Alaphilippe at last shows weakness
After two weeks of looking virtually invincible on every kind of terrain and discipline, the yellow jersey of Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) at last showed weakness.
The moment came halfway up the final climb of the Prat d’Albi, when, following an acceleration from Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Alaphilippe was unable to follow, and had to set his own tempo as Pinot, Egan Bernal (Ineos) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) escaped up the road ahead of him.
Things caught worse when he was later caught and dropped by another group of GC rivals containing Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), and by the finish Alaphilippe was showing signs of exhaustion for the first time in the race - he was barely able to support himself after the finish, and was filmed leaning over a barrier with his head in his hands.
The stage was hardly fatal, as the Frenchman still maintains a lead of 1-35 ahead of second place Thomas on GC, but it could certainly be the beginning of the end for his yellow jersey dream. It at last appeared as though his efforts earlier in the race were starting to catch up on him, and with three momentous Alpine stages to come, he
Added to that, his Deceuinck-Quick-Step were worryingly weak, with even key mountain domestique Enric Mas dropped early in the stage, leaving Alaphilippe isolated as early as the day’s penultimate climb, the Mur de Peguere.
Then again, perhaps it was just a bad day for Alaphilippe, and we’ll see him bounce back after tomorrow’s rest day. At this most unpredictable of Tours de France, who knows?
Simon Yates doubles up
His twin brother might be enduring a difficult time, but Simon Yates is having a wonderful Tour de France, today pulling off a second stage victory in the Pyrenees.
Having been relieved of domestique duty following Adam Yates’ fall out of GC contention, Simon made the most of his freedom by getting into the day’s break.
Having taken an age to form, that break ultimately featured some seriously strong climbers, including Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), all of whom were desperate to bounce back having lost time yesterday.
Yates got the better of them all, however, thanks to a deadly acceleration 1km from the summit of the steep Mur de Péguère, followed by a blistering descent and climb of Prat d’Albi.
His main challenge ultimately came from attacks from the peloton courtesy of Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), but Yates had the legs to hold them both off, and hang on to win by 33 seconds.
At this rate, you wouldn’t put it past him to land yet another win come the Alps.
Thibaut Pinot proves he is the best climber at the Tour
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) produced his best performance yet to demonstrate how he is the best climber at this year’s Tour de France, in the process moving up to fourth on GC and well in contention for the yellow jersey.
The Frenchman had already shown sensational climbing form to finish fifth on Planche des Belles Filles and first on the Tourmalet, but whereas those results were aided by his quick uphill sprint, today he outclassed all of his rivals with a long-range attack 7km from the summit of Prat d’Albi.
One by one all of the other GC candidates were dropped, with Pinot shedding the last survivor Egan Bernal 4km from the top, and later catching and working with early escapee Mikel Landa to press home his advantage.
The question now is: can Pinot win the Tour de France? We’re used to seeing him falter in Grand Tour GC bids with one fatal bad day, but then again we’ve never seen him on form like this before. It’s worth remembering that, without the 1-40 lost in the crosswinds on stage ten, he’d only be 10 seconds adrift of Alaphilippe.
Even if the French dream of seeing Alaphilippe win the yellow jersey fades in the final week, there’s every chance it could be another Frenchman who usurps him.
An excruciatingly tight GC
With Alaphippe, Thomas and Kruijswijk all struggling, and Pinot, Bernal and Buchmann all gaining time, things look excruciatingly tight at the top of the GC.
The order may remain more or less the same, with the only change in the top six being Pinot leapfrogging Bernal and Buchmann into fourth, but everything has been compressed - Alalphilippe’s lead ahead of Thomas has now been reduced to 1-35, and a mere 39 seconds separate Thomas in second and Buchmann in sixth.
This is unprecedented in recent Tours, where Team Ineos (formally Team Sky) have tended to boast a large lead by the end of the second week, with few (if any) other riders still in overall contention.
Given the lack of lack of experience among the six riders in contention (who between them boast just one Grand Tour overall win and one Grand Tour podium between them), and how much their form seems to be fluctuating, everything is set up for a thrilling and unpredictable final week.
Movistar bounce back, but tactical confusion remains
Eager to make amends for the mess that was yesterday’s stage, Movistar went out on the offensive today, throwing everything they could to win the stage.
First Nairo Quintana managed to work his way into the day’s break. Then Mikel Landa launched an ambitious attack out of the peloton on the Mur de Peguere, with over 40km still to ride.
In isolation both of these moves were promising ploys, but taken together they didn’t make much sense - Landa’s acceleration was mightily impressive, but succeeded only in catching Quintana’s group, with the Colombian immediately being dropped after Landa set a new faster tempo.
All would have been forgiven had Landa managed to press on and win the stage, but he was unable to catch Yates - who had earlier benefit from pace-setting by Movistar’s domestiques Andrey Amador and Marc Soler - and had to instead settle for third on the stage.
The lack of communication between Landa and Quintana (who are both expected to leave the team at the end of the season) upon joining each other was especially worrying, and hints at internal strife within Movistar.
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