My previous posting on this subject seems to have been hijacked by two spiteful and selfish losers who turned it into a discussion on pigeons and the colour of their birdshit so I'll try again . . . knowing that they'll probably do it again but hoping they don't bother clicking on the Tour de France heading.
As I said before, it's a bit disappointing that Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin won't be at the 2019 Tour de France because of injuries but there's one thing I've learned over the years, the Tour doesn't rely on individual stars and it's always an intriguing race no matter who lines up at the start.
There's also not just one jersey they're racing for. The Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey) is the most prestigious prize and the jersey that Froome and Dumoulin would have been competing for but one of the things that make the Tour such a great event are all the other races within the race . . . not to mention the glory of a stage win.
Last year's winner Geraint Thomas has had a disrupted preparation for this year's Tour after crashing out of the Tour of Switzerland a few weeks ago but his injuries weren't as bad as initially feared and he takes his place at the start as the defending champion. If he finds his climbing legs of last year he'll be hard to beat as he's better than his GC rivals in the time trial, but against him is the fact that he may not have things his own way within his team as he has been named co-captain of Team Ineos together with young Colombian Egan Bernal. One gets the feeling that whichever one of the two weakens first in the mountains will end up riding for the other and it remains to be seen who will lead a very strong team, but Thomas does have an additional card to play in the time trial.
Egan Bernal himself has also had a disrupted season. He was initially scheduled to ride in this year's Giro d'Italia leaving Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas to represent the team in the Tour but Bernal suffered a broken collarbone before the Giro and - after Froome's terrible crash in the Dauphine - Bernal was added to the team for the Tour . . . but it wasn't his initial goal and only time will tell if he's in good enough condition. If he is then he's a very talented climber and will be a big threat.
While many are seeing the GC as a two horse race between the Team Ineos riders, there are some other credible candidates. Adam Yates from Team Mitchelton-Scott will have his twin brother Simon riding shotgun for him and unlike Team Ineos, Adam has been named as the clear leader of the team but both Yates brothers tend to have one or two bad days in the Grand Tours and that is often enough to destroy any winning chances.
Jakob Fuglsang from Team Astana is a regular top 10 finisher in Grand Tours but he's never really shown winning potential up until now. He showed really good form in winning this year's Criterium du Dauphine though and that is often a very good pointer to the Tour so I expect he'll be a factor, especially with a strong team dedicated to helipng him with no sprinting or breakaway distractions.
Vincenzo Nibali is one of the greats of the sport but he's getting on in years now and also came second in this year's Giro which will have taken a lot out of his legs. There's talk that Nibali won't be competing for the GC this year and may rather opt for stage wins and a crack at the King of the Mountains jersey.
Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa will be representing the always competitive Movistar team but Quintana has flattered to deceive once too often for my liking while Landa is a real warrior but like Nibali, has a tough Giro in his legs already.
Finally, the two perennial great French hopes, Romain Bardet from AG2R and Thibaut Pinot from Groupama FDJ. There are posters all over France with pictures saying it's Now or Never for these two. That is true in the sense that it's a very mountainous route this year with minimal time trialling and also because there's no Chris Froome or Tom Dumoulin in the race. The time trial has always been Bardet's achilles heel and with only 27km of individual time trial in this year's Tour this must be Bardet's best chance at finally giving France a long-awaited French winner . . . but neither Bardet or Pinot has a particulalrly strong team around him - nothing like Ineos, Movistar or Astana - and this will count against them in the Team Time Trial as well as the big climbs in the Pyrenees and the Alps.
The White Jersey competition for the best young rider (born before 1 Jan 1994) is almost a foregone conclusion. Egan Bernal is still only 22 and barring injuries or a drastic loss in form should win this jersey comfortably.
His only real threat appears to be Enric Mas of the Deceuninck-Quickstep team who is having his Tour debut, but he did finish 2nd in last year's Vuelta and looks a future star. Against Mas is the fact that his Quickstep team will be more concerned with sprint finishes for Elia Viviani and the King of the Mountains aspirations of Julian Alaphilippe.
Tiesj Benoot of Lotto Soudal and David Gaudu of Groupama FDJ are promising young riders but I'll be surprised if they can compete with the likes of Bernal and Mas.
Polka Dot Jersey
The King of the Mountains Jersey is never easy to predict because you're never sure who is aiming to win it . . . or which of the GC candidates has a bad day early on and ends up trying for KoM instead . . . but one rider who will almost certainly be aiming to win this competition is last year's winner Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quickstep. Alaphilippe was utterly dominant last year and on that form it's hard to see anyone else threatening him.
If Warren Barguil had to show his form of two years ago then we'll have a great contest on our hands but Barguil has been disappointing late and may just be focussing on a stage win or two.
Giulio Ciccone of Trek Segafredo won the King of the Mountains in this year's Giro but it remains to be seen if that effort has taken too much out of him and in any event, he didn't exactly have a lot of competition in the Giro.
Peter Sagan is not the fastest sprinter. In the big bunch sprints I expect the pure sprinters like Dylan Groenewegen, Elia Viviani and Alexander Kristoff to have an edge on him but Sagan is a phenomenon. Not only can he compete with the really fast men in the bunch sprints but unlike many of them, he gets over cat 3 and 4 climbs near the end of a stage to be in a position to contest the finish of so many stages where the big sprinters have been dropped off. That is why Sagan is almost untouchable in the Green Jersey competition and why he's won it 6 out of the last 7 times - his only failure coming in 2017 when he was disqualified for elbowing Mark Cavendish into the barriers. Barring any crashes or disqualifications, Sagan will almost certainly add a 7th Green Jersey to his impressive list. One of the great cyclists of all time.
Dylan Groenewegen, Elia Viviani, Alexander Kristoff and Tour rookie Caleb Ewan will be the men to beat in the bunch sprints but there aren't too many of those finishes this year as even some of the flatter finishes have a few nasty hills and bumps near the end. "Punchier" sprinters who can get over the hills and fight out reduced sprints include Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb, Matteo Trentin of Mitchelton-Scott and Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain-Merida, but none of them are in Sagan's league and won't threaten Sagan in the Green Jersey competition.
If there is to be a challenger to Sagan then it may come from an unexpected quarter. One of the most interesting riders in this year's Tour de France is the young Belgian three-time cyclo-cross world champion Wout Van Aert. Van Aert won the cyclo-cross world title in 2016, 2017 and 2018 before switching to road racing this year and he's already had some stunning results, winning two stages of this year's Criterium du Dauphine . . . one in the time trial (beating some world class time trialists) and the other in a punchy sprint stage where he outsprinted none other than Julian Alaphilippe and sprinter Sam Bennett. It's hard to tell if Van Aert will become a time trial specialist or a puncheur but there's no doubt he is extremely talented and could become the next Peter Sagan. I'll be watching his tour with great interest.
Not much South African interest in this year's Tour unfortunately. Team Dimension Data have not included the underperforming Louis Meintjes in their squad so Reinhardt janse Van Rensburg is the only South African rider in their squad while Darry Impey will be riding for Team Mitchelton-Scott. Those are our only representatives.
Not sure how many Tour de France fans there are out there but I promise you, it's never too late to start taking an interest in the world's greatest race and as a bonus, you get to see the beautiful French countryside, spectacular natural beauty, amazing architecture and historical buildings.