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The Tour de France is not a proving ground for cyclists. A team’s Tour roster is the most important selection of riders each team will make each year. Riders arrive at the Tour de France as known quantities, generally on their peak form of the season.
A stage victory at the Tour de France can define a career and the opportunities do not come easy. Over the last two years, no professional continental rider has won a stage at the Tour. Still, cycling continues to surprise, even on the world's biggest stage.
Here, three stages that left us awe-struck in 2019.
Stage 10: Saint-Flour – Albi
Stage 10 of the 2019 Tour de France is simply a must-watch stage. The peloton was tested by crosswinds in the final hours, and just when the action appeared to be calming down, the field blew apart.
Sprinters and GC riders alike drove groups of riders into the finale, which came down to a reduced bunch sprint.
The cycling world already knew Wout van Aert as a star of cyclocross and an exciting new talent in road cycling, but the WorldTour rookie's winning sprint against Elia Viviani, Caleb Ewan and Peter Sagan gave the world even more appreciation for what Van Aert's capabilities as a road cyclist.
Van Aert’s victory was an unprecedented fourth win in less than two weeks for Team Jumbo-Visma, and proved that not only can Van Aert win a sprint against the fastest riders in the world, he can do so on the world’s biggest stage.
Stage 11: Albi – Toulouse
Stage 11 of the Tour de France was a bunch sprint into Toulouse. Jumbo-Visma, buoyed by their stage success took charge of the peloton in service of Dylan Groenewegen. The closing kilometers were chaotic as Deceuninck Quick Step wrestled control from Jumbo-Visma. Despite the power struggles, Groenewegen remained in prime position and was delivered to the line perfectly by Mike Teunissen.
Groenewegen launched an explosive sprint, and looked poised to deliver another stage win to his team. Caleb Ewan however mustered up an even more explosive kick to the line. Despite being caught on the back foot, Ewan fought back up to Groenewegen and just edged him out over the line.
Ewan’s sprint was messy and nearly took out Nicolo Bonnifazio’s front wheel, but his strength was unmatched. Ewan walked away from stage 11 with his first career Tour de France victory, and the confidence to do it twice more before the conclusion of the Tour.
Stage 13: Pau – Pau
Individual time trials are a necessary and compelling component of any grand tour, but seldom are they considered must-watch stages. Generally the results of these races are interesting, but the viewing lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.
The finale to stage 13’s individual time trial left nothing to be desired. Julian Alaphilippe, the charismatic and opportunistic Frenchman who had worn the yellow jersey for the majority of the Tour was largely expected to concede a significant amount of time in Pau to the Ineos duo of Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, who were lurking just behind Alaphilippe in the standings.
Alaphilippe lit France on fire as he sprinted up the final climb to the finish. Not only did Alaphilippe keep the yellow jersey, he won the stage outright putting significant time gains into his rivals.
Geraint Thomas rode to a strong second place finish, but Egan Bernal effectively tanked the time trial, finishing 1 minute and 36 seconds down.
After stage 13, Ineos seemed vulnerable and Alaphilippe appeared invincible. In other words, the race was on.