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Tour de France Gallery: Part IV

Though the outcome had a familiar feel, the 2019 Tour was undoubtedly one of the most challenging and entertaining in recent memory. As the race scaled its highest peaks, some riders soared, others succumbed to exhaustion, and some even had to shelter from snow.

01 August 2019

Stage 18

EMBRUN – LA PLANCHE

Though there were higher heights to be scaled over the weekend, Thursday’s eighteenth stage saw the race tackle two of the most iconic cols in cycling: the Izoard and the Galibier.
Mike Woods was sporting a pair of customised shoes bearing the message: ‘teamwork makes the dream work.’ Win, lose or otherwise, EF Education First ride as a team and today managed to get both Woods and Bettiol into the breakaway.
The stage included some of cycling’s most fearsome climbs but, with Julian Alaphilippe defending the yellow jersey, the descents were bound to come into play too. Thiabut Pinot used to be a nervous descender but showed those woes had long since passed.
In terrain that doesn’t suit him quite so well as the bergs of Flanders, Alberto Bettiol would struggle to make the final selection but enjoyed his day in the break nonetheless.
According to the ASO, up to 47% of fans come to watch the race primarily to see the publicity caravan. Not surprising when you can pick up exclusive branded items like this fetching sunhat from sausage manufacturer Cochonou.
As storm clouds gathered towards the end of the stage, some were racing for victory. Others, including Italians Vincenzo Nibali and Giulio Ciccone, to avoid being caught in the heavy downpour.
While the caravan and team busses took the tunnel hidden just out of shot here atop the Galibier, there was no such option for the riders. Up here, the air is thin but the crowds, as ever, are anything but.

Stage 19

SAINT-JEAN-DE-MAURIENNE – TIGNES

Penultimate competitive stage of the Tour and the stakes are higher for riders and fans alike. Free caps from the caravan are one thing but a team edition bidon straight from a passing team car, that’s worth fighting for.
The high Alps have witnessed more than their fair share of drama on the Tour but today’s stage was unlike anything even the most experienced Tour fans had seen. Residual snow high up on mountain sides is not uncommon even in the height of summer...
But hail and mudslides? That is rare and did not factor in Christian Prudhomme’s plans for today’s stage.
The first 80 kilometres of the stage were almost all uphill and saw a powerful break including Rigoberto Uran and Warren Barguil go away.
With the Frenchman, resplendent in his tricolour jersey, and the Colombian both in contention for the top ten on GC, the break was not allowed much freedom.
Even with the peloton slowed by the gradient, unobservant fans can miss out on the action.
Just like the country’s peerless climbers, it seems Colombian fans like the altitude. This bunch proudly flew the flag on the upper slopes of the Iséran, just a couple of kilometres before Egan Bernal launched the move that would win him the race.
At these heights, the air is thin. Those with any sense make sure they’re protected from the sun’s rays.
Remarkably, it was the snow and hail from which riders were protected in the end. In an unprecedented move, the race organisation were forced to cancel a stage mid-race as snow and mudslides on the way to Tignes made roads impassable.
A wintry edition on Milan-San Remo or Liège-Bastgone-Liège? Only early season races had endured such difficult weather conditions in recent times, until this madcap stage of the Tour.
Riders climbed into team cars which drove them to their hotels. We thought Tom Scully’s facial expression at the time encapsulated reaction to the stage’s cancellation. Surprise? Disappointment? Relief? Probably a mixture of the three.

Stage 20

ALBERTVILLE – VAL THORENS

Cut down to less than sixty kilometres due to landslides, the twentieth stage was all about the final, interminable climb to Val Thorens. Count the hairpins in this image and then consider that this is just one kilometre of thirty-three.
Despite sustaining broken ribs in the second week, Mike Woods went from strength to strength in the Alps. He made the break again and was able to follow Nibali’s first flurry of attacks. The Italian proved too strong but there’s no shame in succumbing to a winner of all three Grand Tours.
This metal tunnel marks the entrance into the ski station itself but cruelly not the end of the stage, which lay on the other side of town atop a final, gravel-strewn ramp. A tough finale to one of the toughest editions of the race in recent memory.
Such was the strength of Egan Bernal, Colombian fans were all but assured of his victory. They turned out in strength at Val Thorens to celebrate a seminal moment for their star man and their country.

Stage 21

RAMBOUILLET – PARIS

After three weeks of raw roadside emotion and hotels that haven’t passed a hygiene inspection for a while, the pomp of the peloton’s final rendez-vous in Paris feels strange to many. Still, the landmarks passed en route never cease to impress.
Ever obliging and indefatigable in supporting his teammates, Tom Scully raced for himself on the final stage and duly got in the breakaway. After propping his bike up against the team bus later in the evening, he expressed surprise at how steep the Champs Élysées is: “I always, always forget! It’s really tough in the break, I was just like a remote control car with Andreas [directeur sportif] in my ear telling me when to up my effort. All I had to do was listen and hold on.”
Not a stage goes by without Rigo being mobbed by Colombian fans. The finale in Paris was no exception though, as he humbly pointed out, there was another man at the centre of the Colombian party this time.
You have to take rest wherever you can get it as a professional cyclist. Alberto Bettiol takes his recovery very seriously and lay down immediately after crossing the finish line. Apparently he’s still there.
Adulation, confusion, joy, relief. As the peloton’s carbon wheels finally come to a stop, a wide range of emotions surface. Whatever they were feeling, each member of the EF team managed to produce a similar expression here.
A century of yellow and the youngest winner in even longer, what a race the 2019 edition has been. We’re already looking forward to next year.

Rapha Doppio

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