Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) took his second win of the Tour de France 2019 on stage 15, surviving from the breakaway to reach the summit of the Prat d’Albis.
Behind Yates, the GC race exploded as Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) attacked with 6km to go, finishing second and taking more time back on both Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos).
Pinot and Mikel Landa (Movistar), who had gone up the road earlier, finished 33 seconds behind Yates, but 51 seconds ahead of Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Egan Bernal (Ineos) who finished fourth and fifth on the stage.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos) looked to recover after initially being dropped, leading Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) over the line 49 seconds after Pinot.
Alaphilippe battled bravely but finally showed the signs of weakness that had been expected, eventually cracking when Thomas accelerated with 1.5km to go, the Frenchman holds on to the yellow jersey but crossed the finish line nearly thirty seconds down on the defending champion.
Alaphilippe sees his advantage over Thomas in second place drop to 1-35, with Pinot now on the march up the GC, less than two minutes away, with plenty more mountains ahead where the Frenchman can continue his assault on the overall classification.
How it happened
Stage 15 provided a second straight day in the Pyrenees as the GC race began to heat up before the weather does next week.
A second consecutive summit finish, this time a category one climb after two other summits of the same denomination, all within the final 65km.
With attacks coming thick and fast as the peloton set off for another hard day in the saddle, Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) went on the offensive, getting himself in the action as he attempts to salvage his Tour as compatriots of his take the spotlight.
28 riders made the breakaway, including Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) as Bardet picked up 18 KoM points and potentially signals he will be challenging Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Nibali in that classification in the days to come.
Despite Quintana momentarily dropping from the front group, he got back on and at one point looked a threat to the overall classification, as the strength of the breakaway, as well as having domestiques with him, saw the gap go out enough that he was sitting in virtual second on the GC. Simon Geschke (CCC) soon attacked to animate the leading group and took out a 35 second lead with 40km to go.
Simon Yates was the next to tire of being in the group behind Geschke, launching up the road in pursuit of the German as Ineos’ domestiques were dumped out of the yellow jersey group – with Jonathan Castroviejo, Gianni Moscon, Dylan van Baarle and Michał Kwiatkowski all going backwards as Mikel Landa (Movistar) attacked with Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) following.
Yates caught Geschke at the summit of the Mur de Péguère, with the pair holding a twenty second lead over their chasers, with the yellow jersey group nearly three minutes back with less than 30km to go.
Quintana, Bardet, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) and Sébastien Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ) were the four men chasing Yates and Geschke, now a minute behind as Landa began to close them down.
Landa caught and passed Quintana with 9km to go, barely even acknowledging his team-mate, while Simon Yates attacked and went off in search of a second stage victory.
For the second day in a row, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) set an infernal pace for Pinot on the front of the yellow jersey group as its holder Alaphilippe suffered.
With 6km to go, halfway up the climb, Pinot launched his attack, dropping Thomas, Valverde and Kruijswijk as Quintana was swept up by the GC group.
The Frenchman had attacked perfectly, latching on to team-mate Sébastien Reichenbach’s wheel, with Bernal, Buchmann and Alaphilippe in tow.
With 5km to go Alaphilippe was dropped, as Poels worked for Thomas behind and Pinot passed Lennard Kämna, leaving Landa 40 seconds ahead and Yates nearly two minutes up the road.
Buchmann dropped with 4km to go, with Pinot then trying to get ride of Bernal before putting in the acceleration to distance the young Colombian with 3.5km remaining.
Alone and without domestiques to help, Alaphilippe dropped to the Thomas group, as Pinot pulled out his advantage over them to 45 seconds as he got within touching distance of Landa.
Kruijswijk attacked with 2.5km to the line, as Buchmann got himself back on Bernal’s wheel. Thomas, seeming to have recovered his legs and not willing to sit behind Alaphilippe any more, attacked with 1.5km to go, which cracked the yellow jersey for the first time this race.
Further up the road Pinot caught Landa, with Thomas now leading Kruijswijk and Valverde up to the finish.
Yates had done enough to secure the stage victory, as Pinot and Landa finished half a minute back, with Bernal and Buchmann twenty seconds further adrift.
Thomas and Kruijswijk lost 49 seconds to Thibaut, and Alaphilippe finished 27 seconds behind the defending champion to see his advantage in the GC slip to a minute and a half going into the second rest day.
Tour de France 2019, stage 15: Limoux to Foix (185km)
1. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, in 4-47-04
2. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 33 seconds
3. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at same time
4. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 51 seconds
5. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos, at same time
6. Lennard Kämna (Ger) Sunweb, at 1-03
7. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos, at 1-22
8. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
9. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, both at same time
10. Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-30
11. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 1-49
General classification after stage 15
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 61-00-22
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos, at 1-35
3. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-47
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-50
5. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos, at 2-02
6. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2-14
7. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 4-54
8. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 5-00
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 5-27
10. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education First, at 6-30