By Jonny Long
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) survived from the day-long breakaway to take a phenomenal victory on stage eight of the Tour de France 2019.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) also attacked late in the stage to take the yellow jersey back off Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
The Frenchman took the bonus seconds on offer at the top of the final climb of the day as well as on the finish line after finishing third, with the peloton finishing 20 seconds behind.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) followed his compatriot's attack and finished second on the stage to take some important time from his rivals in the overall classification.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos) was caught up in a crash with his team-mates, with one bike lying snapped by the side of the road, with the defending champion putting in a great show of strength to catch back up to the peloton.
How it happened
Stage eight provided a lumpy parcours with an Ardennes-esque finish. The bonus seconds available at the top of the final climb of the day, the third category Cô
After a nervous start to the race, with the peloton wary of who to allow in any moves up the road, it took an all-star cast of breakaway talent to escape from the bunch.
Thomas De Gendt, Ben King (Dimension Data) and Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie) formed the first three riders of the formidable foursome that went up the road, with Alessandro De Marchi (EF Education First) busting a gut to eventually join them.
Terpstra took the intermediate sprint with Elia Viviani (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) leading the peloton over the line five minutes later.
Thomas De Gendt took the maximum points at the summit of the first three of seven categorised climbs, as the Belgian looked to protect team-mate Tim Wellens' lead in the polka dot jersey.
Geraint Thomas then found himself back in the team cars after puncturing and requiring a wheel change.
The break's gap had fallen to 3-17 with 80km to go, a number of teams interested in potentially contesting the stage win, including Peter Sagan's Bora-Hansgrohe.
However, De Gendt and De Marchi pushed on up the Côte de la Croix de Part, dropping King and Terpstra and firming up the gap back out to around the four minute mark with 60km remaining.
Christophe Laporte then abandoned the race, with reports that the whole Cofidis team are currently suffering from illness, as De Gendt once again took the maximum points up the penultimate climb of the day, the Côte d'Aveize.
It took a phenomenal effort from Peter Sagan to survive up the Aveize and remain within touching distance of the peloton. After easily catching back up on the descent, only a final category three climb stood between the Slovakian and a reduced bunch sprint for the stage win as many of the heavier fast men had been shedded earlier in the day.
EF Education First took up the chase on the front of the peloton, closing the gap to only 1-30 as Wout van Aert was dropped from the peloton.
On a quick corner, Michael Woods (EF Education First) hit the tarmac and took down Gianni Moscon and Geraint Thomas who were on his wheel as well as a number of other Ineos riders.
Kwiatkowski quickly got Thomas back on his bike and chasing back up to the bunch alongside Wout Poels, while Moscon's bike lay crumpled on the side of the road and a policeman inexplicably commandeered Kwiatkowski's, according to the Pole speaking after the race.
Poels went into the red shepherding his team leader back up to the front, with Thomas needing to close the final gap himself, once again showing his strength as the peloton hurtled towards the finish.
De Gendt decided to go it alone, leaving behind De Marchi as the breakaway's chances hung in the balance. The Belgian had just over a minute's advantage on the peloton with 13km to go after he had sealed all of the day's king of the mountain points with the final Jallière summit. He now found himself trailing Wellens by just six points in the polka dot jersey standings.
Behind, De Marchi began to fall straight back into the grasp of the bunch, and as Alaphilippe spotted the orange jersey of his CCC team, launched his attack, well aware of the five bonus seconds on offer at the summit if he went over it next behind De Gendt, which would leave him trailing Ciccone by just one second in the overall classification.
Thibaut Pinot jumped straight onto his compatriot's wheel, looking to take time on his rivals with Thomas still getting back on to the bunch behind.
The French duo had taken out 15 seconds on the peloton with 9km to go, and were within 10 seconds of De Gendt, however the Belgian managed to take this back out to around 20 seconds with 5km until the finish line.
De Gendt managed to hold the pair off, crossing the finish line after yet another stunning ride and successful breakaway.
Alaphilippe and Pinot then turned their focus to holding off the bunch, with Alaphilippe allowing Pinot to cross the line ahead of him, as per the imagined gentleman's agreement that had taken place, with Alaphilippe still taking four bonus seconds that would allow him to usurp Ciccone and take back the yellow jersey.
The two Frenchman would actually finish 20 seconds ahead of the peloton, with Michael Matthews (Sunweb) leading them across the line, with Alaphilippe now taking a 23 second gap over the young Italian into stage nine, and securing the honour of wearing the yellow jersey on Bastille Day.
Thibaut Pinot moved up to third on GC, 53 seconds behind his countryman and importantly 19 seconds ahead of Thomas in fifth, who caught back up and finish tenth, just behind team-mate Egan Bernal in what was one of the rides of the day from the Welshman.
Tour de France 2019, stage eight: Mâcon to Saint-Étienne (200km)
1. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, in 5-00-17
2. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at six seconds
3. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at same time
4. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb, at 26s
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
6. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
7. Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Wanty-Gobert
8. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC
9. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos
10. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos, all at same time
General classification after stage eight
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, in 34-17-59
2. Giuliu Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 23 seconds
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 53s
4. George Bennett (NZl) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-10
5. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos, at 1-12
6. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos, at 1-16
7. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-27
8. Rigoberto Urán (Col)EF Education First, at 1-38
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 1-42
10. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-45
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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