Thomas De Gendt soloed to victory on stage eight of the Tour de France in Saint Etienne as Julian Alaphilippe regained the yellow jersey and Geraint Thomas survived a dramatic crash which snapped team-mate Gianni Moscon’s bike in half.
Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt was the last survivor of a four-man breakaway on the 230km stage from Macon, and had the power to hold off a late attack from Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ.
Late in the stage the Team Ineos train was derailed in frightening fashion on a downhill bend as EF Education First’s Michael Woods fell in front of them.
Moscon’s bike was split in two but Thomas was able to get quickly back on his way, catching up to the peloton on the last of the day’s seven categorised climbs.
“I’m fine, but it’s just frustrating – obviously it was a key moment in the race,” said Thomas, who emerged from the incident largely unscathed but for the odd graze on his arm.
“Woods crashed, and just took out Gianni and me. I got tangled in Gianni’s bike and took some time to get going.
“The boys did a great job. I caught up for the final bit, and moved up through the group, but by the time I was in the first 10 or 15 positions, that’s when they sprinted over the top for the bonus seconds.
“So I was kind of gassed for a bit. It’s annoying, and frustrating, but at the same time, to come back like I did shows I had good legs.”
Though Alaphilippe and Pinot could not catch De Gendt, crossing the line some six seconds later, third place on the day was enough for Alaphilippe to take yellow back from Trek-Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone.
Pinot, meanwhile, picked up 28 seconds – including bonuses – on his general classification rivals to become the best placed of the main contenders.
Alaphilippe now leads by 23 seconds from Ciccone with Pinot third, 53 seconds down.
Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett retains fourth place, 70 seconds off the pace, with Thomas’ deficit in fifth now 72 seconds.
De Gendt, a noted breakaway specialist, delivered his second career Tour stage win in some style.
The Belgian got away early along with Total Direct Energie’s Niki Terpstra, Dimension Data’s Ben King and CCC’s Alessandro De Marchi.
He moved clear with De Marchi on the Croix de Part, and then went solo with 14km to go.
Alaphilippe and Pinot launched their move on the final climb but could not reel him in.
“It hurts so much but it’s wonderful,” De Gendt said “It’s also mission accomplished for the team. Our goal was to come to the Tour for winning a stage.
“We almost got it with Caleb (Ewan) yesterday. I’ve had very good feeling already for the whole Tour and I had amazing legs today.”
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UAE Team Emirates’ young up and coming talent Jasper Philipsen put in another noteworthy performance at the Tour de France to claim an impressive fifth place finish in the chaotic bunch sprint finish that concluded Stage 7.
Philipsen was one of two riders from the team to contest the sprint, with Alexander Kristoff coming in just behind him in 10th place. The race was won by Dylan Groenewegen, of Jumbo Visma, after a mammoth six-hour stage.
Stage 7 was the longest at this year’s tour, a 230km pan flat route from Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saone. For the majority of the stage it looked as if the peloton had decided to give itself a day off after Thursday’s brutal outing in the mountains, riding the first 225km of the route at a relatively slow pace.
It wasn’t until the final 5km that the sprinters’ teams began to get organised and up the work rate, making the technical run in to the line even more nerve racking.
Sven Erik Bystrom was able to get Kristoff into a good position, but the increased number of riders at the front of the pack during the business end of the race made it more difficult for the lead out trains to work effectively.
During the chaos of the final kilometer Kristoff was unable to hold Philipsen’s wheel and the two riders were separated. Philipsen continued to drive forward with the ambition of supporting Kristoff and in doing so, he was able to match some of the world’s fastest riders and take a well-deserved fifth spot. Kristoff, always the fighter, continued to battle on using what was left in his legs to steal a top 10 finish.
Mixed feelings at today’s finish. Disappointed I could not do the perfect sprint preparation for Alex. On the other hand, sprinted to 5th. Better luck next time! #RideTogether #YearOfTolerance #TDF2019 pic.twitter.com/9q4iEK1Syo— Jasper Philipsen (@JasperPhilipsen) 12 July 2019
Talking after the race, Philipsen said: “The plan was for me to pull for Alex. Initially he was on my wheel and then because of the situation he lost it.
“I tried to drop back to make contact but we were on different sides of the road by then. With 300m to go I noticed I had a gap so I opened up my sprint and went full gas. Maybe if I hadn’t been looking back I could have taken fourth place, but it was strange to be sprinting for myself.”
Kristoff added: “Out of the last corner I was quite far behind, but Sven did a tremendous job to bring me up. However, it cost me a lot of energy to come back from that position and by then the race was over for me.
“I had a great position but no legs. From 2km to the line is critical and today I lost it in that section.”
In the General Classification, Dan Martin remains 18th after his effort in the mountains on Stage 6 saw him rocket 17 places in the overall standings.
Saturday’s race sees the peloton travel south from Macon to Saint Etienne over 200km of lumpy terrain for Stage 8. There’s no less than seven climbs that will test the legs of the riders before they hit a slight uphill drag on the final kilometer to the line.
Team Ineos were happy to see the focus switch from Egan Bernal to Geraint Thomas at the Tour de France as Friday’s long, slow day in the saddle allowed time for the dust to settle on a dramatic first mountain stage of the race.
Dylan Groenewegen claimed a sprint victory in Chalon-sur-Saone but only after a 230km stage seven from Belfort which took the peloton – hardly keen to exert themselves after Thursday’s brutal day in the Vosges mountains and with the challenges of the Massif Central to come – more than six hours to tick off.
At the end of the day, there were no significant changes to the general classification which took its shape from the drama on La Planche des Belles Filles 24 hours earlier.
Giulio Ciccone retained the yellow jersey on a day when he celebrated signing a new two-year deal with Trek-Segafredo, six seconds clear of Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Julian Alaphilippe, but Thomas was back in the spotlight after his late surge on the climb invigorated his title defence.
The Welshman, best placed of the main contenders, turned a five-second deficit into a four-second advantage on Thursday. Small margins for sure, but given many – including Thomas – had expected the day to suit Bernal more, the change of narrative seemed to suit the team.
“What was reassuring yesterday was to see Geraint Thomas at this level,” said the team’s sporting director Nico Portal.
“It’s good for Egan, who has a lot of pressure around him, a lot of expectation from his public, especially in Colombia.”
Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford had talked up the 22-year-old Bernal in the build-up to the Tour – declaring him “ready” to contend – but by Friday was happy to see Thomas hog the limelight.
“I think maybe everyone is getting a bit carried away with Egan,” he said.
“People treat him and Geraint in the same way. And I think you have to treat Geraint as a 33-year-old. And you have to treat Egan as a 22-year-old, even if you know they are both very, very talented bike riders.
“You can feel yourself falling into that trap all the time, thinking because he’s so good that he’s got all this experience. He hasn’t. He has to spend time at this race. He has to spend time in those shoes.
“And he has to absorb it and get used to it. Then he can come back and say ‘OK, I know all about this race’.”
On Friday, Bernal and the rest of the peloton got to know about headwinds which only extended the longest stage of the Tour.
Wanty-Gobert’s Yoann Offredo and Cofidis’ Stephane Rossetto attacked from the flag and the good friends might have imagined they were out on a training ride as they were allowed to easily pull five minutes clear in the first 20 kilometres.
The peloton was barely ticking over behind, though the race finally came to life in the final 30 kilometres.
There was a moment of panic for Nairo Quintana and Dan Martin as the speed picked up ahead of the intermediate sprint, leaving them in a group distanced on the road before Quintana’s Movistar team sent a rescue force to pace them back.
Irishman Martin blamed TV motorbikes for the incident, which also caught out Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates.
“With a block headwind, every time the TV motorbike goes in front of the peloton the speed goes up,” the UAE Team Emirates rider said. “It is something else we have to face when we race the Tour.”
With the break hoovered up, the pack came barrelling into town, where Groenewegen – left limping by an opening stage crash – showed he was back on form with his fourth career Tour stage win, and a third of this race for Jumbo-Visma.
It came by mere millimetres from Lotto-Soudal’s Caleb Ewan, who is still awaiting a first taste of Tour success.
“Every time I sprint with Caleb it is very close,” Groenewegen said. “He is a really good sprinter but today I beat him and I am really happy with the job.
“The first day I crashed really hard. Today my team worked hard for me and we take the win and I am really happy.”