We’re halfway through the 2019 Tour de France, with home hero Julian Alaphilippe exciting French fans as he wears the leader’s yellow jersey.
The Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider leads the way after 10 of the Tour’s 21 stages. But can he stay there, with a taxing trip into the mountains ahead of the peloton?
As the race gets set to resume on Wednesday following the first rest day, we look ahead to the rest of Le Tour and discuss some talking points.
A FIRST FRENCH WINNER IN THREE DECADES?
It is to cycling what the Maracana is to football, Vince Lombardi to American football and the Ashes to cricket.
It remains the most exciting, gruelling and amazing event the sport has to offer. And yet the Tour de France has lost some of its own identity.
Le Tour has been won by 23 home riders in all, between them taking 36 wins. Both are records. And yet, it is 36 years since they produced a champion.
Since the brilliant Bernard Hinault lifted the last of his five titles in 1985, the Giro d’Italia has produced 14 home grown winners. Spain’s Vuelta a Espana has seen 11 different countrymen ride to glory.
At the halfway point of the 2019 Tour, a Frenchman sits in yellow, having already reclaimed the famous jersey from young Trek-Segafredo upstart Giulio Ciccone.
Julian Alaphilippe is his name. And the former soldier – who stormed back into contention after Thomas De Gendt won Stage 8 – fought to grab the yellow jersey on Bastille Day on Sunday.
The 27-year-old, who wore it for three days initially following his Stage 3 triumph from Binche to Epernay, claimed his two maiden stage wins at Le Tour a year ago and is making an impact once again. The Saint-Amand-Montrond man’s gun-slinging solo attacks have been a highlight of the 2019 Tour so far.
A puncheur (a rider who specialises in rolling terrain with short but steep climbs), Alaphilippe is someone for whom overall Tour de France glory would seem beyond. He is ideally suited for one-day classics, and he is in the form of his life at them coming into this year’s race, having claimed Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche and La Fleche Wallonne victory. He was also second at Brabantse Pijl and fourth at the Amstel Gold Race – career best finishes at all five.
The second half of the Tour will be the real test as the race heads into the perilous Pyrenees.
But just as Bastille Day – the French National Day – was a turning point in the French Revolution, perhaps Alaphilippe’s awe-inspiring performances could also be a turning point for French riders at the 2019 Tour de France.
MARTIN MOVING INTO CONTENTION
It seemed the unpredictability and openness of the 2019 race could have put paid to the chances of some of the pre-race favourites.
Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 champion, for example, is deemed out of contention after he finished 4:25 down on winner De Gendt on Stage 8.
The man known as Lo Squalo (The Shark) has sunk to 30th in the General Classification, 14 minutes adrift of Alaphilippe, which appears too great a gap to bridge.
Adam Yates, Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot – the man seen as France’s greatest hope of ending 34 years of hurt – Jakob Fuglsang, Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet are all poised promisingly in the chasing pack.
Another man shooting into contention after gaining time on some riders in the GC is perennial top-10 finisher Dan Martin. The resolute UAE Team Emirates man climbed into the top-10 following Stage 10, the Irishman is just 2:09 behind Alaphilippe, and is well positioned to make his mark as the race moves into the business end.
A winner on Stage 6 last year – a landmark first Tour triumph for UAE Team Emirates – Martin finished the race by picking up the coveted Combativity award. And, after three successive top-10 finishes at the race – ninth, sixth and eighth in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively – he’ll be confident of pushing on once the race gets back under way, even if he seems to be talking down his chances.
“We’ve done a lot of kilometres and hours. It looked on paper before the race that this is one of the hardest Tour de France’s we’ve ever seen,” the 32-year-old said following Stage 8.
“The fatigue is already pretty high and the level is so high this year. The speed of the race has increased, the bikes are better, nutrition is better, everyone’s fitter, stronger, so it’s normal the race is faster. Week three I think there’ll be a lot of tired guys.”
THE MOUNTAINS WILL MAKE YOU A MAN
Speaking of Week 3, Wednesday and the start of the second half of the race, is when we’ll start to see the men being separated from the boys.
Alaphilippe has been awesome over the course of the first 10 days but it will be a real test of the monument and classics specialist’s credentials to see how long he can remain in yellow.
It’s not impossible, after all Dylan Teuns won the only mountain stage of the Tour so far, Stage 6, which saw riders tackle the La Planche des Belles Filles. The Bahrain-Merida rider, like Alaphilippe, is a puncheur and not a specialist climber.
But with three of the next five stages mountain finishes and three straight lying in wait ahead of the final, largely processional, Stage 21, the coming days will give us a clearer picture of who will be fighting for victory.
As stated, the climbers are hunched, preparing to ascend up the rankings. Reigning champion Geraint Thomas is second. Yates (7th ), Quintana (8th), Martin (9th), Pinot (11th), Valverde (14th), Bardet (15th) and Fuglsang (16th) are nicely poised, with Dane Fuglsang furthest adrift, but only 3:22 off the pace.
The Tour de France has been frantic and fantastic so far. But now it’s about to get a little more fraught.
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.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
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.