an INEOS train showcase, but that train will do little good if Thomas is back in Wales drinking his G beer and Bernal is minutes down on GC after having a jour sans. I don’t know, call me either an optimist or naive, but this Tour feels much more wide open than any in recent memory. I feel like the Giro and the Tour have pulled a Vice Versa this year-- with the Giro having lots of flat sprint stages, tame climbs and conservative racing and the Tour set up with a course and a rider situation that could result in fireworks.

Jens

It just felt a bit like shooting fish in a barrel going after the self-confessed cricketlover who pulls down his pants and runs around town shouting the virtues of timetrial stages. But yes, I agree on the general take on this Tour route. It could end up a dud but there’s enough variation to keep us viewers happy and the perfect elements in place for riders looking to make the race.

Conor

And that’s just it. This route will do nothing to hinder a good race if that’s what the riders will make of it. The time-trials will be important but won’t define the race. Oh, and cricket is a magnificent sport.

[In case you’re wondering, and I know you aren’t, Conor’s beloved Ireland beat Zimbabwe in the mid-draft match. Getty Images did not send a photographer. However, they do have an archive...]

Self-banned!
Getty Images