The 2019 Tour de France is up and running. And how! The initial stages have already hinted at the scale and diversity of the challenges that await the 176 riders from 22 teams who started the race in Brussels. While the climbers have yet to enter the fray, the Tour is truly up and running, and it’s running in black and yellow – Continental’s corporate colors.
Following on from a veritable Eddy Merckx Fest on Day One in honor of the Belgian bike racing idol and marked by a photo finish, Day Two brought the glorious spectacle of 22 pacelines hurtling through the streets in the team time trial. That was Sunday, and on Monday a daring solo attack was crowned by a stage win. That brought the Tour back onto home ground in France, where it’s set to pick up speed and intensity.
The many hours of live TV coverage served up by public and private broadcasters are providing a wealth of fine images, impressively documenting the new role that Continental has taken on in the first of its five years as a Main Partner to the Tour de France. The Continental brand has a commanding presence on the final kilometers of each stage, as well as at the finish and during the presentation of the trophies. Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme visited Continental’s Korbach plant in May of this year, obtaining first-hand insights into production of the brand’s hand-made racing tires and the PR impact of that visit also continues to make itself felt.
On the road, meanwhile, there are still signs of nerves among the field, while the favorites are keeping their form firmly under wraps. Each team is cosseting its key GC players, keeping them literally out of the wind and getting them safely through the opening exchanges. That said, members of the six teams that are again racing on Continental tires have already made their mark in the first few days of the Tour. The two Team Ineos riders often touted as top favorites, 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas and his teammate Egan Bernal, are currently ranked sixth and seventh in the GC, with Bernal 40 seconds and Thomas 45 seconds behind overall leader Julian Alaphilippe of France, who won stage 3 in Epernay.
While UK-based Team Ineos and Spain’s Movistar team with star rider and Tour co-favorite Nairo Quintana will doubtless begin to reveal their hand in the Vosges mountains, the other teams riding on Continental rubber have already been among the front-runners in the initial stages. Michael Matthews from German team Sunweb has been taking the fight to top sprinter Peter Sagan from the Bora-Hansgrohe outfit, also from Germany. Matthews is widely considered one of the main rivals to the Slovakian, who is targeting a seventh coveted green jersey for the best sprinter in this year’s Tour. At present, Matthews is lying second to Sagan in the sprinter rankings, with Sonny Colbrelli, whose Bahrain-Merida team are also racing on Continental tires, behind him in third place.
With the vine-clad hillsides of the Champagne region behind them, the riders now head into the Vosges for a whole new chapter of the Tour. And so the tension mounts...