A stunned Geraint Thomas called Julian Alaphilippe the favourite to win the Tour de France after the Frenchman’s time trial victory in Pau saw him extend his lead in yellow.
Alaphilippe produced the time trial of his life to complete the lumpy 27km course in 35 minutes flat, 14 seconds faster than second-placed Thomas who now trails the Deceuninck-Quick Step man by 86 seconds overall.
There remains an expectation that Alaphilippe, who did not start the Tour targeting the general classification, will soon fall away, but after he survived Thursday’s first Pyrenean stage and then pulled out time on a world-class time triallist such as Thomas, the question is when.
“I didn’t really expect that,” Thomas said. “He’s obviously going incredibly well, so he’s certainly the favourite and the one to watch at the minute.”
Ineos team principal Sir Dave Brailsford has been happy to dismiss Alaphilippe’s overall chances, but Thomas is beginning to take him seriously.
Asked if he was a threat, Thomas said: “For sure, the way he’s riding. If he can keep that up then he’ll win.
“There’s a long way to go, there’s a lot of hard stages to come now.”
Alaphilippe sounded just as surprised as Thomas by the result.
“It’s incredible,” he said. I’m really happy. Without being pretentious, I knew I could do a good performance on such a course, I told my cousin Franck this morning that I’d do something good but I didn’t think I could win the stage, especially with such a big gap against Geraint Thomas.
“The first part suited me but I surprised myself in the second part of the race. I pushed my limits.
“With the help of the public, I gave everything til the line. I heard that even in my team car they all cried.”
Thomas’ failure to pick up time was not the only disappointment for Team Ineos as Egan Bernal could only manage 22nd on the stage, 96 seconds down on Alaphilippe, and so slipped from third to fifth on the general classification.
The Colombian also conceded the young rider’s white jersey to Alaphilippe’s team-mate Enric Mas.
Less of a surprise was seeing the time trial cause a shake up at the top of the standings, with Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates and UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin among the losers.
Martin finished 33rd on the day, two minutes six seconds down on Alaphilippe, with Yates one place and two seconds further back.
That sees Yates drop from seventh to 10th, three minutes and 55 seconds down, with Martin in 11th a further 20 seconds back.
French hope Thibaut Pinot – caught out in the crosswinds on stage 10 – performed well and moved himself up to seventh, albeit still three minutes 22 seconds off yellow.
Jumbo-Visma’s Wout Van Aert had started the stage as one of the favourites for victory but his hopes – and his Tour – were ended in a nasty crash inside the final two kilometres.
The young Belgian clipped the inside of a fast right-hand bend and needed lengthy medical treatment at the roadside before being taken to hospital with what his team said was a flesh wound to his right leg.
UAE Team Emirates’ Portuguese talent, Rui Costa, became the third of the team’s riders to cross the line in a top 10 position at this year’s Tour de France, after a fast paced 209.5km mountain stage from Toulouse to Bagneres de Bigorre in which he finished 8th. The race was eventually won by Simon Yates (Mitchelton Scott) in a three up sprint with Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Grego Muhlberger (BORA-hansgrohe).
It was another day for the breakaway in stage 12, which saw a group of 40 riders attack off the front after 45km of frenetic racing. In the mix was UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff and Rui Costa. The peloton sat back and allowed the front group to stretch its lead out to over 8-minutes during the stage, which last nearly five hours. Whilst the GC contenders may have taken it easy, the same couldn’t be said for the break – which continually attacked itself over 165km of lumpy terrain. On the final climb the breakaway group began to fracture even further. Costa was unable to stay with Yates and his companions when they attacked with 37kms to go, creating a gap that they maintained until the finish line.
Costa said: “The first part of the stage was very hard because everybody wanted to be in the breakaway. After almost an hour of flat out racing myself and Alexander managed to get into the main break of the day. I didn’t feel as good as I expected but I did my best and came away with 8th – the best I could have hoped for.”
“For sure I’ll try again on a few more stages,” he added.
After an impressive start to his first ever Tour de France, the young Belgian rider Jasper Philipsen did not start Stage 12.
Inigo San Millan, Head of Performance at UAE Team Emirates explained: “It’s better for him to stop now and recover and let his body adapt to be able to come back at an even higher level in the future.”
In the General Classification, Dan Martin remains in 9th position, where there has been no change in the overall standings.
Stage 12 results
1. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton Scott 4:57:53”
2. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Team Astana st
3. Grego Muhlberger (Aut) BORA-hansgrohe st
8. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates + 1:28
General classification standings
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick Step) 52:26:09”
2. Geraint Thomas (Team INEOS) 1:12”
3. Egan Bernal (Team INEOS) 1:16”
9. Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) 2:09”
UAE Team Emirates duo Jasper Philipsen and Alexander Kristoff both finished in the top-10 for a second time at this year’s Tour de France.
The young Belgian was seventh with the veteran Norwegian ninth in a sprint finish, with a mechanical in the final 500m preventing Kristoff from fully exploiting another impressive lead out from the team’s up and coming young Belgian rider.
The race was won by a matter of inches by Caleb Ewan, of Lotto Soudal, who marginally pipped Jumbo-Visma’s Dylan Groenewegen to the line.
Stage 11 came after a well earned rest day for the riders and eased them back into racing with a relatively short 167km flat route from Albi to Toulouse. The day played out as expected with the inevitable breakaway being slowly reeled back in by the chasing peloton.
Dan Martin was kept safe by the team’s domestiques and managed to avoid the crashes that temporarily split up the peloton, ensuring he reserved his energy for the upcoming mountain stages.
In the final two kilometers, Philipsen and Kristoff worked well together and forced themselves into a great position for the impending sprint – but as the race hit the business end, Kristoff experienced a mechanical issue that prevented him from opening up his trademark powerhouse finish. Philipsen once again showed his strength by continuing on to the line with both riders finishing in the top 10 for a second time.
Philipsen said: “In the final kilometer Alexander had a mechanical problem. It happened at a really bad moment. I tried to support him, but the line was coming up fast.
Youngest man in the race @JasperPhilipsen bags his third top-10 on stage 11 @LeTour into Toulouse 🇫🇷— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) 17 July 2019
📝Report &Quotes: https://t.co/gYQXzaUkKl#UAETeamEmirates #RideTogether #YearofTolerance pic.twitter.com/Gzv7yaigJo
“I was ready to launch the sprint but on my left another rider dropped his chain which was pretty frustrating. So, between the mechanicals and the positioning it wasn’t exactly the perfect scenario for us.”
Kristoff added: “I dropped my chain with just over a kilometre to go. Just as the team trains were moving up I tried to jump on their wheel and it dropped on the inside. Jasper tried to help me but it was too late so I told him to give it a go himself. By the time I got back up it was too late.”
Sports director Neil Stephens added: “I think the riders rode really well throughout the stage. Unfortunately we just weren’t able to get the win here in Toulouse.
“The run in to the line was good – all the guys worked well to get Jasper and Alex in a perfect position. But a rub of wheels in the last kilometer threw him off a bit and it wasn’t to be.”
Stage 12 signals the first Pyrenees mountain stage of the Tour as the peloton heads from Toulouse to Bagneres de Bigorre over 209.5km of lumpy terrain that features one category three and two category one climbs before ending with over 20km of fast and technical descents to the finish line.