One of the most open editions of the Tour de France in decades will resume on Tuesday with only 39 seconds separating five riders between second and sixth, all of them breathing down the necks of what appears to be a fading Julian Alaphilippe.
The Pyrenees were enough to end the hopes of several big names – Adam Yates, Dan Martin, Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet and more – so who are the men left in contention after 15 stages?
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) – Yellow jersey
Alaphilippe was never supposed to last this long in the yellow jersey – a punchy rider simply trying to make the most of the opportunities the parcours offered him in the opening week. The longer the Frenchman hung on – with his stunning time trial victory and his remarkable ride to second place on the Tourmalet – the more the home fans dreamed. But the first signs of weakness came on the roads above Foix on Sunday, and despite his 95 second lead, it already feels as though Alaphilippe is on the way down.
Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) – Deficit: One minute 35 seconds
The defending champion looked strong in the opening week, bursting away from his rivals on La Planche des Belles Filles and maximising the crosswind chaos on stage 10 to gain more time. But questions emerged in the Pyrenees as he was distanced both on the Tourmalet and the Prat d’Albis. Despite that, Thomas remains second – in pole position if Alaphilippe is finally cracking as the race heads into the Alps. Was this simply a bad patch from which Thomas has emerged in an enviable position? Or was it a sign of deeper problems?
Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) – Deficit: One minute 47 seconds
With so much focus on Thomas’ time losses and the emerging French challenge, Kruijswijk has managed to fly a little under the radar despite sitting just 12 seconds behind the Welshman. Jumbo-Visma, despite losing Wout Van Aert to a crash and splitting their priorities between Kruijswijk and sprinter Dylan Groenewegen, have looked the strongest team in the mountains and Kruijswijk has been impressive if not explosive. The 32-year-old Dutchman has finished fourth in the Giro and the Vuelta before amid a series of good results, but has never managed a Grand Tour podium. Is this finally his year?
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) – Deficit: One minute 50 seconds
Pinot looked to be out of it after being one of a number of contenders to concede 100 seconds to Thomas and Alaphilippe in the stage 10 crosswinds, but he was the star of the Pyrenees and has clawed back those deficits with some brilliant rides. His victory on the Tourmalet was followed by his attacks on the Prat d’Albis, the two rides combined enough to see him gain one minute 32 seconds on Alaphilippe and one minute 41 seconds on Thomas in the space of 48 hours. Given his show of strength and questions over the others, the man in fourth could be the one to finally end a 34-year wait for a home winner.
Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) – Deficit: Two minutes two seconds
Thomas’ 22-year-old team-mate has the young rider classification pretty much sewn up with a 12-minute advantage over Pinot’s domestique David Gaudu, but what are the Colombian’s chances of upgrading white to yellow? The high Alpine stages to come should suit a rider born and raised at altitude so Ineos may have a decision to make very soon. Thomas suggested their status as co-leaders left him between “a rock and a hard place” on stage 15, claiming he had the legs to attack but did not want to help rivals catch Bernal. Ineos must play their cards smartly.
Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) – Deficit: Two minutes 14 seconds
Buchmann made giant strides forward in the Pyrenees, fourth on both the Tourmalet and Prat d’Albis as several other contenders fell by the wayside. The 26-year-old German remains the outsider of all those bunched together at the top of the standings, insisting his goal here is a first career top 10 in a Grand Tour, but the way he is riding he should not be discounted.
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