With the Pyrenean mountains complete, stage 19 of the 2021 Tour de France departs from Mourenx on the morning of 16th July and heads North in the direction of Paris. With just over 1,000 metres of climbing on the cards, it’s unlikely to be a GC stage. Instead, the sprinters will return to the fore, where Mark Cavendish is taking all the headlines.
If he takes stage victory in Libourne, Cavendish will break Eddy Merckx’ Tour de France stage victory record which has stood since the 1970s.
Stage 18 was won by Tadej Pogačar. The race leader claimed stage victory for the second day in a row after conquering with the Col du Portet and Luz Ardiden. Pogačar now has six stage victories at the Tour de France to his name and has all but secured overall victory at the Tour de France for the second year in a row. Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz were second and third.
Stage 19 profile
Almost immediately, the riders will face the only categorised climb of the stage. A single KOM point lies at the top of the Côte de Bareille which is crossed at kilometre 12. After a closely contested battle for the polka-dot jersey in the Pyrenees, there aren’t enough points left to challenge Tadej Pogačar who will win the competition assuming he finishes the race.
Rolling terrain follows, which carries the peloton to the intermediate sprint in Saint-Sever at kilometre 54. The preceding terrain makes this an ideal opportunity for Michael Matthews to close the gap to Mark Cavendish in the green jersey. The sprint itself takes place on a hill 1.5km in length. Cavendish has chosen to avoid contesting difficult, hilly intermediate sprints to this point, instead saving his energy for stage finishes.
After the intermediate, the road flattens and only a few short hills lie between the fast men and a mass sprint. Crosswinds might play a role, but after two draining days in the Pyrenees, few teams possess the strength in depth to create meaningful echelons.
The final 7.5km are pancake flat until the final kilometre which drags uphill on false flat terrain. The stage finish is in Libourne, which is located approximately 5km west of Bordeaux. The final notable corner is a sharp left-hander immediately followed by a sweeping right-hander with 6.3km remaining. With only a couple of long corners sweeping corners after this, the brakes won’t be required for the rest of the stage. The sprint finish will be very fast and a strong leadout train will be crucial.
Wout van Aert and Mark Cavendish (Image credit: A.S.O./Charly Lopez)
Mark Cavendish has battled through the Alps and then the Pyrenees for a chance to become the most successful stage winner in Tour de France history. The Manx Missile is back to his very best form and has won four stages at the 2021 Tour already. That places Cav on 34 wins, which equals Eddy Merckx’ long standing record. With Champs-Élysées still looming, this isn’t Cavendish’s last chance. However, the presence of Michael Mørkøv and Davide Ballerini — two superb leadout men — will only boost Cavendish’s favourite status in Libourne.
Cavendish has been coy on that record throughout the Tour. When asked about the record after he won in Carcassonne to equal Merckx, he said, “It’s still just another win on the Tour de France. It’s like my first one. It’s what I dreamed of as a kid."
Despite the powerful Deceuninck leadout train, there are many others with a fair chance in a sprint. Wout van Aert held himself back in the first week to target the time trial but has since been challenging in the sprint finishes. A rider for all terrain, Van Aert has won both sprint and mountain stages at the Tour de France before. With only three teammates left in the race, Van Aert has no leadout train to speak of. Nonetheless, if he can position himself well, Van Aert could be the biggest threat to Cavendish.
Alpecin-Fenix began the race with a leadout train that rivalled Deceuninck - Quick Step, but have since lost Tim Merlier and Mathieu van der Poel. That leaves Jasper Philipsen as their only option. The young Belgian has finished in the top three on five occasions but is still looking for his first Tour victory. Could he finally defeat Cavendish in Libourne?
Sonny Colbrelli and Michael Matthews must perform well here if they are to challenge Mark Cavendish in the green jersey classification. Although they'll probably outscore Cavendish at the intermediate sprint, the major points lie at the finish line. This means that Colbrelli and Matthews must be there or thereabouts, even if they are unable to defeat Cavendish in Libourne.
Other riders with a chance in a sprint finish include Cees Bol, Danny van Poppel and André Greipel.
The sprinting field at the Tour de France has been heavily depleted since the race departed from Brest. Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Démare and more recently Nacer Bouhanni have all left the race. Bouhanni had looked to be in his best form in years, but his best finish was a runners-up spot before he DNF'd stage 15. This means that fewer teams will be interested in chasing the breakaway for a sprint, which could give the breakaway a chance of spoiling the sprinter's fun.
The strong, Classics powerhouses might join forces to form a dangerous breakaway group. The likes of Thomas De Gendt, Greg Van Avermaet, Oliver Naesen, Brent Van Moer, Nils Politt and Stefan Küng could all fancy getting involved.
There is no stopping Mark Cavendish right now. The Manx Missile has suffered through the Pyrenees to be in with a chance of becoming the most successful stage winner in Tour de France history. We wouldn't dare bet against him winning in Libourne. Mark Cavendish is our pick to win stage 19 of the Tour de France.
Cover image: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet