The action packed 2019 Tour de France reached its halfway stage with several favourites getting blown down the standings by the wind on the road to Albi on Monday.
But with an individual time-trial and the majority of the mountain stages remaining, any day can end any rider’s ambitions.
AFP Sport takes a look back at how its pre-Tour title picks have fared over the first 10 days as the smoke clears from the fallout from three gun-slinging Julian Alaphilippe attacks, the team-time-trial and the battle at the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles.
The 27-year-old classics specialist is the surprise of the Tour.
The number-one ranked cyclist in the world swept the French public up in a wave of enthusiasm after his swashbuckling attacks through the Champagne hills, his performance on the eve of the Bastille day celebrations, and, finally, in the crosswinds on the narrow road to Albi.
But how far can he go? The former soldier has sworn to fight for the jersey every day.
He said he can defend his lead at Friday’s time-trial round Pau, before adding that if he works hard and there is no general brawl he can also keep his lead in the two following stages in the Pyrenees. Brilliant to watch, loved by the public, he clearly has the resources to fight beyond his comfort zone.
The 33-year-old defending champion is well placed to take a second title as he waits for Alaphilippe to falter. The way he handled his stage eight fall brought widespread praise for his leadership, and in the skirmishes atop La Planche des Belles Filles steep climb, the Welshman launched an impressive attack to put time into his key rivals.
He then led Ineos as they joined the Alaphilippe-sparked 38km rampage that blew five rivals out of contention on the way to Albi.
Thomas will also, 83-year-old Raymond Poulidor said, beat all his adversaries again at the time-trial in the south-west town of Pau this coming Friday.
The Danish veteran, who said “I decided to win or die” after clinching the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic in April, crossed the finish line to the opening Tour stage in Brussels bloodied and battered after a high speed fall.
When AFP asked Astana how the 34-year-old was feeling after the first week, the team manager rolled his eyes and said: “You’d better ask him.”
He survived on La Planche des Belles Filles, but was caught napping at Albi and is 3min 22sec adrift of Alaphilippe, but is by no means out of contention.
Known as ‘The Shark’ because of his devastating knack for taking out opponents at key moments, Nibali almost pulled off a fifth Grand Tour win in May but came second in the Giro d’Italia.
Racing the Tour so soon after his search for another home title he has looked exhausted and is more than 14 minutes down. But he remains just about the cleverest tactician on the Tour, and will target at least one mountain stage victory.
Team principal Dave Brailsford is keeping 22-year-old Bernal wrapped in cotton wool, with almost zero media exposure on the Tour so far.
Brailsford has told the Colombian to stay with Thomas if he has any doubts, which could be interpreted as ‘go for it when you are ready’.
And Brailsford is on record as saying “boy oh boy is he ready”. It may be too soon for the young Colombian, but he appears to have a knack for saving ruthless moves for the right moment, and as Poulidor said “what a climber he is”.