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Tour de France build-up 2019: 2 days to go


Good morning, and welcome to the Tour de France.


The race starts on Saturday, of course, but it's already getting busy in Brussels so we're firing up the live blog a couple of days early to cover all the build-up. There's a raft of press conferences over the next couple of days, plus there'll no doubt be several contract extensions and the like, so we'll keep you abreast of all the developments in the Belgian capital. 

Among the early starters today are AG2R La Mondiale, the French team led by Romain Bardet. A podium finisher in 2016 and 2017, Bardet announced himself as the next great French hope, but after last year's subdued performance - and the fact he has still never won a stage race - people seem to be re-evaluating the ceiling of his potential. 



Breaking: Mark Renshaw will retire at the end of the season


More on that shortly...


With two days to go until the Grand Départ, it's time for the latest in our 'countdown' series of Tour de France features. Today, Philippa York takes a look at Nairo Quintana, who shone in his early seasons but has seemingly stalled in the last couple of years. 


"The fun looks like it's missing from his racing," Philippa writes. "Colombians ride instinctively when they’re growing up, with little thought given to consequences. They gradually learn some race craft, but the panache is never usually erased entirely. Nairo Quintana seems to have lost his for the moment."


Here's the full piece


Brecht Decaluwé, our very own Belgian who's acting as our road captain for this Brussels Grand Départ, was at AG2R's press conference, and he reports that Bardet "didn't sound upbeat". 


"Lots of crashes throughout the season didn't make for a great atmosphere," Brecht says. "Still, they want to make the best of it. It's not been the best season for Bardet but he hopes it falls together in these three weeks. The course, he says, suits him much better than last year, with limited time trialling and several climbs above 2000 metres."


And here is Bardet, speaking to radio broadcasters after the conclusion of the session for the written press. 



Movistar are in the building, with their three leaders. It's all smiles, for now...



Cofidis held their press conference early doors this morning. Did you know, they've not won a Tour de France stage since 2008. They're regulars on ASO's invite list but must be feeling the pressure now. 


Daniel Benson was there for us (at the presser, but also probably in Monluçon in 2008), and spoke to team manager Cedric Vasseur about the very subject. "Every year it’s another year more," said the Frenchman, in something of a statement of the obvious, but he also insisted "we don't have so much pressure".  Full story to come shortly. 


Confirmation from Daniel that he was indeed present in Montluçon when Sylvain Chavanel bagged Cofidis' last Tour win. Here's the finish line shot, which puts into perspective how long ago it was. Bonus points if you can identify the FDJ rider. 


Movistar's press conference has finished and their riders have just set out for some team time trial training on the lanes outside Brussels, using local lad Jurgen Roelandts as their guide. 



Some observations from Stephen Farrand, who was at the Movistar press conference for us. 


"It was a relaxed atmosphere, but there was an obvious elephant in the room," he says, referring to the relationship between Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa, both of whom would rather be leader without the 'co-' prefix. "There wasn't much eye contact between them, and once out of the building they rode off separately."


Other than that, Alejandro Valverde is looking "very very skinny".


There they are, flanked by the team's long-standing manager, Eusebio Unzué. 



"I know it’s the right time to step away from racing, my body and mind won’t allow me to perform and compete to the level that’s required for a race like the Tour de France."


Mark Renshaw there, outlining his retirement from pro cycling after 16 years. The Australian never won a Tour stage, but helped a certain Mark Cavendish to a fair few. Full story here


"Even though a few of the favourites are ruled out of the race, there’s still a dozen of riders who can win the Tour de France," says Bardet.


His full thoughts will be on the site very shortly.

Breaking: Bora-Hansgrohe have just revealed their special-edition white kit for the Tour de France



Here's that full Cofidis piece from Daniel. 


Tour de France: Can Cofidis end their dreadful barren spell?


Here's the story on the Bora kit. Plenty of photos in there. 


Peter Sagan and Bora-Hansgrohe reveal new white jersey for Tour de France



More special gear being revealed, with Arc de Triomphe kicks for Michael Matthews



Lotto Soudal's press conference is underway and the news there is that the Belgian team's two primary sponsors have extended until the end of 2022. 


Soudal, who make adhesives and that sort of thing, are stepping up and becoming equal partners with the Belgian state lottery company. And as such, we have another new jersey. Not much of a change, but the eagle-eyed will notice that the Soudal logo as moved above the Lotto. 



Trek-Segafreo have brought Richie Porte, Jasper Stuyven and Bauke Mollema to their press conference.



And we can hear from Porte now


"I must admit that I’ve not had the season that I wanted to have so far but I go into the Tour with far less pressure than in the last few years. That’s no bad thing. The form is pretty good and I just need to stay healthy. I’m happy in the team and we’ve got a good team here. We’ve got all the bases covered. Sunday in the team time trial, that’s where it’s all going to start for us. I feel 100 per cent less pressure. 100 per cent."

More from Porte on his season so far, and how it could be a blessing in disguise. 


"It hasn’t been a slow start to the season because I wanted it that way. My race programme had to change a few times and I kept getting sick but it’s nice to turn up at the Tour not running on fumes and trying to eek out the last bit of form that I’ve had, which has happened to be in the last few years. 


"The last three stages in the Alps are where it’s going to be decided anyway, so it might not be a bad thing to be coming here a bit underdone."

Porte names Thomas as 'clear favourite'


"He won it last year and he’s probably in better shape this year too. It’s a shame that Chris Froome is not here but it does change everything. It means Thomas now has to be the out-and-out favourite with Ineos. I’d expect them to back him 100 per cent," says the Australian. 


"Some guys writing stories that it didn’t happen, which is just ridiculous. Of course he’s a friend off the bike. His crash was devastating to hear but I’ve spoken to him and the thing with him is that he’s always going to come back. It’s a hard one to come back from but I don’t suspect we’ve seen the last of Chris Froome, put it that way."


Here's Brecht's full story on Bardet.


Bardet: Third week of Tour de France will be hardest ever



Oh dear, more kit news and UAE are wearing white shorts...



Cavendish controversy, Pinot, Woods and Sunweb’s Dumoulin dilemma...


It's all in our latest podcast, and our first from the 2019 Tour de France. Here's the link you need


Speaking of podcasts, it would be rude not to mention a special edition we had yesterday. Daniel Benson went to Girona last week to join EF Education First on a training camp that was essentially the final selection process for their Tour team. There are interviews with Urán, Woods, and Van Garderen and it's a great insight into a team's Tour preparation. 


How EF Education First selected their Tour de France team - Podcast


Here is Stephen Farrand's story from the Movistar press conference, in which he writes that Quintana and Landa were playing a 'game of diplomacy'. 


Leadership question lingers for Quintana and Landa at Tour de France


Deceuninck-QuickStep's presser has kicked off. As we've come to expect, it's in a Lidl, meaning baffled shoppers looking on as they try to grab their milk. Josh Evans informs us that Julian Alaphilippe and Elia Viviani were squeezing oranges to show off Lidl's new juicer. 



In the last couple of years the QuickStep pre-Tour presser has basically become a glorified opportunity to do the shop for the Cyclingnews Grand Départ Airbnb. Come for Lefevere's band of stage hunters, stay for the fresh produce at competitive prices. 


Back to cycling matters, and Bauke Mollema has a new paint-job on his Trek Emonda. 



Richie Porte from the Trek-Segafredo squad has tipped defending champion Geraint Thomas as the main favourite for this year's Tour de France.


In the absence of Chris Froome, who is recovering from a horrific crash, Thomas and Egan Bernal will co-lead Team Ineos at the Tour.


"I think that Geraint Thomas is the clear favourite," Porte told the press in Belgium today. "He won it last year and he's probably in better shape this year, too. It's a shame that Chris Froome is not here but it does change everything. It means Thomas now has to be the out-and-out favourite with Ineos. I'd expect them to back him 100 per cent."


You can read the full story here.


The Tour de France stage 2 team time trial course in Brussels isn't open for pre-riding yet, so teams ventured to the auto circuit in Zolder yesterday for a chance to hone their skills in the group race against the clock.


We put together a photo gallery of the teams training in full team time trial set-up on the auto circuit.


You can view the gallery here.


Cracking weather for the 2019 Grand Départ. The teams presentation is coming up at 5.30pm local time, so in around 45 minutes. 

Here's Jakob Fuglsang a little earlier. Many feel he's the favourite for this Tour. He doesn't have much pedigree over three weeks - his best is 7th - but he is unarguably the form rider of the overall contenders. He has won Ruta del Sol, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Critérium du Dauphiné and a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico, along with podiums at Strade Bianche, Amstel Gold, and La Flèche Wallonne. 


We'll have a story with his pre-race thoughts shortly.




Here we go then. Almost time for the teams presentation



"If I can take yellow in the first week that would be great"


That's Julian Alaphilippe, who clearly reckons QuickStep can put in a strong TTT on stage 2 and fancies the punchy finish on stage 3. More from QuickStep's press conference shortly. 


Spot the leader. Here are Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas during Team Ineos' training ride a little earlier. 



The teams presentation is in full swing. Wanty-Gobert were the first team called up onto the stage. They're a Pro Conti team from here in Belgium and you can bet your house on them being in the break tomorrow, and on pretty much every stage to be honest. They're not mere breakaway merchants, however; in Guillaume Martin they have a big French talent, who finished 21st and 23rd in the last two seasons. Now 26, many expect him to take a step forward, and he looks in decent form after an eye-catching display at French nationals at the weekend. 



Here's Dan Martin, top 10 in the past three Tours, and here's what he has to say. 


"I've been close to the top 5 before. I'm ready to try and finish as high up on GC as possible. [Teammate Fabio] Aru had surgery only two months ago. He will not lose time intentionally but I'm the leader. We've got Alex [Kristoff] for the sprints but obviously we're missing [Fernando] Gaviria. He's one of the fastest sprinters out there."



Here's Daniel Benson speaking to Steve Cummings. The Dimension Data rider was quoted as saying he was surprised to be selected for the Tour, and it's fair to say it came as a surprise to see that quote put out by the team themselves. He's had a poor season, a poor couple of seasons really, but has two breakaway wins to his name at the Tour from 2015 and 2016. 



Nice of Greg Van Avermaet to stop by. The Belgian is understandably excited to be racing on home soil. 


"It's nice to ride through Brussels like this. Many people are afraid to come to Brussels so this gives them the chance to get to know it. The finish in Epernay (stage 3) suits me well. I did a recon and I certainly have my chances there. If not, there are more opportunities in this Tour."



Warren Barguil rocking his new French champion's jersey. Very smart. Very smart indeed. 



Here's Stephen Farrand's story from the Deceuninck-QuickStep press conference. Alaphilippe, Viviani, Mas... lots of angles to cover. 


Deceuninck-QuickStep hungry to continue winning streak at Tour de France


Huge cheers for Peter Sagan, who's wearing the new white Bora jersey.



Defending champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) speaks with the press ahead of the team presentation at the Tour de France.



Team Ineos will have co-leaders for this Tour de France: defending champion Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. Here's Bernal speaking with the press at the team presentation.



Movistar's Nairo Quintana speaks with the press at the team presentation.



Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was on hand for comments at the team presentation at the Tour de France.



If you missed the team presentation for the Tour de France, you can click through the gallery below to catch a glimpse of the favourites on stage in Brussels.


Organisers welcomed on stage Eddy Merckx, as it has been 50 years since he won the first of his five Tour de France titles, and they chose Brussels for the Grand Depart in his honour.


Tour de France team presentation gallery.



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