Having dealt with the Alps for another year, the race begins to settle down to terrain resembling something flatter during the final days of 2017’s Tour de France. Starting in Embrun, the day gets off to a lumpy start with the Category 3 pairing of Col Lebraut (4.7 km, avg 5.8%) and Côte de Bréziers (2.3 km, avg 5.6%), though eventually settles into a manageable rhythm of gently rising and falling roads. Having continued pushing onwards through the intermediate sprint at Banon, a downhill section leads into the foot of the Category 3 Col du Pointu, lasting for 5.8km and possessing an average gradient of 4.1%. From here it is essentially a flat run into the finish at Salon-de-Provence to complete their 222.5km day in the saddle. However, those hoping to take the win in a sprint finish will need to negotiate a technically demanding finale, one with a couple of roundabouts and numerous tight bends.
Michael Matthews shall still be motivated to score points in the green jersey competition, even if only to hammer home the fact he has won it through great skill and not simply the abandonment of Marcel Kittel. The length of today’s stage suits him well, as does the terrain, but it is the flat and technical finale which looks set to cause trouble for the Australian sprinter. Though his last victory came about after having to sail through a couple of tight bends before the finish line, this appears to be a more demanding finale and one which is unlikely to see a rider like Edvald Boasson Hagen make the same mistake twice. Regardless, his form is fantastic at this point of the race and it feels like there is not a challenge Team Sunweb cannot rise to achieve right now.
André Greipel would be surprised if he left this year’s Tour de France without a stage victory, especially given the number of favourable days and the departures of Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Arnaud Démare and Marcel Kittel. Today however does not look ideal for the powerful German sprinter, a rider notorious for becoming lost amongst the maelstrom of a tricky finish such as this. A fan of long power based sprints, Greipel will not be afforded such a luxury on Stage 19, though must not be ruled out given his pedigree at this level. His leadout train is diminished, making life harder still, but this could be an ideal test run of how to adapt ahead of a more desirable victory on the Champs Élysées.
Alexander Kristoff survived a nasty spill during Stage 17, crashing as a result of striking a rut in the road while descending one handed in order eat, sending him sailing through the air and crashing to the ground. Having gained several abrasions and “a slightly dislocated shoulder”, there were suggestions he would not be able to finish yesterday’s ascent of the Col d’Izoard, but the tough Norwegian proved this was simply not the case. A fully fit Kristoff would normally be favourite for this type of finish, so his recent injuries shall certainly prove even more frustrating for him on a day which plays to his strengths. The final kilometres could erupt into a head to head battle for the line as tired leadout trains begin to fall apart, giving him the chance to pounce and gain a reward for his steely determination to survive.
Edvald Boasson Hagen probably still thinks about how he should have taken the final bends of Stage 16, as a neater line would surely have sent him sailing past Michael Matthews in the final moments. Still on the hunt for a win at this year’s Tour de France, his Team Dimension Data squad have worked hard to produce competitive performances in the absence of Mark Cavendish, often finding themselves within touching distance of a breakthrough. He potentially sees himself possessing the best leadout train now present at the race, which is more than capable of launching the obviously strong Boasson Hagen onwards to a belated win. If there was going to be one stage for everything to finally click into place, for both team and rider, then Stage 19 is surely the occasion for it to happen.
Nacer Bouhanni has proven to be a great disappointment at Le Tour de France this year and does not realistically look like obtaining his first stage win at his native grand tour anytime soon. He does favour these twisting conclusions to the day however and still has a reasonably strong outfit of riders in place to guide him through the final kilometres as best as possible. His greatest weapon is his acceleration, rather than his top speed or power, making this short finishing straight ideal for his skills to step into the spotlight upon. Likely to be hiding on the wheel of bigger names in the last moments of the stage, Bouhanni’s best tactic will be to burst forth from behind the frontrunner with a perfectly executed burst of pace.
John Degenkolb held issues with the way in which Michael Matthews sprinted on Stage 16, though few professionals or pundits suggested that the German was correct to believe himself hindered by the Australian’s late manoeuvre. This hectic charge to the finishing line does not play to his strengths at all unfortunately, yet there is no denying that on paper he is now one of the fastest riders remaining. His second place finish behind Matthews showed that he can cope with a few late turns and does not deserve to be ruled out entirely because of previous form on similar finishes. The final week of a grand tour is always difficult to anticipate, but it would be a surprise to not see Degenkolb amongst the first five riders home.
Others to consider are Dylan Groenewegen, Sonny Colbrelli, Greg Van Avermaet and Ben Swift.
1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Edvald Boasson Hagen 3rd Michael Matthews