Julian Alaphilippe says he’s not used to defending the lead in a stage race, but he’s learning from his mistakes at the Tour de France.
The shock Tour favourite found himself in unfamiliar territory as he was forced to race in the high mountains for a second consecutive day to hold onto his yellow jersey.
Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) made a tactical error in following an attack by Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) in the stage 15 final, cracking near the summit of Prat d'Albis and allowing Geraint Thomas to narrow his deficit.
Speaking after another dramatic summit finish in the Tour de France 2019, the Frenchman said: “We can always do the race again, but at the point when Pinot attacked I felt good and it was only later that I didn’t feel so good. I’m not used to defending the lead in a stage race. I’m learning from my mistakes.
“It’s not a surprise for me to have lost some time. I had stiff legs after yesterday’s stage. I think that is the case for everyone today. It’s mission accomplished for me. The goal was to retain the yellow jersey and I’m still here. The dream goes on.”
Stage 15 from Limoux to Foix was another exhilarating mountain day in the Tour, with plenty more casualties falling over the three first category climbs on the parcours as Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) rode to victory.
Alaphilippe once again defied expectation and climb with the very best, until Pinot attacked 6km from the summit and was followed by Egan Bernal (Team Ineos), Emanual Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alaphilippe.
The ambitious move by the yellow jersey was a surprise as Bernal was the closest rival at the start of the day, still three minutes down.
Alaphilippe said: "I just raced instinctively as usual. When I saw Thibaut going I went because I saw Bernal and Buchmann going too. I knew that I had a bit of a a margin on Thibaut and I could have not followed, but I’m used to racing the way I want.
"I met the expectation today, which was to keep the yellow jersey and see what happens next."
The decision proved near-fatal when he cracked with 5km to go, allowing Geraint Thomas to pass his rival and take back some of the time he had lost in the stage 13 time trial and the Tourmalet summit finish on stage 14.
But 27-year-old Alaphilippe’s damage control saved his race lead, as he lost just 27 seconds on Thomas.
Alaphilippe added: “I remain realistic and on the gradients we have ahead I’m aware that it will be difficult. It’s not a surprise that I’m starting to struggle.
“I’ve just lost of a bit of time. I didn’t have the ambition to win the Tour. Today nothing changes for me. On the other hand, it changes things for Thibaut Pinot after everything yesterday and today.
“If I lose the yellow jersey, I hope that Thibaut Pinot takes the next one.”
This year's Tour de France remains one of the most open in recent memory.
Alaphilippe leads the race by 1-35 over Thomas, with Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) third at 1-47, an Thibaut Pinot catapulting himself up the GC to fourth, now at just 1-50 deficit. Egan Bernal slips to fifth at 2-20.
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