Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) went "to the limit" to stay with the front group on the Tour de France's Col du Tourmalet summit finish on stage 14 and to maintain, and even add, to his yellow jersey lead.
The Frenchman now leads the race with 2-02 minutes over Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and 2-14 minutes on Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) – both established classification riders in Grand Tours.
"I really fought with myself," Alaphilippe said of the effort.
"I pushed my limits to remain in the front group. When Pinot attacked [for the stage win] I maybe could have jumped on his wheel, but not only by myself… At the end, I am happy that Thibaut won the stage and that I retain the yellow jersey."
Thibaut Pinot won the stage but Alaphilippe finished second for an important six-second bonus.
France celebrated the double victory. For Alaphilippe, it comes as a surprise to many that he is still in the leader's jersey. Prior to the Tour, he was better known for his one-day feats: winning Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and Flèche Wallonne in the spring.
On stage 14, the Tour climed the famous pass that first featured in the 1910 edition. Over 19 kilometres, Alaphilippe managed himself with star climbers, while at the same time, his general classification team-mate Enric Mas drifted behind.
"I don't really look at the classification. Today I was supposed to have a look at Thomas, Bernal, Kruijswijk, but in reality I wasn't looking really at them," he continued.
"The damage of today has affected many riders and I have to recover from this stage."
If he can recover, he can fight in Sunday's summit finish stage to Prat d'Albis and through the Alps over the next week. He would be in the run to become the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
Given how he dropped big names on the Tourmalet – including Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – anything seems possible.
"My Tour is exceptional. Day after day, I continue to enjoy it and I defend the yellow jersey the best I can," he said.
"When I have seen big names losing contact with our group before me, that thrilled me then I realised that I was going to ride the Tourmalet maybe for the stage win it shows that work pays off. I am happy to profit from that hard work.
"I don't know at all [if I can ride to Paris in yellow]. I will try to keep it as long as I can. The closer I get to Paris, the more I will have a discussion with myself. I have given everything today and we'll see what's next."
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