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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Poole

A Celebration of the 2019 Tour de France- Chapter 2

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Chapter 2

Stage 8: Mâcon – Saint Étienne

Stage winner: Thomas De Gendt

Yellow Jersey: Julian Alaphillipe

As expected, Thomas De Gendt attacks inside the first kilometre today, as the day looks certain to be up for grabs to the breakaway. With a parcours that includes muktiple technical Category 2 and 3 climbs, it should be a serious test of the legs and one would expect the victory to go to a punchy rider in the break. However, if one of the GC men wants to play ball, there is the potential for havoc to reign. After 11km, De Gendt has formed a three-man group with Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Énergie) and Ben King (Team Dimension Data), allowed a 41" gap to the peloton. This gap soon opened to above 3 minutes and Alessandro De Marchi joined to make it a four-man break.

The day begins as we mean to go on, with stunning views across the Beaujolais vineyards, focusing initially on the stunning Le Château de Varennes.

One down, six to go, as De Gendt takes the maximum points on the first KOM of the day. By this point, the breakaway group has an advantage of 4'48", but with 138km to go the day is still completely up for grabs. It shall be an interesting watch to see whether Guilio Ciccone can retain his maillot jaune. On the front of the peloton are Bora-Hansgrohe and Team Sunweb, feeling that today is a day for Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews, with the gap slowly falling between the break and peloton.

Unsurprisingly, Niki Terpstra is distanced on the Côte de la Croix de Part (Category 2), but in a more surprising turn of events, so is Ben King, with De Gendt and de Marchi storming off ahead 0.6km from the summit. The distanced pair work together to see themselves over the summit and they try to regain contact with De Gendt and de Marchi on the descent, after de Marchi overcooks a corner, leaving him in arrears of De Gendt temporarily. However the fight is futile and the gap only grows, De Gendt and de Marchi are now our lone breakaway riders, with Terpstra and King figuratively going backwards. With the stage win edging in the favour of the breakaway, Astana and EF Education First ramp up the efforts on the front of the peloton and as the riders pass the 40km to go mark, the odds are very much 50/50 on whether or not the break will survive.

At the 31.7km mark, the gap falls below 2 minutes and things do not look good for De Gendt as de Marchi, with both riders appearing tired and seemingly succumbing to the peloton's onslaught. As they approach the final climbs of the day, EF Education First are drawing the break in and Peter Sagan is carrying bidons, hinting that he will not be in the battle for the stage win. The likes of Julian Alaphillipe will be targeting the Côte de la Jaillière at kilometre 187.5, which at just under 2km long has gradients reaching 14.5%.

As the peloton winds its way through a small village, a bidon has come loose and Laurens De Plus does well to ride over it without great worries. But there is drama a second later as Ineos are shown to be scrambling to get Geraint Thomas back on a new bike, after falling on a corner, the reason for which is initially unknown. The entire Ineos team stopped bar Egan Bernal and Gianni Moscon and Michał Kwiatkowski are left reeling at the side of the road. A helicopter replay is soon found and it shows Michael Woods of EF Education First slipping out on the bend, taking down Thomas, Kwiatkowski and Moscon with him. Moscon's bike was completely snapped in two, whilst Thomas quickly remounted his steed in order to frantically regain contact with the peloton, aided by his loyal domestiques.

Meanwhile up ahead there is drama on the slopes of the Côte de la Jaillière, as 14.1km from home De Gendt attacks his breakaway compatriot de Marchi, grinding himself clear and cracking de Marchi. As the peloton starts the climb, Thomas is still not in contact with the bunch and Wout Poels paces him to the back of the pack, certainly not an ideal position for the defending champion. The gap between the peloton and De Gendt with a kilometre left of the climb is still 55", with the Belgian powering himself with all his might to steer clear. At the tête de la course, De Gendt summits the climb with 34 seconds advantage over the peloton, a peloton that is now short of a former winner of the Tour, as Vincenzo Nibali falls away to his consolidate his status as a stage hunter this time round.

On the upper slopes of the climb comes a trademark Julian Alaphillipe attack, with him pushing a monstrous gear as he stands up on the pedals and powers his way off the front of the peloton, the gradients here reaching 14.5% and Alaphillipe reaching 28km/h. Alaphilippe is the second man to crest the climb, taking a 5" time bonus, taking Thibaut Pinot with him (2" bonus). The French are flying as Alaphillipe bombs them both into the descent. There is now a downhill to come before a late kick up in the finale. Pinot and Alaphillipe work together and take turns to power themselves downhill. It is a beautiful sight as Pinot and Alaphillipe are two riders who display all their emotions, with no poker faces in sight. We see mouths wide open and tongues draping as these two French heroes work together to keep themselves clear of the chasing pack, which is led by Astana on behalf of Jakob Fuglsang.

The descent offers small rises in places, which Alaphillipe takes advantage of to open up a greater gap to the riders being, with Pinot still stuck to his wheel and partaking in turns on the front to aid their mission. Still De Gendt remains at the head of the race, with his gap now 20" to Alaphillipe and Pinot. Maillot jaune Guilio Ciccone remains with the favourites group behind, having gone into the day with a 6" lead over Alaphillipe, with teammate Bauke Mollema leading the chase for the group in an attempt to save the race lead. However after Mollema peels off, the chase collapses as no rider commits to working on the front. There is stagnation as the riders roll through with no coordinated unity. Where there is a lack of commitment behind, there is no lack of commitment to be found with Julian Alaphillipe. The commentators remark that Pinot's heart must be in his mouth watching Alaphillipe take the corners, as the incredible Frenchman takes the bends at breakneck speed in order to extend their advantage.

"Alaphillipe again is showing why he is the most popular man in French cycling!"
Matthew Keenan

Back in the peloton Enric Mas is playing perfect-teammate for Alaphillipe, sitting in second wheel and slowing down the chase every time the leading rider pulls off. It is a masterstroke in teamwork and disrupts the efforts of Team Sunweb and co. to bring back the leading three out front. With 5km to go, De Gendt leads the French pair by 19" and holds a 32" gap back to the peloton, with the stage victory still very much in the balance. There is still one more hill to come for the rider who has now been in the break for 195 kilometres...

The riders head into Saint Étienne for the 26th time in the history of the Tour de France. As the 3km mark comes, De Gendt enters the short and sharp rise that will serve as the day's final test before a descent, with the chasers now 26" in arrears. Alaphillipe and Pinot dance their way up this hill to the cheers of the French masses, taking 10" back on De Gendt in a matter of half a kilometre, whilst the peloton slow down as no team is willing to keep contributing to this doomed chase. At 2.3km to go, De Gendt crests the rise and finds his way onto the downhill to home, looking certain to pull off a stage win for the ages.

9 seconds is the gap as the French duo enter the final two kilometres, still committing everything to the chase despite not having De Gendt in their sights. Julian Alaphillipe, audacious as ever, bombs his way through the corners of the descent, but it will not be enough to catch the great Thomas De Gendt, who pulls off a most incredible stage victory that is 200km in the making. The breakaway artist takes stage 8 with a massive smile across his face, as he crosses the line little after 5 hours of racing. Meanwhile behind, Alaphillipe and Pinot cross the line together 19" in front of the peloton which contains all of the big GC hopefuls. The gap and time bonuses are enough to put Alaphillipe back into yellow once more, as he leads the race by 23" to Ciccone and 53" to Pinot, with defending champion Geraint Thomas trailing by 1'12".

Reflections in Saint Étienne

Today's stage was the Tour de France's opening battles at its finest, with an incredible breakaway success alongside GC battles behind. To witness another De Gendt magical display is an honour and even after all he has achieved in his illustrious career, he still manages to surprise us time after time. With 40km to go the breakaway appeared to be losing control of the race and the balance of power had swung in favour of the peloton. Alas they battled on and as they climbed the Côte de la Jaillière, De Gendt smelt blood and took his opportunity, soloing to the finish line in Saint Étienne. This alone would have made for a fantastic stage to watch, but then stage offered more, with the heroic French pair of Alaphillipe and Pinot attacking as the climb reached its crescendo. Their teamwork to gain time over the peloton was artistry at work and had the French crowd in raptures, with Alaphillipe's daring descending putting on a remarkable show. In the end the day ended in the most ideal way possible, with De Gendt being rewarded for his bravery, Alaphillipe being rewarded for his daredevil attack, and Pinot announcing himself as a serious overall contender at this race. As stage 9 approaches and Alaphillipe is back in yellow, this Tour is set up for a phenomenal couple of weeks to come.

© Bettini Photo

Stage 9: Saint Étienne - Brioude

Stage winner: Daryl Impey

Yellow Jersey: Julian Alaphillipe

We're in Romain Bardet territory today, on the 14th July- Bastille Day. No pressure Romain...

Were he on form, this stage may suit Bardet, with plenty of tough climbs throughout the day before finishing on a circuit around Brioude. However, Bardet has struggled to find his legs so far this Tour and the day looks suited to Matthews and Sagan once more, with a bunch sprint possible amongst a whittled-down group.

Nils Politt is the first man to attack and he adventures out front alone, whilst Alessandro de march of yesterday's break suffers a torrid fall that leaves him sprawled out on the concrete and forced to abandon the Tour, a sad sight. Up ahead the day's permanent breakaway appears to form, that includes a whole host of riders: Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe); Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale); Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-Merida); Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Merida); Tony Martin (Jumbo Visma); Simon Clarke (EF Education First); Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott); Jasper Steven (Trek-Segafredo); Nicholas Roche (Team Sunweb); Jesús Herrada (Cofidis); Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal); Romain Sicard (Total Direct Énergie); Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Dimension Data); Anthony Delaplace (Arkea-Samsic). It is a group that is bursting at the seams with strong riders and should probably be expected to make it to the finish ahead of the peloton. Once it has formed, a couple of riders sense the quality of the break and attack out of the bunch to cross the gap.

On the Category 1 Mur d’Aurec-sur-Loire, Rui Costa is attempting to bridge up to the break, something of which the riders up front are wary of. As a former world champion, Costa is not to be taken lightly and as such, Tiesj Benoot goes to work on the front of the break in order to keep a high tempo and ideally wear Costa down as he closes the gap, reducing his hopes for later in the stage. As it turns out, due to this pace set by Benoot, Costa never actually bridges the gap to the break and slowly makes his way back to the peloton in defeat. Marc Soler of Movistar is the only man to bridge across from the peloton. Benoot takes the maximum points as they cross the climb with a 7'11" gap over the peloton. Delaplace was battling Benoot for the honours but came up short and was probably hampered by the enormous crowds which made it difficult to go around the Lotto-Soudal man.

Jasper Stuyven's commitment to challenging for stage honours is on full display during the intermediate sprint. Despite being in the top 10 on the green jersey classification, Steven rolls into second place behind Boasson Hagen, clearly keeping energy in reserves for later in the stage. With the gap now over 10 minutes to the peloton and such a high calibre group out front, things are looking promising for the day's break. Though their luck may be challenged should they tear themselves apart, which begins to happen around the 63km to go mark. Simon Clarke attacks off the front and Jan Tratnik follows him, in a bid to test the legs of the their breakaway companions. The group settles down once more within 8 or so kilometres, but the hostilities have begun.

With the stage victory seemingly in the bag, more attacks come with 44km to go, with Benoot, Steven and Garcia Cortina going clear for a spell. The group splinters and smaller packs are dotted up the climb as the pressure beings to tell. Life is tough at the back for Boasson Hagen and Tony Martin, who are not as at ease on uphill gradients as the other riders. In contrast, life is relatively easy for Lukas Pöstlberger at the front, who even has time to wave to the camera after attacking off the front. He looks in strong form and it takes a big effort from behind to try and reel in the gap, but to no avail as the time gap extends to over 40 seconds. Whilst the break reconvenes on the descent in chase of the Bora-Hansgrohe rider, the pecking order of strength has seemingly been laid on the table. 40 seconds, 42 seconds, 44 seconds... the gap continues to grow as we enter the day's final 30km.

Indecision and a lack of commitment behind stalls the chase of Pöstlberger, despite the flat terrain, rolling through a valley, appearing to favour a big group rotating through and off to reel in a lone escapee. In a rare mention of the peloton in today's stage, the order of teams is secured as Team Ineos string out behind Deceuninck-Quick Step, who have been dictating the pace all day on behalf of maillot jaune Julian Alaphillipe.

As the breakaway riders approach the final climb of the day, Côte de Saint-Just, the chase behind Pöstlberger is split as Clarke, Garcia Cortina and Herrada are distanced. At 3.6km long and an average gradient of 7.2%, the final climb lying 16km from home is sure to be a deciding factor in the stage win, after which the riders descend down into Brioude. In the final 18.4km of the stage, the gap to Pöstlberger falls back below 20" for the first time since he escaped, as the chasing group works in unison to both distance the suffering trio behind and reel in the Austrian up ahead.

16.4km from home the breakaway begins the final ascent of the day, with Pöstlberger firmly in the sights of the chasing 7-man group. After 1.2km of climbing the chasers bridge across to Pöstlberger and as they make the catch, Benoot attacks and is followed closely by Roche and Tratnik. As this trio is reeled in, Roche attacks over the top and opens up a gap, having never won a Tour stage before. Leading the chase of the Irishman is Jasper Stuyven, with Marc Soler losing the wheel behind, perhaps a surprise for the former winner of Paris-Nice, however he did have to battle across from the peloton to the break earlier in the day. Benoot and Roche are off the front alone for a kilometre before being caught by Tratnik. Daryl Impey is the next to bridge the gap, leaving Naesen, Stuyven and the dropped-once-more Tratnik in his wake. As the trio of Roche, Benoot and Impey crest the climb, they hold a 12" lead over the chasers.

Impey continues to work on the short downhill, in full knowledge of his sprinting superiority over Benoot and Roche; if this trio make it to the finish alone, South African national champion Daryl Impey would be the nailed on favourite. In response to this, on a short rise in the final 9km, Benoot attacks in an effort to drop Impey, but he only succeeds in dropping Roche. Meanwhile 14 minutes behind, Brioude boy Romain Bardet attacks off the front of the peloton on the Côte de Saint-Just, followed by George Bennett and Richie Porte. Cheered on by his home crowd, Bardet pushes the pedals at the front of this trio, whilst Ineos chase behind due to the dangerous presence of Richie Porte alongside Bardet. As a result, the trio are dragged in by Michał Kwiatkowksi and his fellow Ineos grenadiers (see what I did there?).

Inside the final 5km, Impey and Benoot are clear of the poursuivants with 13 seconds of an advantage. This gap persists until the final 2km, with Benoot consistently being reluctant to roll through in support of his faster escapee companion. Brioude looks stunning in the afternoon sunshine as the green trees rise above the pan-flat tarmac guiding the leading duo inside the final kilometre. As the final 500 metres approach, Benoot completely refuses to do a turn on the front and it is Impey who leads out the Belgian for the sprint. The riders hug tightly to the right hand barrier and check back to ensure the chasers are not dangerously close, which they indeed are not. At 225m to go Benoot opens up his sprint, but it is Impey who is too quick for the Belgium to handle, taking the stage win in his glorious South African national champion's jersey. Behind the duo it is Jan Tratnik who rounds off the podium, with the peloton coming in together 16 minutes and 24 seconds in arrears.

Reflections in Brioude

Today's stage was all about the breakaway, bar a fleeting and doomed attack by local boy Romain Bardet, with the final 60km being a cracking display of racing amongst those out front. Kicked off by a brave and long-range solo attack by Lukas Pöstlberger that took a long time for the chasers to reel in, the finale was littered with attacks by almost all the riders involved. Tiesj Benoot and Daryl Impey were ultimately the strongest on the day and once it came down to a sprint finish, there was always only going to be one winner, the South African national champion. With both a categorised climb and uncategorised rises in the final 16km, the race was full of drama as some men cracked and some men prevailed, providing an ever-changing dynamic up front. As the riders descended into the stunning home commune of Bardet, the small town Brioude looked a picture in the beautiful summer sun, providing a brilliant backdrop to Impey's stage win. This was one of those Tour stages where you can sit back and watch the breakaway explode in search of the stage win, a welcome ingredient that makes up a three week Grand Tour.

© Getty Images Sport

Stage 10: Saint-Flour - Albi

Stage winner: Wout van Aert

Yellow Jersey: Julian Alaphillipe

With the rest day coming 24 hours later than usual, the riders still have one more day's racing before tomorrow' rest day, with the parcours looking suited for a bunch sprint finish. Having gone close three times thus far, Caleb Ewan in particular will be determined to take his first stage victory at the Tour de France. Determined to cause an upset, the breakaway forms over the day's opening peaks and troughs, with a 6-man group settling. At the tête de la course are Odd Christian Eiking (Wanty-Gobert), Michael Schär (CCC), Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale), Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Énergie), Natnael Berhane (Cofidis) and Mads Würtz Schmidt (Katusha Alpecin).

Into the final 60km of the day, the gap to the break tumbles below 40 seconds, after stretching out to 3 minutes in spells throughout the stage thus far. It is a confusing decision from the peloton to reel the break in so thoroughly, with Greg Van Avermaet gesturing so to say "what are you doing?", presumably because he has a teammate up ahead in Schär. In response, Jumbo Visma come to the front and slow the pace down, in order to avoid an infertile run in for their sprinter Groenewegen. As a result the gap grows once more to around two minutes, settling down the nerves in both the break and peloton. This accord lasts until 37.5km to go, upon which EF Education-First descend onto the front of the peloton and work through and off in an attempt to create gaps in the crosswinds. George Bennett, at fourth position overall, is momentarily caught in a second group off the back. Upon realising this effort is futile, EF knock off the pace and the peloton settles down once more.

Yet again the pace picks up in the peloton, with teams trying to exploit the crosswinds in order to distance GC contenders. This back and forth reels in the day's break and gaps begin to form in the bunch. Caught on the wrong side of this action are Thibaut Pinot, Jakob Fuglsang and Richie Porte. It is desperation for the riders and their teams, with all hands on deck to bring their leaders back to the peloton. The wounded trio of GC men are quickly 25 seconds behind the peloton which contains maillot jaune Julian Alaphillipe and defending champion Geraint Thomas. Despite being the ones to initiate this futile pace, it is EF Education-First's Rigoberto Uran who is unforgivably caught out in the group behind also, a real egg-on-the-face moment for the American outfit. The former maillot jaune, Guilio Ciccone, is back in the chasing group in an attempt to save the Tour for his Trek-Segafredo leader Richie Porte. Bora-Hansgrohe will be determined to work in the front group, with Buchmann and Sagan present, whilst simultaneously smelling blood with Groenewegen caught out in the group behind. It is a sprint day and if the split remains, it is one less sprinter for Sagan to worry about.

With 24km to go, the chase is in such a desperate state that Thibaut Pinot himself is taking turns on the fronton the second group on the road. he will expect Porte, Uran and Fuglsang to contribute also, with the quartet taking severe and unnecessary time losses in the race for GC... the gap is now approaching 30 seconds. In an even worse position is Jumbo Visma's George Bennett, who is 1'21" behind the peloton and in a lone chase alone with a teammate, having been caught out whilst shepherding bidons for his team-mates. As they enter the final 20 kilometres, the second group comes to within 12" of the leading bunch, but the elastic then begins to snap and the gap slowly grows once more. With plenty of support riders burnt up in a frantic attempt to bridge the gap, the team leaders are soon isolated, with the chasing group down to 12 riders, and have to endure many turns on the front. They'll be glad tomorrow is a rest day!

Two riders seemingly perennially dogged by misfortune are out of luck once more, as both Thibaut Pinot and Mikel Landa are destined to end the day with significant time losses. Pinot is contributing to the second group's chase, which is losing over a minute with 6.5km to go; meanwhile Landa is alongside Ciccone in the third group on the road, which is 1'31" behind the peloton. Ciccone went into the day as the maillot blanc, the best young rider, but will be ceding that jersey to Egan Bernal who is with his Ineos brethren in the front group, a professional job as ever from the outfit formerly known as Team Sky.

As the peloton rides into Albi, the sprinters teams begin to engage and all eyes turn to the finish., with Team Sunweb unleashing five riders onto the front of the pack in an attempt to tee up Michael Matthews. Inside the final kilometre are 200m at 4%, presenting an intriguing run-in which may lend itself to a solo attack. As it is, Team Sunweb set an infertile pace and sprint is opened up by Matteo Trentin with 220m to go. At 170m to the line, Caleb Ewan puts his head into the wind and takes flight, but in the absence of his team's frontline sprinter, it is Wout Van Aert who takes his chance and powers his way to stage victory. The triple Cyclocross World Champion opens up his debut Tour de France with a first stage victory, beating the likes of Elia Viviani, Caleb Ewan and Peter Sagan in the 6-up sprint. Meanwhile. the group of Pinot, Porte, Uran and Fuglsang roll in 1'40" down, a massive blow to the chances of those riders. Mikel Landa is a further 28" back, whilst Van Aert's Jumbo Visma teammates celebrate his brilliant stager victory, taken in the bike throw ahead of Viviani.

"I can't believe it, beating all the fast guys in the sprint, sorry, I can't believe it!"
Wout Van Aert tears up in his post-race interview

At the end of the day, Julian Alaphillipe now leads the Tour de France by 1'12" to Geraint Thomas, with his Ineos teammate a further 4" back. Alaphillipe can now look forward to holding that jersey for a couple of days longer than previously expected, but Thomas is identified as the de facto leader of the race for GC thus far.

Reflections in Albi

Today's stage was classic Tour de France... what should have been a straight forward day for the sprinters turned into a bloodbath for the GC contenders, with crosswinds tearing the race apart. As ever, it is the usual cast bestowed by bad luck, with the likes of Team Ineos proving that you don't win the Tour by good luck once more. Death, taxes and crosswinds ripping apart the GC race on a flat Tour de France day, three things you can rely on in life, and we wouldn't have it any other way. A simple transitional stage before the rest day turned into a ding dong contest that has rewritten the GC script and shattered Pinot's gains he made yesterday with Alaphillipe. Pinot won't be the only one looking forward to tomorrow's rest day, but he will certainly be suffering a restless night as he rues unnecessary time loss.

© Getty Images

Stage 11: Albi - Toulouse

Stage winner: Caleb Ewan

Yellow Jersey: Julian Alaphillipe

We are into the second week and the second phase of the race, following yesterday's rest day, with the day offering one last chance for the sprinters for the time being. Some big names will have had their egos tamed on stage 10, with Tour debutant Wout van Aert taking the bunch sprint. As with the day that saw crosswinds tear apart the peloton in the finale, another doomed breakaway gathers off the front, with Lilian Calmejane the first to attack inside the opening kilometre. Within 4km the riders off the front have 1'43" of an advantage and the quartet consists of solely French teams; Cofidis are represented by Anthony Perez and Stéphane Rossetto, and joining the pair are Aimé De Gendt (Wanty-Gobert) and the initiator Calmejane (Total Direct Énergie). The day's structure is set, whilst Keenan and McEwan ponder the state of France's roundabouts, of which there are roughly 65,000 (6 times more than in Germany). They have almost all been built since the 1980s at a rate of four new roundabouts per day, for 40 years. Whilst McEwan speculates that the reason is low cost compared to traffic lights, the real explanation is that where there are roundabouts, there is corruption. It has long been known that the more roundabouts a French town has, the more corrupt the mayor is. The construction of roundabouts are incredibly smooth way of taking bribes, with costs been falsified and mayors rolling in the Euros. If you want to know whether to trust a mayor, look at his town's roads...

In a straight-down-the-line sprint day, the only real interesting thing of note is the discussion on Toulouse, which looks like a lovely city with its red/pink stone buildings and delightful bike paths. Toulouse may be known to British Cycling fans as the city in which Mark Cavendish took his 2nd stage victory at the Tour, in 2008. He would go on to take just a few more victories at the Grand Boucle...

Back to the bike race, the breakaway's lead reached a high of 3'30" in spells, but was kept under check by Deceuninck-Quick Step and Jumbo Visma in the peloton.

"Enric Mas is longer term a better prospect and I think he should be given the right to ride his own race."
Matthew Keenan pondering what Deceuninck-Quick Step will do when Alaphillipe is inevitably dropped on the climb tomorrow..

With 30km of this subdued stage to go, a crash occurs in the peloton on an innocuous straight, taking down Tiesj Benoot amongst others, with Nairo Quintana either coming down or being held up by the crash. Niki Terpstra lies prone on the road in what is a sorry sight, with the Dutchman clearly being the worst off from this fall. Trek-Segafredo, with Richie Porte caught up also, and Movistar work together to bring their leaders back to the peloton, with the group making contact 26.9km from home. Meanwhile, assessment of the damage continues with Terpstra withdrawing and Dimension Data's sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo ruled out of the final sprint with rough injuries to his side, the mountains will prove a challenge for him tomorrow.

Aimé De Gendt all but secures the combativity prize as he attacks off the front of the break as they approach the 10km arch, leaving his fellow break compatriots to be mopped up by the peleton. After a brave 5km+ attack that reached 40" advantage at its peak, De Gendt is reeled in by the peloton marched forward by Jumbo Visma. After coming back from a teammate's fall, which brought him to a complete standstill at the side of the road, Caleb Ewan is brought into the perfect position with 2km to go by Roger Kluge. The fight is on for the wheel of Peter Sagan as Ewan settles in behind Groenewegen.

Left on his own with 750m to go, it is former race leader Mike Teunissen who puts in an almighty lead-out for Groenewegen and his leader rounds him to open his sprint 240m from the line. On his tail is Caleb Ewan and it is the Australian who takes his first victory at the Tour de France. Ewan is a mixture of joy and relief after the finish line, having finally proven himself on the cycling world's greatest stage after a couple of years where he was held back by his former team. The Belgium team, Lotto-Soudal, pick up their second stage victory of the Tour and it is due largely in part to the work of Roger Kluge who guided Ewan back to the front after Jasper de Buyst's fall.

"There's no other race that I've dreamt of winning since I was a young kid and to be honest with you, I can't believe it. The Tour de France was something that was so distant from Australia, something that we just watched on TV and I can't believe that I am even here. And then to win a stage is just a real dream come true for me!"
Caleb Ewan

Reflections in Toulouse

Today's stage was a straight forward flat stage that ended with a sprint finish, a big contrast to stage 10's troubles with crosswinds. It is another day closer to the mountains, with the first real test of the GC men coming tomorrow. However, it was a nice finish to watch as Caleb Ewan came of age on the grand stage, taking his first Tour victory on debut. With a seemingly endless ceiling to his talents, it will be interesting to see if he kicks on from here. Whilst not much happened today, it is another stage in the legs for the riders and another day that adds to the script of a three week Grand Tour. Tomorrow can't come soon enough as we look forward to seeing if Julian Alaphillipe can hold onto yellow for another stage.

© Getty Images

Stage 12: Toulouse - Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Stage winner: Simon Yates

Yellow Jersey: Julian Alaphillipe

Cometh the second phase of the Tour, cometh the Pyrenees, cometh the mountains, cometh the men. With two 1st Category climbs, including the Col de Peyresourde, today could provide the first shake up of the GC since La Planche des Belles Filles, but do not count on it, as there is a gentle 130km to begin the stage and a descent off the final climb to Bagnères-de-Bigorre.

As a result of the flat opening and possibly a nervousness regarding the upcoming climbs, there is yet to be a permanent break formed 40km into the stage, at which point Simon Clarke of EF Education First attacks. It is at this point that one of yesterday's victims, Giacomo Nizzolo, falls off the back of the peloton and looks incredibly vulnerable to the day's time cut. Clarke is joined by Nicholas Roche... and half of the peloton! A group of more than 30 riders forms at the tête de la course, including plenty of heavy hitters such as Peter Sagan, Oliver Naesen and Michael Matthews. Greg Van Avermaet is the closest threat to the maillot jaune, sitting 14 minutes back on GC, whilst being a part of the breakaway that now consists of 40 men.

At the intermediate sprint in Bagnères-de-Luchon it is Peter Sagan who gets a full lead-out from Daniel Oss and consolidates his lead in the green jersey. Sagan and Kristoff lead onto the Col de Peyresourde, a climb that will more than likely reduce the size of the break, at 13.2km long and 7% in average gradient. The Col de Peyresourde is an iconic climb in the history of British cycling, being the mountain upon which Tom Simpson took the maillot jaune in 1962, in doing so became the first ever British wearer of the leader's jersey at the Tour de France.

Prior to Simon Clarke earlier in the day, it had been Rohan Dennis who had first tried to attack from the peloton, presumably testing out his legs for tomorrow individual time trial, for which he is the favourite to win. As the break begins the Peyresourde, Matthew Keenan and Robbie McEwan ponder over the whereabouts of Dennis, an odd thing to do during a Tour stage. It had been reported that former maillot jaune and French hero Tommy Voeckler approached the Bahrain-Merida team car and asked of his whereabouts, to which the staff in the car replied that the last they had heard was that Dennis had stopped for a nature break before stepping off the bike and abandoning the race. Keenan and McEwan note that he must have suffered stomach problems and been forced to withdraw, a huge blow to the team and Australian cycling fans, who had their hopes pinned on Dennis tomorrow in the time trial.

Lilian Calmejane is the first to attack out of the break on the Peyresourde, gaining a 30" gap before Tiesj Benoot begins to reel him in on behalf of his teammate and polka dot jersey wearer, Tim Wellens. It is a truly bonkers display by Calmejane, who keeps looking over his shoulder at the oncoming Wellens in a display of arrogance, before finally opening his sprint too late and being jumped across the line by the King of the Mountains leader, who similarly to Sagan, extends his lead in his jersey. A job well done for Wellens and a job messed up by Calmejane.

On the descent it is Simon Clarke who goes long range and attacks, sailing down at speeds over 80km/h, forcing the riders behind to chase as he builds up a gap of 1'10" over the flatlands before hitting the 1st Catgegory Hourqette d'Ancizan (9.9km at 7.5%). In the break there are multiple attacks, with Matteo Trentin hanging in the middle of the gap to Clarke, presumably to provide a launchpad for Simon Yates to use. Leading the peloton up the intitial slopes of the final climb are Team Ineos, with Luke Rowe at the head of proceedings, indicating the pace is not particularly high.

With both Clarke and Trentin coming into their sights, it is Yates and Gregor Mühlberger who attack in pursuit, before being joined by Mathias Frank, Nicholas Roch, Max Schachmann, Pello Bilbao and Tony Gallopin. After catching the suffering Clarke and then Trentin, Yates and Mühlberger work in unison to build a lead with 3.2km left of the climb. Galloping along behind them, the leading duo becomes a trio momentarily as Bilbao bridges the gap, acting as the catalyst for another Yates attack which only Mühlberger can follow. Despite cresting the summit as a duo, Bilbao rejoins the pair on the descent that starts 30km from home. The GC race never kicks off as the peleton actually lose time to the break on the final climb, due to the relaxed nature of the main bunch. The GC battle shall resume tomorrow in the individual time trial.

The gap over the rest of the chasing break for Yates and co. builds up to 2 minutes and rolling into the final 5km it is that today's stage winner will be one of Yates, Bilbao or Mühlberger, with the latter the favourite in a sprint. As they head into Bagnères-de-Bigorre, it is Mühlberger who does strong turns on the front and keeps the pace high in order to deter any attacks, intent on bringing the stage to a three-up sprint in conclusion. Bilbao is the rider who leads them into the final kilometre, with Yates sticking like glue to the back wheel of Mühlberger. As they round the final corner 120m from the line it is Yates who opens the sprint and manages to hold off Bilbao and Mühlberger as he takes his first Tour victory. It is a victory all down to cunning and intelligence from Yates, who takes the final corners on a perfect line that allows him to open the sprint with not enough time for the bigger riders to open up their sprinting legs. Gerry Ryan, the team owner of Mitchelton-Scott, is the first to congratulate Yates after the finish, delighted at his team's most successful Tour since 2013 where they also took two stage victories.

Meanwhile as they approach the final 5km, it remains Luke Rowe on the front of the peloton, telling you everything about how slow their pace has been. In a lovely moment the camera hones in on Simon's brother, Adam Yates, who wears an enormous grin after hearing the news of his twin's success. Whilst Adam is here targeting GC glory, Simon came into the Tour looking for a stage victory, and a stage victory he gets.

Reflections in Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Today's stage was a damp squib on the GC front. In a day that looked promising to offer us the first action since stage 6, this promise went undelivered as the peloton rolled in over 9 minutes down on the race winner. However, yet again in this Tour we were delivered excellent racing by the breakaway, with the group being dwindled down from 40 riders throughout the day. It was Simon Clarke who was the most combative as he attacked solo before opening up a gap that reached over a minute and a half at its most. Whilst he succumbed to the pressure of the chasing group on the final climb, the remainder of the break offered enthralling action as attack after attack was mounted before the move of Yates, Bilbao and Mühlberger stuck. The sprint finish delivered more entertainment as the big favourite Mühlberger failed to deliver and Britain had a first victory of the Tour through Simon Yates. Tomorrow promises to be the first GC shake up since stage 6 and it will be fascinating to see if Julian Alaphillipe can hold onto his maillot jaune for another day. Meanwhile the time trial will be without a big favourite as Rohan Dennis abandons the race with no comment from either himself or team management.

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Stage 13: Pau - Pau

Stage winner: Julian Alaphillipe

Yellow Jersey: Julian Alaphillipe

"I think that Julian Alaphillipe is capable of just hanging onto yellow tomorrow, 27km time trial, he is quite a good time triallist. Geraint Thomas is an excellent time triallist and will take a whole load of time off him."
Robbie McEwan speaking yesterday on Alaphillipe's prospects in the time trial

As we get to find out whether or not Julian Alaphillipe will manage to hold off his 1'12" advantage over 2nd placed Geraint Thomas, the Pyrenees will form the backdrop to today's stage, rather than acting as the provocateur of action. Whilst today's stage is relatively flat on the route profile, the 27km contain a few climbs which will ensure the day is not as straight forward as initially imagined.

Chad Haga sets the day's first benchmark time as he comes in 3'48" quicker than first-man-off-the-line Yoann Offredo. With a time of 36'22" over the 27.2km course, Haga takes the lead of the stage but is quickly usurped by the Danish time trial champion Kasper Asgreen, who takes a whopping 30 seconds off the American's time.

Over the first half of the course, Haga averaged 40km/h, but he managed to raise his average speed to 45km/h over the second half, suggesting that the initial 14km of the stage are particularly hard and may play into the favour of punchy climbers who can also time trial, just like the race leader Alaphillipe. Before long it is one of the day's big favourites, Belgian national time trial champion Wout van Aert, who sprints his way off the starting ramp to a rapturous ovation. Having already won a stage on his Tour debut thus far, to take victory today would really be the cherry on the cake of a fantastic to start to life at Jumbo Visma for Van Aert. Followed by the overhead helicopter onto the first climb out of Pau, the television coverage is immense as painted onto the road is the names of previous winners of stages in Pau, including the likes of Alfredo Binda (1930), Fausto Coppi (1952) and Bernard Hinault (1979). Van Aert sails over the iconic names of the sport as he eyes up joining them on the road surface following a victory today. Having won an individual time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné prior to the Tour, and sitting 16 seconds ahead of Asgreen with 19.7km to go, Van Aert looks set for possible stage victory. His advantage had been built up over the part of the course he is least suited to, with the flat and rolling terrain to come where he can put Asgreen's leading time to bed. Beginning the stage dreaming of joining the legendary names adorning the road surface of Pau, in a cruel twist of fate it is Van Aert who literally joins the road surface as he looks a torrid tumble on a right hand bend on the run to home. From the overhead shot it appears as if Van Aert has got his handlebars caught on the barriers and the E.Leclerc drapings pull him to the road surface, where he lay prone next to his time trial machine. In a horrible sight, Van Aert lay on his back writhing in agony, with a Jumbo Visma staff member needing to throw the E.Leclerc sponsors drapings over Van Aert to retain his modesty after the front part of his bib shorts are shredded by the fall. From being the day's favourite to becoming a vulnerable and frail victim of a fall that rules him out of the Tour, it is a tough reminder of the risks these riders take as they entertain us day after day.

Meanwhile, it is Van Aert's Belgian compatriot Thomas De Gendt who unseats Kasper Asgreen as he takes 16 seconds off the Dane's time. It is a barnstorming ride by the breakaway veteran and will provide the Belgian fans with slight solace from the horrible crash. Later on in the day it is Richie Porte who is the first to come close to beating De Gendt's time, as he tracks at one second slower along the course, until the first major descent, upon which Porte concedes 5 seconds. This is as a result of Porte sacrificing the quickest time possible in order to ensure safe passage to stage 14, having crashed out of the Tour on stage 9 in both of the previous editions. Porte ultimately comes home 9 seconds slower than De Gendt. Shortly after Porte crosses the finish line, it is Alaphillipe who is the last man off the start ramp, roared on by the crowd in Pau, affectionately known as the capital of the Tour de France.

After passing through the initial time check, word comes through that Alaphillipe is not simply defending his lead in the maillot jaune, his is extending his lead, as he clocks in at 5 seconds quicker than Steven Kruijswijk, who is holding the fastest time out on the course.

The 2017 2nd place Rigoberto Uran puts in a terrific ride that even beats Richie Porte. Coming into the final uphill drag for the line it is neck and neck to see if Uran will beat De Gendt time, with the Belgian being showing on the TV hotseat looking visibly nervous, 5 seconds, 4 seconds, 3 seconds until De Gendt's time passes, 2 seconds, 1 second... in the end it is De Gendt who holds onto his faster time as Uran comes in 0.28 of a second slower, in a thrilling battle that is sure to raise Uran's GC hopes after being caught out in stage 10's crosswinds.

For De Gendt it is not the end of the worries, as Kruijswijk, Thomas and Alaphillipe are all tracking quicker than him out on the course. Also putting in a terrific ride is the French hope Thibaut Pinot, who despite having some rough time trials in the past that blighted him, delivers a great ride and goes only 4 seconds slower than time trial specialist Richie Porte. Whilst Geraint Thomas has the virtual benchmark time after 15.5km, it is Alaphillipe who is descending like a devil behind him on the road, even dropping the TV motorbike as he throws his TT bike into corners at suicidal speeds. As the maillot jaune dances up the uphill section to the 15.5km checkpoint, the French crowd create a symphony of noise as they roar him upwards towards the Tour de France gods. He goes through this second checkpoint 6 seconds faster than Thomas. He looks destined to hold yellow going into tomorrow's stage on the Col du Tourmalet.

Tailing off in the second half of the course, Steven Kruikswijk puts in a time 9 seconds slower than De Gendt, putting him between Porte and Pinot in times on the day. It is a great riding for all three who will be going into tomorrow's stage hopeful that they could finish for a podium finish in Paris, if not even more. Unfortunately for Thomas' Ineos teammate and white jersey holder, Egan Bernal, it is not such a good day and he loses 1 minute to Thomas De Gendt, which will be more to his team leader.

"This confirms at Ineos, who the team leader is".
Matthew Keenan in bullish form after Bernal's time trial

Thomas comes home shortly following Bernal, his two-minute man, and beats De Gendt's time by 21 seconds in a blistering performance. Unfortunately for Thomas, Alaphillipe is on a flyer behind him and the Frenchman is pushing his time trial bike to its limits on corners and he swings nervously by the barriers. In the final 400m as the road kicks up for the finish, Alaphillipe is basking in the glory of the maillot jaune and the Pau crowd are in raptures willing him forward, it is a sight to behold as he beats Thomas' time by 14 seconds and skids to a stop beyond the finish line, embraced by his team staff who are cheering for "Loulou! Loulou! Loulou!" It is pandemonium as Alaphillipe turns a day of defence into a most unexpected day of offence, causing the GC men and their teams to have second thoughts upon how far Alaphillipe can last in yellow before Paris. "Do we dare...(begin to talk about yellow)", Keenan begins to ponder, before McEwan quickly responds with "not yet". After finishing his question and receiving a blank "no" from McEwan, Keenan admits that the "high mountains will sort him out". Whilst today is a day of glory for the French, it is still almost universally expected (outside of France) that Alaphillipe will lose significant time in the mountains which begin tomorrow on the Col du Tourmalet.

It is a beautiful end to the day for the French as, to mark 100 years since the awarding of the first maillot jaune in the Tour de France, the yellow jersey is delivered to the podium by a skydiver who falls from the sky before opening open his parachute adorned with the French flag. On this most special of days for the Tour de France, for France's greatest occasion, it is a daredevil Frenchman who holds yellow and it is the world that begins to ponder, how far can this man go?

"If French cycling was looking for a new hero- and they have been by the way for the last 30 years, because the last Frenchman to win the Tour de France was Bernard Hinault, the great, who won five- they've just found him today. They found him previously, they knew he was good, we all knew he was good, we all knew he could win stages, we all knew he could descend, we all knew he could punch on the Classics climbs, but to win a time trial in the Tour de France, mid-way, just as we're about to hit the Pyrenees? This is exceptional, this is absolutely exceptional!"
David McKenzie is gushing with praise for the remarkable Alaphillipe

Reflections in Pau

Today's stage was a world away from stage 2's mediocre team time trial, with the individual time trial providing much more of a sparkle, especially with the GC positions to be sorted out before the Pyrenees. We all went into the day expecting it to be a ride of defence by Alaphillipe, hoping that he could hold onto yellow for perhaps another day if he put in a great time trial to hold off Thomas who began the day 1'12" back. Instead, the entire Tour de France's script was turned on its head when Alaphillipe mastered his way through the course, roared of by a cacophony of noise to grab his second stage victory of the race and to remarkably extend his lead in yellow to 1'126" ahead of the defending champion Thomas. Fourth place Enric Mas is 2'44" back on Alaphillipe and Adam Yates rounds out the top 10 a further 1'11" back. Whilst the day began with the heartbreaking crash for Wout van Aert, which rules him out of the race and onto a long recovery programme, Thomas De Gendt managed to raise the mood again by putting in a terrific time trial to set an early benchmark. It would only be Alaphillipe and Thomas to better him, as they provided a ding dong of a battle that saw the advantage drifting between 1 and 20 seconds in favour of Alaphillipe as the course progressed. To beat the defending champion Geraint Thomas in a time trial, is remarkable, but to be going into stage 14's high mountains over a minute in the lead of the race is truly outstanding. While the French begin to reminisce on Tommy Voeckler's 2011 Tour de France where he took yellow early and was so very close to holding it until Paris, the rest of the Tour's viewers are still adamant in the belief that Alaphillipe will lose significant time in the mountains. After all, going into the Tour, Alaphillipe was simply a punchy climber who could provide explosive finishes to stages, a trait that saw him take the KOM jersey in the 2018 Tour. There have yet to be any high mountains used in this Tour thus far, with the Tourmalet serving as tomorrow's summit finish, preceded by the Col du Soulor, Alaphillipe will probably do well to stay inside the podium places at the summit, but that won't stop the French from wondering... what if?

© Bettini Photo

Stage 14: Tarbes - Col du Tourmalet

Stage winner: Thibaut Pinot

Yellow Jersey: Julian Alaphillipe

Rising to an altitude of 2,115m at its summit, Le Col du Tourmalet welcomes the riders as the stage finish today, with the Category 1 Col du Soulor coming halfway through the day. At only 1117.5km, it is sure to be a fast run in to the climbs and provide spectacular racing, as the riders enter the high mountains for the first time. The Pyrenees await, and the French crowd wait with baited breath to see if Alaphillipe will still be with the GC pack as the riders advance to the upper slopes of the Tourmalet.

In a sign of what is to come, Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour champion, is the first man to attack from the peloton and draws out Peter Sagan, who is hoping to be in the first group at the intermediate sprint between the two major climbs. Sagan soon works in unison with Nibali and the pair don't appear desperate for other riders to join them, riders such as Tim Wellens (KOM holder), who attempts to bridge the 35+ second gap to the pair out front. Sagan and Nibali summit the opening climb of the day, the Côte de Labatmale, 2'24" ahead of the peloton, with Nibali taking the maximum points. Riders are still scattered in between the peloton and the leading pair, who were former teammates at Liquigas, but Sagan and Nibali appear in cruise mode and are seemingly very tough to bridge across to.

A keen cycling fan is pictured on the Tourmalet, eager to see the day's winner. The keen cycling fan is also the President of France, his name is Emmanuel Macron.

As the TV footage finally moves away from Macron, we are given helicopter shots of the most beautiful town situated in what looks like deep rainforest, as it is surrounded by thick layers of forest that give it a Jurassic World-vibe. Le Sanctuaire de Notre-Dame de Bétharram translates as 'the good branch' from the local dialect and is an ancient place of pilgrimage, as one of the stopovers on the Way of St James. The Virgin Mary supposedly saved a young girl from drowning here, by holding out a branch under a bridge and also according to local folklore, over 80 miracles were performed here throughout the 17th century. It certainly looks magic to me.

With the riders approaching the foot of the Col du Soulor, Sagan and Nibali have been joined by a number of riders, including Tim Wellens, Ilnur Zakarin and Sergio Henao, making up a 15+ group. At 11.9km long with an average gradient of 7.8%, it appears as though the stronger climbers in the group shall have to shed dead weight from the pack, as the peloton is only 2'43" in arrears, making this breakaway vulnerable.

In a very surprising turn of events, Romain Bardet is dropped from the peloton which remains 30+ men strong, whilst around halfway up the Col du Soulor. It is a sorry state of affairs for the man who was yet again targeting the top step in Paris ahead of the race. At the front of the breakaway the group is reduced down to 9 men, signifying the difficulty of the climb, as the pace can't have been increased too much given the peloton has taken over a minute on them after 9km of climbing. Meanwhile, another rider finding life tough in the peloton is the leader for Mitchelton-Scott, Adam Yates, who is distanced and sees his brother Simon trying to drag him back to the pack. Even were Yates to rejoin the peloton on the climb or the descent, it is a death blow to his GC hopes as he is inevitable to be dropped once more on the Col du Tourmalet, with the Pyrenees still be completed tomorrow, and the Alps to come in the third week.

The shark smells blood as Nibali attacks 1km from the summit, attempting to shrug off Tim Wellens who is in cold pursuit of the man from Messina. The leaders only hold a 1'28" gap over the peloton and so are understandably desperate to stretch out the advantage. Whilst Wellens and Nibali are household names, it is great to see Élie Gesbert of Arkéa Samsic amongst the leading trio at the head of the race, with the group coming back together as Wellens drags Nibali in. Half a kilometre from the summit it is Nibali who attacks once more, but takes Wellens with him, with the KOM jersey holder sprinting to take the maximum points over the crest of the climb. Back in the peloton, Movistar have been the pacesetters on the front and attempted to put pressure on Julian Alaphillipe, but the maillot jaune has responded with defiance by tucking in at fourth wheel, job done until the Tourmalet later on in the day.

In a reversal of roles, it is Alaphillipe and his teammate Dries Devenyns who force the pace on the descent, making the job of Adam Yates incredibly difficult to get back on, having summited the Col du Soulor a minute down on the peloton. Romain Bardet is no longer a factor as he sits almost three minutes down on the bunch. Yates does rejoin the peloton and is nestled into the back of the group alongside his brother with 25km to go. He is eventually dropped again on the Tourmalet only 4km into the climb.

Nibali, Wellens and Gesbert are joined on the flatlands by some of the men from the previous reincarnation of the breakaway and the group rides together for a short while, before Romain Sicard of Total Direct Énergie attacks off the front. He soon builds a lead that is over a minute on the yellow jersey group and he is soloing on the roads that visit closest to his home in this year's Tour. His breakaway compatriots Vincenzo Nibali and Tim Wellens are mopped up by the peloton, led by Movistar, with 23km to go. Only Romain Sicard, out front alone, Élie Gesbert and Lilian Calmejane are left on the road ahead of the peloton, with Sicard reaching the foot of the Col du Tourmalet with 1'28" over the main group. The Col du Tourmalet is categorised as a hors catégorie climb and the winner at the top is to be awarded the Souvenir Jacques Goddet. At 19km long with an average gradient of 7.4%, it is sure to shake up the GC proceedings by the end of the day.

Showing himself at the front once more with a remarkable ride is Élie Gesbert, who not only catches Sicard, but swiftly proceeds to drop his fellow Frenchman, with Sicard's pace seemingly insufficient.

In classic Movistar fashion, they sit on the front of the peloton setting a furious pace, whilst at the back of the group their team leader Nairo Quintana begins to be dropped, sitting right at the front of his saddle in a telltale sign of suffering. He joins fellow Giro d'Italia winner Fabio Aru in being distanced from the pack, as Movistar's plans switch towards Mikel Landa and the leader on the road, Élie Gesbert, is caught and quickly dropped by the peloton. Remaining near the front of the group and looking composed is Alaphillipe, with his national compatriot Warren Barguil attacking off the front wearing his beautiful tricolore jersey. The man affectionally known as Wawa begins to wow the French public as he builds up a gap that reaches 17 seconds. The French crowd have been gathering on the mountain since mid-morning yesterday, with plenty camping out to secure their positions on these hallowed slopes. Whilst the Frenchman off the front is providing them with entertainment, worries begin to gather around Alaphillipe as he sits at the back of the bunch 7.3km from home, it is unclear whether this is a sign of weakness or just mind games being played by 'Loulou'.

At the front of the group, sensing a lull in pace, it is David Gaudu and Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ who put in a slight attack and open up a gap to the Ineos riders on the front of the peloton. This causes a reaction behind that sends Enric Mas and Rigoberto Uran into trouble, with Bauke Mollema being dropped. More in control is Warren Barguil who, sensing the ensuing peloton nearing in on him, sits up and slots his way back into the bunch, his attacking legs somewhat rested and ready to motor once more when needed.

A further acceleration from David Gaudu on the front leads Mas and Richie Porte to be dropped, with the lead group being whittled down slowly to the overall favourites. As the riders pass through the 5km to go mark, it is Thomas, Valverde and Alaphillipe who sit at the back of the group, with the maillot jaune noticeably gurning and posturing in a sign of struggle, but still he digs deep and remains with the bunch. Within the next kilometre it is Bernal and Thomas who move up in the group, almost parading in front of the other hopefuls, as though to say "don't forget about us". This sparks a reaction as David Gaudu attacks off the front, which sends Valverde and Barguil out of the back of the group. Gaudu, at 22 years old, is putting in the biggest performance of his fledgling career and looks comfortable amongst the world's best up one of France's hardest climbs. It takes a strong pull on the front by Laurens De Plus to bring in the Groupama-FDJ man, with Jumbo Visma the best represented team in the now 12-man group, with George Bennett also present in the service of team leader Steven Kruijswijk. The men in yellow set the pace at an infernal pace on the front and Gaudu exits out the back of the group, having done a stellar job on behalf of Pinot.

Whilst he is pulling Fabio Aru-esque facial expressions of suffering, Alaphillipe remains in the group of leaders with 3km to go of this 19km beast of a mountain. "Slower! Slower!", shouts Kruijswijk (in trouble) to Bennett, who is controlling the pace at the front of the pack. But still it is the maillot jaune who refuses to be spat out of the back, grinning, gurning and tongue-draping his way up the climb. Next to be dropped are Jakob Fuglsang and Uran, with the pair of Mikel Landa and Thibaut Pinot coming to the front. A group of 8 remains with 1.5km to go: Landa, Pinot, Bennett, Kruijswijk, Buchmann, Bernal, Thomas and Alaphillipe.

At 1200m to go it is Emanuel Buchmann who attacks amid the baying crowd which forms a tunnel for the riders to advance through. The crowd is 3-men deep and there is not an inch of tarmac empty on either side, as the jubilant masses roar the world's greatest cyclists up the Tourmalet. Under the 1km archway they go, with defending champion Geraint Thomas being dropped at the back, in front of him is a view of the maillot jaune remaining on the back of the lead group. This is simply extraordinary.

The riders round the leftwards bend 350m from the line and stand up to deal with the increase in gradient, with Pinot attacking 50m later. He dances on the pedals and opens a gap to the wheel of Egan Bernal. Behind him it is his national compatriot Alaphillipe who rolls alongside Bernal and can't seem to believe that he is more comfortable than the Colombian on this climb which is soon to summit at 2115m. Inside the final 100m Pinot kicks on around the right-hand bend and storms his way to a memorable stage victory and he punches the air in exuberation. Today's stage belongs to Thibaut Pinot, but the day perhaps belongs to Julian Alaphillipe, who comes home in 2nd place only 5 seconds back. It is a quite remarkable ride from the race leader, who not only defends his lead over Geraint Thomas, but actually extends it to 2'02".

Reflections atop of Le Col du Tourmalet

Today's stage was utterly breathtaking, for both the riders at above 2000m altitude for the first time this Tour, and the fans watching on. We end the day in awe of Alaphillipe, who has defied the odds in the high mountains to extend his lead to over 2 minutes to 2nd placed Thomas. To watch the Frenchman beat Thomas in the time trial yesterday was impressive enough, but to see him drop the Welshman with a kilometre to go until the summit of the Tourmalet, is something else entirely. Whilst there were plenty of other impressive rides today, such as that by Élie Gesbert, and whilst it was good to see Vincenzo Nibali alive and kicking for the first time this Tour, the day's plaudits and headlines will rightfully belong to French darlings Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphillipe. They both put in outstanding rides; we already know Pinot has what it takes to possibly win the Tour, dare we begin to dream for 'Loulou'?

© Bettini Photo

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