Tour de France 2019
Alaphilippe now leads Thomas by 1’26” ahead of Saturday’s showpiece summit finish on the famous Col du Tourmalet, with the defending champion increasingly aware of the mounting danger posed by the current man of the moment.
Asked by reporters whether Alaphilippe was now a significant threat in his bid to win a successive Tour, Thomas said: “For sure, by the way he’s riding. If he keeps that up, then he’ll win.”
The last two riders to roll down the ramp in Pau, it was not until Thomas came home that the long-standing leader, Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), was knocked off his perch.
De Gendt, who soloed to glory in Stage 8 at Saint-Etienne, finished third on the day, 36 seconds down on Alaphilippe and level on time with Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First).
Australia’s Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) completed the top five at 45 seconds and tied for time with the impressive Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), who rises to third in the general classification, 2’12 down on Alaphilippe.
A superb day for Alaphilippe’s Deceuninck-QuickStep team was capped by Tour debutants Kasper Asgreen and Enric Mas both finishing in the top 10. Spanish climber Mas moved up to fourth on GC and took over the white jersey as best young rider after Thomas’s Colombian teammate Egan Bernal finished outside the top 20.
Denmark’s Asgreen was the sixth rider to start and set an early marker after catching three riders who started before him – including the German time trial champion Tony Martin of Jumbo-Visma, who appeared to be on team orders to keep himself fresh ahead of domestique duties for teammate Kruijswijk in the mountains.
Asgreen’s time looked to be under serious threat by Jumbo-Visma’s Wout Van Aert until the Belgian time trial champion crashed badly after catching his leg on the sharp edge of a road barrier on the apex of a tight corner near the finish.
De Gendt was forced to slow on the corner where his compatriot was receiving attention, but the Lotto Soudal breakaway specialist underlined his strength against the clock by knocking Asgreen out of the hot seat with what would be the quickest time until Thomas – and then Alaphilippe – put on a fine show.
Thomas, who sealed his first Tour victory last year with third place in the final time trial, beat Kruijswijk’s target time at second intermediate check at the top of the Cote d’Esquillot by 13 seconds.
But Alaphilippe was clearly a man on a mission, the man in the yellow skin suit cresting the summit six seconds quicker than his Welsh rival before maintaining that gap at the third check in Jurancon. “Lou Lou” kept his best till last, though, and his emphatic dancing up the double-digit Rue Mulot in the final kilometre was the cherry on the cake.
“I knew that I really could do a good performance on this parcours,” Alaphilippe said. “I just gave everything, especially in the first part, which was really good for me.
“I went full gas and I see what I can do the line, at the end. My sports director said I was the first time – ten seconds or whatever. I gave everything I have, and I won the stage.”
Alaphilippe’s sports director underplayed Alaphilippe’s hand: his 14-second win over Thomas was an emphatic signal of intent and sees the Frenchman match his stage haul from last year ahead of the final week of the race.
On top of his brace of wins in 2018 Alaphilippe added the polka-dot jersey – and if the current race leader wants to keep hold of the yellow jersey for much longer, then he will need some of those climbing legs.
Having secured a ninth day in yellow with his brilliant win in Pau, Alaphilippe will need to tame the Tourmalet if he wishes to emulate the dual 10-day runs in yellow achieved by his compatriot Thomas Voeckler in 2004 and 2011. Stage 14 takes the riders 117.5km from Tarbes to Tourmalet.
The short but sharp stage includes the Cat.4 Cote de Labatmale and the Cat.1 Col du Soulor ahead of the decisive final HC climb of the Col du Tourmalet. If Alaphilippe’s in the driving seat now, we will have a better idea of who’s at the wheel on Saturday.