A Beginner’s Guide to the 2019 Tour de France


04.07.19 at 10:56 am

Share this story

This is it. The time is now. The biggest race of the year is just around the corner so it’s high time we got you all up to speed with the route, the riders to watch and which days you’re going to need to book off work to capture the best of the 2019 Tour de France.

A beginner’s guide to the Tour de France. Riders in the alps chased by cycling fan with road flare

The Tour de France is the pinnacle of the road cycling season, not just for fans of the sport but for the riders themselves. Millions of people from all around the world tune in to watch this great race, many even making it to the roadsides in France to cheer on their heroes in person. But how many of these adoring fans actually know what’s going on – we, for one, are constantly flummoxed by what we see happening in this great, but baffling race.

Just how do those jerseys work? Who is that rider giving it the beans in the mountains and why is no one else chasing him? Quite simply, what the heck is going on? Worry not, for we’ve put together this extensive guide to help decrypt and decipher this year’s Tour de France…


Before we dive into the route and the riders that are going to animate the 2019 edition of this race, we first need to learn why the Tour de France carries such prestige.

This could have something to do with its long, illustrious history: the race was born from a newspaper marketing scheme in 1903 when Henri Desgrange, L’Équipe’s head sports journalist, was tasked with reviving his failing newspaper. While it took a few years to catch on, the race soon boomed in popularity and quickly became the go-to event for masochists all around the world to punish themselves in. From the first winner, Maurice Garin (affectionately named ‘The Little Chimney-sweep’) to the latest winner, Geraint Thomas (carrying the much shorter nickname, ‘G’), all winners of the Tour de France have had to shed blood, sweat and tears on their way to victory.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Geraint Thomas (@geraintthomas86) on

Perhaps the Tour’s prestige comes from the fact it’s so damn tough. The 23-day long, 21-stage event (yes, the riders get two well-deserved days of downtime) crosses over some of the most fabled and feared mountain passes in the world, like the Col du Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez and Col d’Izoard just to name a terrible three. This is no cosy weekend club ride, this is the most gruelling race on the cycling calendar and, as a result, only the strongest rider can emerge victorious. Earning the title of ‘strongest rider’ is clearly the most prestigious title one can achieve, but is it the Tour’s toughness that makes it such a prestigious and world-famous race?

Toms Skuijns, professional rider for Trek-Segafredo and wearer of the King of the Mountains jersey at the 2018 Tour de France, summed up the Tour’s prestige and ‘uniqueness’ better than we ever could during our exclusive chat with him before last year’s race.

“If there is one race that the average Joe knows, it’s the Tour de France. As a professional, until you can reply, ‘yes I have’ to their question, ‘oh, so have you ridden the Tour de France?’, you can never really feel like a proper professional cyclist.”

Who wears what?

With a speeding peloton already bursting with vibrant colours, it’s often difficult to distinguish who’s who among the bunch of 180+ riders…


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Tour de France™ (@letourdefrance) on

Yellow jersey: the leader of the overall classification and ‘big boss’ on the road – attack him if you dare but be prepared to face the repercussions if you do. The wearer is the rider with the fastest cumulative time across all the stages – it can be won at the end of the race without its wearer ever finishing a stage first.

Green jersey: the leader of the points classification. Points are accumulated during each stage finish based on a rider’s finishing position. No, this is not Peter Sagan’s team jersey – he just happens to wear it an awful lot.

Polka-dot jersey: the king of the mountains strip is awarded to the rider who has crested the most, and largest climbs in first place, day after day – it’s also the most glamorous of the lot and very highly regarded among French fans in particular.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Julian Alaphilippe (@alafpolak) on

White jersey: like the yellow, but for the youngsters – under-25s mainly but the rule can get a little technical depending on where a rider’s birthday falls in the year – certainly one to take up with the UCI.

The key stages

The 2019 edition of the Tour de France kicks off in the Belgian capital of Brussels with a lumpy but probable sprint stage, tackling a couple of infamous Flandrian climbs – the Bosberg and ‘the Muur’ – along the way. Stage two also finishes in the Belgian capital, the riders thundering around a 27.6km-long city circuit in the race’s first and only team time trial. The race against the clock won’t decide the winner of this year’s Tour, but it will certainly create some gaps between the real yellow jersey contenders.

The rest of the first week heads down through eastern France, skirting the border with Germany as it makes its way towards the Vosges Mountains – the first real uphill test of this year’s race. The riders will hit these mountains on stage six, a hilly stage that sets off from Mulhouse and tackles six lung-busting climbs before a gruesome summit finish atop La Planches des Belles Filles. This is definitely a stage to mark off in the diary, expect to see the big names, like Egan Bernal, Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet, rocketing up these ramps.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Michał Kwiatkowski (@kwiato) on

Instead of taking the more logical route through the Alps due south, the race opts to travel south-west towards the Pyrenees over the next few stages – cutting through the heart of the Massif Central mountain range along the way. There are no ‘big’ mountain stages in the Massif Central this year and, as a result, we’ll probably see the plucky breakaway riders snaffling most of the spoils here.

The second week of racing passes through the Pyrenees, a mountain range feared for its short, but incredibly snappy climbs. On stage 13 the riders will encounter their first and only individual time trial around the Pyrenean town of Pau. A lumpy, 27.2km-long route should make or break a few riders, ending a couple of yellow jersey campaigns early doors.

Just a day later on stage 14 the riders will face down the Col du Tourmalet, a gruelling, 19km-long climb that snakes its way to the summit at an average gradient of 7.4% – in other words, hellish. The race ceases to relent and on stage 15 the riders will be climbing again to the finish, this time up the less-known but just as tortuous, Foix Prat d’Albis.

The riders will be treated to a bit of respite over the next couple of stages as the peloton heads out of the Pyrenees and makes its way to the Alps. A trio of Alpine stages then follows, featuring the mythical climbs of the Col d’Iozard, Col du Galibier, Col de l’Iseran and Val Thorens. It’s on these climbs that the 2019 edition of the Tour de France will be decided, mark our words. Make sure you’ve got these days booked off work, you won’t want to miss the fireworks!

As it has done for the past few decades, the race will finish with a processional stage on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, giving both us and the riders a chance to re-catch our breath and process what the hell has happened over the last three weeks of racing.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Tour de France™ (@letourdefrance) on

Riders to watch

This year’s edition of the Tour is making more headlines for the riders who are not attending than for those who are. Notable absences include the four-time winner, Chris Froome, and second-place finisher last year, Tom Dumoulin. Without those two stage-racing titans in the race, it looks as though we’re going to have a much more open battle for the yellow jersey – one that should produce even more fireworks than we saw last year.

Of the riders lining up on the start line in Brussels, it’s the two Team INEOS riders – Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal – who are being tipped as the main favourites for yellow. Both are incredible climbers and strong against the clock, a perfect combination for this particularly mountainous edition of the race.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Egan Bernal (@eganbernal) on

The pair will face stiff competition from two home favourites, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. These two Frenchmen are talented climbers and some of the most tactically astute riders in the peloton. Expect them to swashbuckle their way to Paris, snaffling and plundering every second they can from the other overall contenders.

Despite never finishing on a Grand Tour podium in his 13-year long professional career, the Great Dane – Jakob Fuglsang – is being touted by many as a top contender for the overall win. This comes after a strong classics campaign where he won the century-old monument, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and finished on the podium of the other two Ardennes Classics. Only time will tell if Fuglsang can channel this aggressive, attacking style of racing into a three-week stage race.

Other big names looking to attack this race include the Movistar trio of Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde. It’s a triple threat, trident attack that we’ve seen many times before – will this be the year that Movistar finally pull it off? Or will the combined approach, once again, go down like a damp squib?

The yellow jersey isn’t the only prize up for grabs this July – a fierce fight is already brewing for the sprinter’s green jersey. Peter Sagan is the main favourite, as always, and will be hell-bent on winning his seventh title, a feat never achieved by any other rider in history. He’ll face fierce competition, however, from the likes of Dylan Groenewegen, Elia Viviani and Michael Matthews, three men who have all already beaten him this year.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Peter Sagan (@petosagan) on

It’s not just the sprinters that will have eyes on the emerald prize, all-round riders like darling Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe, and Belgian wonder kid, Wout van Aert, will also be looking to steal points here and there for a chance to don the coveted jersey.

All that Tour talk has no doubt got you excited for the upcoming race, maybe even to get out there and ride your own, make-shift Tour de France. If you are planning on a cycling holiday this summer, make sure you check out our travel insurance policies right here before you go!

Share this story