Mouth of the Tyne: Five things to mull after fantastic 2019 Tour de France
PUBLISHED: 13:46 28 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:05 28 July 2019
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In a semi-regular series of musings Herts Advertiser and Welwyn Hatfield Times sports reporter Neil Metcalfe has taken a look at what he considers the highlight of a busy summer of sport – the Tour de France.
For those that know me, cycling has always been a lifelong passion and when I made the decision to switch careers and become a journalist, covering the Tour de France was my ultimate dream.
Don't get me wrong, I love the variety of my job, and not just in terms of the different types of sport but also the different standards I am privileged to be able to cover.
And while some dream of dedicating their career to covering Premier League football, cycling is probably the one sport that would drag me away from being a generic sports reporter.
I am extremely lucky that my patch brings me into contact with some seriously talented cyclists and I've got confidence that many can go on and enjoy a good career in the sport.
Some with a little bit of luck may reach the heady heights of the 'Grand Boucle' too, the big loop.
If they do I can only hope that their appearance coincides with an edition that has been entertaining as the 2019 edition.
But as Egan Bernal, at the tender age of 22, prepares to ride up the Champs Elysees and take his place in history, I can't help but think that this year has raised many fascinating questions.
So here are five things I have taken from this Tour.
Number one: Team Ineos (or the artists formerly known as Team Sky)
The most hated team in cycling's history, certainly to some, have done it again. Seven of the last eight editions have now ended in a victory for the British outfit and sports fans hate cheering for an all-conquering and domineering side.
But this year had a number of glaring differences from those previous successes for Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.
One this was the first won by a non-British rider, the stupendously-talented Colombian claiming an expected first title but perhaps slightly earlier than predicted.
And two, the style of the victory was not the same. In previous years Sky had taken control very early on and proceeded to strangle the life out of the race with a powerful line-up.
This year, however, it was done with a squad that were nowhere near as on-form as usual. Only Dylan van Baarle provided solid support on a regular basis and only on one stage did the red shirts appear en masse on the front of the race.
That means basically G and Bernal were able to survive the best of the entire field over the course of the three-week race and were by default the strongest two in the race.
But they did that on their own like everybody else.
It may signify a complete change in tactics for coming grand tours. At the very least it gives them food for thought.
Number two: What next for Ineos?
That food for thought includes what they will decide to do for 2020 and even for the upcoming Vuelta a Espana.
If everyone stays injury free they could have Froome, Thomas and Bernal all wanting to target the Tour. Add Richard Carapaz to the mix, the winner of this year's Giro d'Italia who is expected to sign from Movistar when the transfer window opens, and there is a massive embarrassment of riches.
And that doesn't even include the likes of David de la Cruz or Diego Rosa.
For my money I could see G going to the Giro for a proper tilt before offering super-domestique support to twin leaders Froome and Bernal at the Tour.
The ins and outs will certainly be fascinating to watch.
Number three: The end of the maverick Julian Alaphilippe?
It could well be. The wonderful Frenchman lit up the race last year with numerous attacks claiming the polka dot king of the mountains jersey.
This year he started his joyous charges on the road to Epernay in stage three, taking the race lead with a brilliant stage win.
It was always wondered whether he had the ability to mix it with the GC boys and if he had conserved energy or perhaps tailored his year's training plan on the Tour, he might have been able to take the yellow jersey all the way to Paris here.
The ride may have removed any doubt he had of his three-week credentials but the problem he now has is that everybody else will also have those uncertainties shifted as well.
That all means he will have inadvertently removed the inclination of the big boys to give him a small amount of leeway with his attacks.
He won't be allowed to get into breaks now and will be watched like a hawk by everybody.
Of course he still has the ability to do damage in the high mountains but it will be sad not to see him have one of his brave attacks.
Number four: Thibault Pinot and the pressure of top-class sport
Nobody who watched Pinot's heartbreaking exit on stage 19 can feel anything but desperate sympathy for the 29-year-old.
He was sensational in the Pyrenees, finally it seemed living up to the expectation of his ability and the hopes and dreams of the home nation.
Had he not lost time in the crosswinds on stage 10 he could conceivably left the southern-most mountain range in France in yellow.
He was definitely in the form of his life and the pressure to bring France's first win in their home tour for 34 years was finally no longer an issue.
A quiet man, he has been the one man his country has pinned hopes on the most, something which made him swerve the race for a couple of years, and his tearful exit following a freak injury raises worries that he will struggle with the disappointment and the mental side of what might have been.
His manager Marc Madiot says he will be back next year in the search for "justice" and encouragingly so has the rider himself but it is another example of the mental toughness needed to survive the focused and high-pressured world of sport.
Number five: The route of next year
To quote the 1998 version of Three Lions, "it was nearly complete, it was nearly so sweet".
That will be what France will be thinking. After 34-years of hurt, Alaphilippe and Pinot brought them closer than ever before to breaking that bad run.
And while Romain Bardet did win the king of the mountains, that wasn't with anywhere near the panache of Alaphilippe the year before.
But will ASO, the organisers, use that in planning next year's route? Will they make it friendlier to those riders?
The high mountain experiment worked to a point, although the cancellation of stage 19 due to a freak and localised weather system left a figurative and literal dark cloud hanging over that.
And while the mountains did have their usual and obvious effect, the stages that seemed to make the biggest difference and make it the closest finish in years were the classics-type stages and the ones with potential and actual crosswinds.
More medium mountain routes and ones across the south of France could be on the cards and the route, and placement, of the one individual time trial was ideal.
Next year starts in Nice, on the south coast.
Don't be surprised to see the race go up Mont Ventoux early before heading across to the Pyrenees via the flat lands where the Mistral blows and then back across to the Alps via the Massif Central.
And if it is half as entertaining and unpredictable as this one, it will be great.
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