Bernard HinaultBy Roger Childs

A strange question? After all French riders have won the Tour 36 times in its 106 year history – but not for 36 years! Bernard Hinault was the last Frenchman to wear the maillot jaune (yellow jersey), through to the finish in Paris back in 1985. However, this year the drought may be broken. 

After 12 of the 21 stages, French bike rider, Julian Alaphilippe, has the credentials to be on top of the podium in Paris. He currently leads the Tour and has the excellent climbing skills needed to survive at the front in the punishing Pyrenees and French Alps mountain stages. He was King of the Mountains in 2018.

Bennett down the field after a foul up

The Tour de France continues to provide plenty of spills and thrills. Every stage has had at least one crash and although most riders have continued, others have broken bones and been forced to withdraw.

Poor old Kiwi George Bennett! He had been fourth in the general classification, when in what he calls a communications coq-up, he lost 10 minutes on the tenth stage. Team management sent him back to get water bottles for the rest of his Jumbo team mates.

 At this point cross winds broke up the peloton and Bennett and most of his team mates couldn’t get back to the front group. One of the other riders in the Jumbo squad should have been given this menial domestique task.

An incredible spectacle!

Tour sceneryThe television coverage of the Tour is worth watching whether you are interested in cycling or not. What is provided on screen is extraordinary, as you don’t only get superb aerial and close up footage of the race stages, but also

  • wonderful views of the beautiful French landscapes from rivers, lakes and gorges to farmland, forests and high mountains
  • aerial shots and descriptions of historic buildings such as palaces, chateaux and cathedrals
  • close ups and overheads of the streets and buildings of villages, towns and cities
  • the hundreds of thousands of cheering spectators often dressed in one of the four jerseys. (The most popular in the polka dot King of the Mountains top.)

Tour landsapeAnother delightful feature is the way people, towns and regions provide visual displays of their appreciation of the event – patterns in the landscape; people dancing in the coloured jerseys; cows dressed up in yellow, green and polka dot; revolving bikes and wheels in paddocks; the tour colours and slogans on the side of tall buildings; huge coloured balloons and large messages in fields such as VIVE Le TOUR.   

A mix of cameras on motor bikes and from helicopters provides a unique record of the Tour as it proceeds, which is unmatched in any other sport.

What lies ahead?

Nine stages remain with the last ending on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Tonight, New Zealand time, is the crucial 27.2 individual time trial. The riders go off at 1 km intervals and this is the stage where the cyclists are on their own, and can “easily” gain or lose precious time in the general classification. 

The following two days see more brutal mountain stages in the Pyrenees, with a steep 117.5 km to finish on the legendary Col du Tourmalet, followed by 185 km tough ups and downs to the Prat D’Albis. On these climbs the contenders for the yellow jersey will be aiming to get a lead or at least a placing to take on to Paris.

Julian AlaphilippeAt the end of Stage 12 the jersey holders are

  • YELLOW (overall leader) – Frenchman, Julian Allephilippe with a slender 1 minute 12 second lead over last year’s  winner: Welshman Geraint Thomas
  • GREEN (top sprinter) – Slovak, Peter Sagan
  • POLKA DOT (King of the Mountains) – Belgian Tim Wellens
  • WHITE (Best young rider under 23) – Colombian Egan Bernal.

However, it’s not over until the French lady sings and you cross the finish line on the cobblestones in Paris on Sunday.

Coverage is on SKY Sport 4 and the most convenient viewing is of the daily half hour highlights packages.