Chaos on Stage 18 of the Tour de France
First of all, kudos to both Nairo Quintana and Julian Alaphilippe for their respective performances on Stage 18 of the Tour de France. Nairo for his fabulous attack after hanging on wheels all day and Julian for simply hanging on and bombing the Galibier downhill to catch the GC group again after being dropped on the penultimate climb of the day.
This hardly paints the deeper story of the day. The deeper story of the day is the speculated internal conflict within both Movistar and Ineos. Evidence of this conflict is apparent in the respective strategies of both teams on such a late stage in the Tour de France.
From Movistar, we now know that Quintana is leaving and this obviously is affecting the way the team is riding. Quintana appears to simply be there, a lone ranger within the team doing what he does while the speculated real point men - Valverde and Landa, get the support of the team. With 9 minutes down on GC going into Stage 18, it wasn't surprising that he was allowed to go into the breakaway without anyone sensing the danger. The idea (apparently) was to create a bridge for Landa or Valverde to bridge to and make a big move on GC. That obviously didn't work after they burnt a tonne of matches on the Izoard, releasing Quintana to commit and go for the win.
In the back, the lack of depth within Ineos was apparent. The team failed to control the pace early and neutralise any breakaways (and this has been the story for most of the Tour). More so, it seems that there is a severe lack of commitment in deciding who to support until so late in the game. While it's great that both Thomas and Bernal are up high on GC, the total class shown by Bernal in knocking 32s into the yellow jersey ,with limited road to go, shows who should be the Ineos point man. On hindsight, Bernal should have been unleashed earlier, pushed into Quintana's breakaway and give Ineos a massive buffer going into Stages 19 and 20. The fact that he attacked and then (after some waiting) Thomas went and then slowed, shows the difference in fighting fitness of both riders.
In some ways, one can understand why Ineos left it so late. It's a classic hedging strategy to get 2 possible winners up on GC standings. Will Ineos commit to Bernal and support him 100%? It requires setting a mad pace up the slow draggy crawl to the start of the Col de l'Iseran to discourage breakaways and then letting Bernal & Thomas hammer up that 14km climb, bomb the downhill and then hammer back up the Tiges.
With a mountain top finish this time, the chances are high of Alaphilippe losing a lot of time on the pure climbers if they commit to an attack. No downhill this time to save 30s on.
With 1min 30s to claw back and road quickly running out before Paris, now is the time to commit for the win.
PS : We'd love to know your thoughts about the 2019 Tour de France. Do leave your thoughtful comments below.