Two in a row for Thomas
Coming into today’s stage much was made of who would be Sky’s leader heading into the second half of the Tour. Geraint Thomas‘s victory on stage 11 which put him in the yellow jersey raised question marks around Chris Froome‘s form and begged the question would work for his team-mate.
Seeing how the dynamic would play out once the race hit the slopes of the Alpe d’Huez was one to watch before a pedal was stroked in anger.
Let’s not forget back in 2012 when Froome famously rode away from Bradley Wiggins on La Toussuire – history suggests Froome is not accustomed to playing second fiddle. But today he had no answer as it was Thomas who once again staked his claim as Sky’s bona fide leader as he sprinted to another big stage win, leaving a select group of GC riders in his wake to re-affirm his position as leader of the race but also, more importantly as potential leader of Sky for this year’s Tour.
After a punishing stage which saw Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) try a carbon copy of Froome’s long-range attack in the Giro d’Italia back in May, it was Thomas who held his nerve after plenty of attacks from the likes of Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) to win atop of the famous climb which has seen many top riders win over the years.
With Thomas leading team-mate Froome by 1-39 and Dumoulin by 1-50 it’s hard to argue that at the moment the 32-year-old is Sky’s best hope of winning the Tour for a sixth time.
Gutsy Kruiswjik so close to a famous victory on Alpe d’Huez
Up until the final 3.5km to go it looked like Steven Kruiswjik was riding to an historic victory. His long-range attack with over 70km of the race remaining was similar to Froome’s one on the Colle delle Finestre in the Giro, but ultimately it was in vain as the leaders caught up and passed him en-route to the summit.
At one point Kruiswjik built up a lead of 6-20 over the chasing peloton and was the virtual yellow jersey leader for last 60 or so kilometres. Had the finish come 3.5km’s sooner he would have become the first Dutchman to win on Alpe d’Huez since 1989 when Gert-Jan Theunisse triumphed.
Quintana and Martin the big losers
As the battle raged on the slopes of the Alpe, it was expected that Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) would almost certainly feature as they tried to claw back time in the overall. But, for the Irishman, who performed well on stage 11 it was a day to forget as he struggled and was dropped with 6.4km remaining.
As for Quintana, in the early part of the climb he was trying to animate the race leaders by testing the Sky train – but when the real action kicked off between Thomas, Dumoulin, Froome and Bardet the diminutive Columbian couldn’t hold the wheel and as a result was distanced.
He managed to limit some losses, but as he crossed the line he was 47 seconds down on Thomas.
Sprinters suffer again in the Alps
There was always a chance that one or two of the top sprinters would suffer as the Tour hit the Alps, with yesterday Mark Cavendish (Dimension-Data) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) finishing outside the time limit.
Barring Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) today saw the remaining big name sprinters abandon, meaning the upcoming sprint stages will be an interesting affair.
There was a point during the stage where big names were falling like flies and for two-time stage winner Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) and Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-NL Jumbo) it was a day to forget as the mountains became too much. And, just when you thought the rest of the sprinters would come through the stage unscathed, André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) was the next to fall victim in the Alps.
Sky’s Bernal impresses
Although a lot of the headlines will go to Thomas this evening, he has a lot to thank to his young Columbian team-mate Egan Bernal who looked mature beyond his years as he superbly clawed back time on Kruiswjik as the race hit the final kilometres.
Much was made of the 21-year’s old inclusion in Sky’s Tour squad, but Bernal, who has broken onto the WorldTour scene this year, proved why he could be the next ‘superstar’ in cycling as, firstly he reeled in the lone leader Kruiswjik but then had the calmness to thwart any dangerous attacks from the rest of the GC contenders.