FOIX, FRANCE — After two days of defeats, defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas regained some time on overall leader Julian Alaphilippe on Sunday in the race’s last Pyrenean stage, as fellow Briton Simon Yates claimed a second fine mountain win.
Yates’s triumph, a splendid solo victory after he powered away from all his breakaway companions, was all but overshadowed by an increasingly finely balanced and complex battle for the overall classification.
With six kilometres to go on the final, rainsoaked, ascent of Prat d’Albi above the town of Foix, Alaphilippe showed the first signs of cracking since he regained the race leader’s yellow jersey on stage eight a week ago.
But the Deceuninck-Quick Step racer clung on to limit his time loss to just 27 seconds to Thomas, seventh on the stage, a margin that allows the Frenchman, not a pre-race favourite, to stay in yellow.
“I’m starting to pay for my time in the lead over these last two weeks,” Alaphilippe said afterwards. “I’m not disappointed, just absolutely exhausted.”
With his hope of becoming the host nation’s first winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985 dented but still very much intact, Alaphilippe will likely remain in the lead at least until next Thursday when the race hits the Alps.
Thomas has regained some momentum after losing time to Alaphilippe in Friday’s time trial in Pau and in on Saturday’s ultra-difficult summit finish on the Tourmalet. However, the Welshman’s expected seamless move into the lead this weekend did not materialise by a long shot and other GC contenders are now snapping at his heels, with five riders, including his team-mate Egan Bernal, within 40 seconds.
‘On the right track’
Thomas sounded far more upbeat after yesterday’s stage than on Saturday, saying: “I feel like I’m on the right track going forward and I’m looking forward to the Alps. We’ve got cards to play and we’re in a great position. Today in the last few kilometres I felt as good as I was last year, and that’s good for my head.”
But if the tide appears to turning for Thomas, things are looking even more favourable for France’s Thibaut Pinot.
After outpowering the other favourites on the final haul of Saturday’s gruelling 19-kilometre climb to the Tourmalet, Pinot was arguably even more impressive yesterday as he shot away from the group of favourites much further from the line, with six kilometres to go.
Only Bernal was able to follow him briefly and then another vicious acceleration on the shallow uphill slopes of the Prat d’Albi allowed Pinot to claim second place on the stage and move into fourth overall.
“Thibaut put on a great performance. I hope he will pick up the flame for France if I crumple,” Alaphililppe said afterwards – and certainly the Groupama-FDJ rider is showing every sign of being able to do that.
Meanwhile, Yates’s triumph represented another consolation prize for the Australian Mitchelton-Scott team, after his brother and team leader Adam finished well out of contention for a second successive day.
I’m very proud of what I did today,” the 2018 Vuelta a Espana victor said after yesterday’s success. “I raced the way I like to, tried to be aggressive, and I managed to pull it off.” But while the stage win belonged to Simon Yates, the battle for the overall ranking is looking more wide open than at any Tour since Greg LeMond’s second win in 1989.
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