Alaphilippe gets his win
At just 26, and only in his second participation at the Tour de France, it still feels like Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) has been working for quite a while for his maiden stage win at his home race.
Perhaps it’s because, despite his prodigious talent, Alaphilippe has been second a lot in various races throughout his career so far, including narrowly losing to Peter Sagan on stage two of the 2016 Tour to Cherbourg.
This year has been a phenomenal one for the Frenchman though, now adding a Tour stage to his Flèche Wallonne victory after attacking from the breakaway on the first day in the Alps.
Alaphilippe was clearly keen to get in the break from the first climb, eventually jumping away in a 21-man group. He’d been eyeing the yellow jersey earlier in the race with a close position on GC, but after losing time over the weekend, he’d clearly reset his aim at stint in the polka dot KOM jersey instead.
Despite missing out on the first category one climb of the day which went to Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ), Alaphilippe took maximum points on the four remaining classified climbs. More impressive was how he bridged over to lone breaker Rein Taaramäe (Direct Energy) on the penultimate climb of the Col de Romme before pipping him to the summit, later dropping the Estonian on the descent with some daring cornering.
From there he was able to increase that gap on the final climb of Col de la Colombiere and looked unassailable as he went over the top of the climb and descended towards the finish.
It was a really classy win from Quick-Step man, who took advantage of the calm in the bunch behind, but expect him to continue heading into the breakaway on mountain stages if he’s to keep hold of his polka dots.
Van Avermaet holds on to yellow
No-one would have said anything if Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) had sat up and allowed himself to ride easy through the Tour’s first day in the Alps and lose his yellow jersey.
But the Belgian clearly didn’t want to give up the overall lead of the Tour easily and took the opportunity to jump into the large breakaway that went away early.
With no reaction from Team Sky, Van Avermaet was able to get over seven minutes away in the break and meant that even when he began to tire on the final couple of climbs, he had more than enough time to make it to the finish and hold on to his yellow jersey. He was even able to extend his lead to over two minutes on Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), who remains in the driving seat as far the overall contenders are concerned.
Don’t expect to see a repeat of the same from Van Avermaet tomorrow after he went pretty deep today, with a true climbers’s stage on the cards to La Rosière. It was an admirable ride from Van Avermaet today though, and he deservedly gets another day in the Tour’s prestigious leaders’s jersey.
Quiet day for most of the favourites
While it was a hard fought day in the breakaway, it seemed relatively calm back in the bunch.
Team Sky controlled the front for most of the day, and with so many hard climbs en route to a descent towards the finish, there wasn’t much appetite for a big move from any of the contenders, especially with two more difficult days to come in the Alps.
There was a brief flurry of movement from Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) on the final climb, but he was quickly shut down by Sky’s super Colombian Egan Bernal.
The profile of today’s stage looked potentially like one that could prove decisive in the second week, but the expectation that tomorrow’s short 108.5km summit finish stage could provide serious fireworks probably left many of the climbers wanting to save something.
We did however see some chinks in the armour of some of the overall hopefuls. Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) lost over 50 seconds after struggling with Sky’s pace on the final climb, but he’ll be relatively pleased with how he mitigated his losses compared to some…
Uran loses more time
The day’s biggest loser was Rigoberto Uran, who looks like he won’t get anywhere close to matching his second place overall at last year’s Tour.
The Colombian lost well over a minute on the cobbles of stage nine having, along with half the peloton, crashed at some point on the road to Roubaix.
Even with no attacks today though, Uran was unable to hold the pace and was potentially still feeling his injuries from Sunday.
He was quickly distanced on the Col de la Colombiere, but more worryingly, had no EF Education First-Drapac team-mates anywhere close to him to help him back in. That was often the case last year for Uran, but it was an exceptional year where he didn’t seem to put a foot wrong even as he rode solo.
This year it looks like it’s going to be a hard task to get back anywhere close to contention, losing 2-36 by the time he reached the finish and now sitting well down at 7-08 on Van Avermaet, and almost five minutes on Thomas.
Gravel makes no difference
When the 2018 Tour de France route was announced, the gravel section at the top of the Col des Glières was marked as a particularly crucial part of today’s stage.
That proved to be, er… not entirely the case. The peloton breezed through it like it wasn’t any different to the road they’d just left, and aside from a quickly resolved puncture for defending champion Chris Froome, it’s unlikely that part of the race will make the highlights reel.