Five factors behind five-star Tour de France

Paris (AFP) –


With record crowds, record television audiences and a gripping battle for the yellow jersey that was only sealed by Egan Bernal in the Alps on Saturday, the 2019 Tour de France was one of the most open and exciting for many years.

Race director Christian Prudhomme described it as the most beautiful Tour de France he had seen since taking charge back in 2007.

"It was a Tour de France of emotions," he said.

Here AFP looks at some of the factors behind the phenomenon.

- Cometh the hour, cometh the man -

Egan Bernal took the yellow jersey but there is a good chance that in years to come the 2019 edition will be remembered just as much for the man who lit up the race only to have it snatched away in the Alps. "Julian Alaphilippe has changed the way the Tour de France is being raced, it's his style and daring, it just can't be ignored," said Ineos chief Dave Brailsford. Deceuninck-Quickstep's Alaphilippe led a string of rampant attacks to take the yellow jersey and then defended it with such panache and bravery over 14 days that he forced the other riders to come out and be brave which created a wonderful tussle. He may not have won the race but he carved his name into the stone of the Tour's legend, he can dine out on this forever.

- The course design -

When race director Christian Prudhomme praised the "audacity" of the riders, he was also applauding his course planner Thierry Gouvenou. The three weeks rewarded and encouraged boldness. Billed as the highest Tour in history the altitude was only part of the story that began with vast crowds at the 'Grand Depart' in Brussels. It truly came alive with Alaphilippe's firework show on stage three in the Champagne region. His 15 kilometre solo rampage towards the yellow jersey was part of a strategy using bonus seconds on top of hills within sight of the finish line that sparked a widespread sense of adventure to which the riders responded with glee. "I tried it last year, but nobody realised, so I went a bit further and this year it seems to have worked," said Gouvenou.

- Mother Nature -

It wasn't enough for the riders to combat 3,480km of French roads, they had to do it in some of the most varied and extreme conditions seen on the Tour, ranging from record heat to hailstorms and landslides. Defending champion Geraint Thomas was held back in the individual time-trial by what he described as overheating and that was before the searing conditions hit the Tour full on at stage 16 around Nimes with a sizzling 42 degrees Celsius (107 fahrenheit). Mother Nature then showed she had one last card up her sleeve when hail the size of marbles fell so hard in the Alps during stage 19 they caused a mudslide on the road to Tignes. The organisers reacted quickly to halt Egan Bernal and Simon Yates who were hurtling down the Iseran. It was good news for the Colombian who took over the yellow jersey from a distraught Alaphilippe.

- Ineos less dominant than Sky -

Bernal may have come through to win but this was the toughest of all the seven Tour victories gathered by Dave Brailsford's British team since Bradley Wiggins won in 2012. When four-time champion Chris Froome broke his leg in May the Ineos (ex-Sky) captain left a hole that levelled the playing field to a point where it broke their stifling stranglehold. Thomas also left his preparations late, suffering a crash in the Tour de Suisse in the build-up, and appeared vulnerable, opening the gates of hope and belief for their long-suffering rivals. Ineos' hopes took another knock when Luke Rowe was disqualified for fighting but experience came through in the shape of Bernal and Thomas. A one-two looks like dominance but it was a close run thing.

- Vive la France! -

No winner for the home fans but a resurgence in home interest with three riders putting the va-va-voom back into the heart of French cycling. Alaphilippe's performance, holding on to the yellow jersey for 14 stages, sent home hopes through the roof -- no Frenchman had won the Tour since Bernard Hinault's fifth title in 1985. Alaphilippe deserved better than fifth place in the overall standings. Thibaut Pinot stirred the Gallic senses with his triumph in the Pyrenees, winning the first instalment and coming second the day after and climbing to fourth. The emotion of his abandonment on the final Friday added to the story of the Tour. After a disappointing start, Romain Bardet also joined the party with a late surge, clinching the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey. So no victory but a memorable race for the French which will give them hope of finding a winner in 2020.