Geraint Thomas makes a statement
Geraint Thomas might not have followed in the footsteps of his Ineos predecessors Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome by being awarded the yellow jersey at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, but he nevertheless used the climb to stamp his authority on the race.
He was the only GC rider capable of matching Julian Alaphilippe’s surprising acceleration towards the climb’s summit, and crossed the finish line with daylight between himself and all of his major rivals.
Among those riders left in his wake was Ineos teammate Egan Bernal, meaning Thomas leapfrogs the Colombian on GC, while making the biggest statement in regards as to who Ineos team leader should be.
The actual time gained by Thomas was virtually negligible, with the gap between himself and Bernal, plus the likes of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) a mere matter of seconds.
But the symbolic and psychological victory of proving to be stronger than all of his rivals on the race’s first summit finish feels very significant. After this climb - one that did not ostensibly suit the Welshman - Thomas looks like the man to beat.
Everyone else will already be disheartened that he appears to have possibly rediscovered the form that made him unbeatable 12 months ago.
Alaphilippe stuns yet still losses yellow to Ciccone
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) could not have done more to defend his yellow jersey. Not only was the French favourite still among the group of favourites towards the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles, he even managed to stun everyone with an explosive attack of his own on the climb’s new gravel sector.
That was enough for him to gain time over all the riders (barring Geraint Thomas) who had expected to challenge him for yellow, yet he still loses the jersey to young Italian Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), who finished the stage in second behind Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) up in the day’s break.
Given that all of the Tour’s previous three visits to La Planche des Belles Filles have seen the peloton contest the stage win, it seemed unlikely that the day’s break would survive, let alone with enough of a buffer for one of its riders to take the yellow jersey.
Yet that’s how it transpired, and Ciccone - with some help for bonus seconds acquired both at the finish line and the summit of the day’s penultimate climb - becomes the first Italian to lead the Tour de France since Fabio Aru’s brief stint in 2017.
It’s a huge achievement from Ciccone, who was so impressive at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, and still seems to have the form that saw him win the mountains classification and a stage there.
Regardless of how long he keeps the jersey for (and Alaphillipe may fancy his chances of regaining it with a deficit of just six seconds and several hilly stages scheduled for the coming stages), he’ll likely still have a big part to play for the rest of this rae.
Dylan Teuns wins the stage
Cicconne might have been delighted the take the yellow jersey, but his emotion upon crossing the line will have been disappointment as he lost a hard-fought battle for stage victory to Belgian Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida).
Both riders were the final survivors of the day’s break, and proved to be inseparable right up until the very steepest gradients at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, when Teuns at last managed to shake off his rival and claim the biggest victory of his career.
Up until then, the breakaway riders seemed more preoccupied with claiming points in the king of the mountains classification, with a stage victory seeming an unlikely prospect.
Ciccone did battle with polka-dot jersey Tim Wellens and his Lotto-Soudal team-mate Thomas De Gendt over the day’s early summits, while Teuns came to the fore to claim second behind Ciccone on the penultimate Col des Chevreres and first at the finishing summit.
Teuns has shown considerable promise over the past few years, announcing himself on the world stage with a purple patch in the summer of 2017 during which he won back-to-back stage races at the Tour de Wallonie, Tour of Poland and Arctic Race of Norway, while his form leading up to this year’s Tour was also very good, with a stage victory and sixth place finish overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Movistar and Groupama-FDJ take the race to Ineos
Geraint Thomas might have been the day’s strongest GC rider, but this wasn’t the domineering, soul-crushing performance from Team Ineos that we’ve grown used to seeing on the first mountain top finish of the Tour.
Having already fallen a climber short following Chris Froome’s inability to start the race, the team also missed the dropped Wout Poels on the final climb, and consequently the team appeared uncharacteristically undermanned.
Michał Kwiatkowski was Thomas and Bernal’s final domestique, and was unable to set a fast enough pace to contain Mikel Landa, who Movistar had opportunistically sent up the road to put Ineos under pressure.
Instead, Groupama-FDJ took it upon themselves to chase the dangerous Spaniard, with youngster David Gaudu putting in a very impressive turn for leader Thibaut Pinot, who himself sent French pulses racing by finishing the stage in fifth with the same time as Alaphilippe.
Given how close behind Nairo Quintana (in seventh) and Mikel Landa (10th) were, at just seven and nine seconds adrift to Thomas respectively, the early signs are that Movistar and Groupama-FDJ could be the teams to take the race to Ineos this year.
Romain Bardet is the day’s biggest loser
Generally, most of the yellow jersey favourites made it through the nervous first summit finish of the race unscathed.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) and Rigobert Uran (EF Education-First) all limited their losses to Thomas to less than 20 seconds, and although the formerly well-placed Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) fared worse, even he was only 35 seconds adrift.
However, there was one fancied rider who’s chances of winning yellow took a severe blow - Romain Bardet. The Frenchman was distanced on the steep finale of La Planche des Belles Filles, and virtually crawled over the line as he suffered the added indignity of a dropped chain.
The French favourite ultimately lost 1-09 to Thomas, which, when added to the time shed by his Ag2r La Mondiale squad at stage two’s team time trial, puts him at a significant distance behind at 26th overall all the other favourites.
It’s too early to throw the towel in already and switch priorities to chasing stage wins, but Bardet needs a dramatic shift in fortune if he’s to get back into contention for the yellow jersey.
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