With a double ascent of the Alpe d’Huez, today’s Stage 18 was perhaps the showpiece occasion of the 100th Tour de France and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Here’s our round-up of the reaction to a gripping stage.
There were celebrations as France got its first stage win of the race through AG2R La Mondiale’s Christophe Riblon, and controversy as a flagging Chris Froome in the race leader’s yellow jersey received, via loyal lieutenant Richie Porte, an energy gel that cost both a 20-second penalty.
That sanction was imposed because the riders were well past the point beyond which team cars are not allowed to provide them with food and drink, with Porte fetching the gel for his team leader.
Without that boost of energy, serious damage could have been done to Froome’s hopes of winning the race in Paris on Sunday, but with Alberto Contador in difficulties today, the Team Sky man actually extends his lead.
Movistar’s Nairo Quintana was the man who put Froome under most pressure, with Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez another of the key players in the move that split the overall contenders’ group.
Quintana won the sprint for fourth place against Rordriguez and with Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team mate Roman Kreuziger dropped, moves to third overall.
In winning today, Riblon – uniquely, the only Alpe d’Huez stage winner to have had to ride up the mountain twice – ensured France would not leave the 100th Tour without a stage win, something that has only happened twice in the previous 99 editions.
His victory didn’t come as late as Pierre Rolland’s here on the final Friday of the 2011 race, the first by a home rider that year, but it does give equal cause for celebration among the French public that one of their compatriots has set their seal on a landmark edition of the race.
Riblon, a past summit finish stage winner at Ax 3 Domaines, revealed afterwards that today’s victory was the fulfilment of a childhood dream.
Christophe Riblon of AG2R-La Mondiale, who joins the list of stage winners on Alpe d’Huez that began with Fausto Coppi in 1952.
When I was about eight years old, I saw on the TV a victory of a cyclist at Alpe d'Huez and I hoped that one day maybe I could do it too.
Today, when I saw at the start of the climb that van Garderen attacked me I knew I couldn't follow him and I told myself, ‘Shit, I finish second like two days ago...'
After, at three kilometres from the finish, I saw him and he didn't look good so I started to believe in my good stars. And I sprinted and the public supported me and I'm in the sky!
It was a crazy final. At five kilometres to go, I no longer believed it was possible. But Julien Jurdie was in the car, and he still believed in me and never stopped encouraging me, saying, ‘He's bonked, you'll catch him!' At that time, I was riding for second place so I was giving it my all on the climb.
Then, when I saw him ahead of me, I realised he had the very distinctive position of a rider who is not coping. So I came back up to him, and I absolutely did not want to leave him any hope that he could accompany me… I had no hesitation and I immediately attacked. It's a huge thrill to see the race reversed.
I remember the last time when Pierre Rolland won here, I thought I missed something, and this time it's great to raise my arms at Alpe d'Huez.
On this Tour the team fought hard but we lost two riders with fractures, Maxime Bouet and early Jean-Christophe Péraud yesterday. This morning, we are told that we had ward off bad luck, and finish our tour with our heads.
While Riblon was reeling in and passing van Garderen, like the American, Froome was looking as though he would run out of steam, with Quintana’s bursts of acceleration putting him under trouble.
Richie Porte, who had dropped back earlier on that final climb, had got back across to his team mate, and it was he who went back to the team car to fetch a gel after Froome had gesticulated that he was in trouble.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome, who leads the 100th Tour de France around 5 minutes.
Richie Porte is a really great guy. I mean, he put aside all his ambitions in this race to help keep the jersey on my shoulders and he did such a good job today – really fantastic. I mean he paced me through that whole climb basically.
It was really hard to talk on that climb, there was just so much noise going through all those people so to be able to talk we had to get really close to each other but it was just talking to dictate what pace we should carry on at just to try and get through the stage.
It was a really hard day today but I think, all in all, it's a really good day for us – just extending the lead on general classification. Also, something else about today: it's Nelson Mandela Day and I would like, from my point of view, to inspire a lot of young Africans to be able to achieve their ambitions today.
I'm not sure about the technicality of the time penalty – if Richie is going to get it or if I'm going to get the penalty [in the event, both did – ed] – but it's understandable.
I really felt that I needed those sugars in the final, so if it comes with a 20 second penalty, then I have to accept that.
This was definitely one of the harder days that we've seen in this Tour but I think that's to be expected: two times up Alpe d'Huez and this late in the race, it's definitely a hard day and also keeping in mind what's coming up tomorrow.
We had a little mechanical problem with the car a little bit further back and we weren't able to feed from the car before the climb so at that point, I just thought, ‘Okay, we don't really have any other option...' with five kilometres to go we made the decision to try and get something but even though it's cost us another 20 seconds.
If we look at the bigger picture here and what we've done, we've just extended our lead. If that's a bad day, I'll definitely take that.
While Contador remains second overall, clearly there will be frustration that Saxo-Tinkoff were unable to make a dent in Froome’s advantage today, but the Danish team is promising to have another crack on tomorrow’s second day out of three in the Alps.
Saxo-Tinkoff sports director, Fabrizio Guidi.
Throughout the entire race we've said that we wanted the overall win and we were not afraid of risking it all to get it and so we did today. But the legs just weren't good enough to finish it off.
We can be disappointed and everyone's a lot wiser after the stage but if you never try, you never win. We're still competing for the top positions and there are still two demanding stages to go.
Now, it's time to keep focused, remain calm, recover and try again tomorrow.
Contador too was ruing the fact that the team was unable to execute its plan today, but like his DS insists he will look totake the race to Froome again tomorrow.
Two time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff.
Today, we all suffered. From the very beginning I had a little hard legs. In the end, I had a bit of dehydration.
As expected, the start was very fast but at the end the weather turned out better than expected. We expected bad weather, which motivated me a lot but it didn't happen.
The team was working very well but once the attacks started flying, I preferred to go at my pace thinking that the climb was long.
At the end of the day, I think we limited the losses well thinking about the bad sensations. I wouldn't say it was an attack on the descent from Sarenne.
It was only to go ahead of the group, because we went calmly and without taking any risks.
Yes, we took some time, but we knew we needed more people with us and no one ever came, so the smartest thing was to stop and wait for the group because Movistar had been organised behind."
Tomorrow, anything can happen. It's a tough stage and we have to see how the weather is. Starting with Glandon and Madeleine it's a harsh beginning of the day and on Saturday there is a really hard uphill finish.
Today was a big opportunity, but the legs simply didn't respond. Now the most important thing is to rest and recover for tomorrow.
With Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Michal Kwiatowski dropped early on during the final climb, Quintana has further consolidated his lead in the best young rider’s competition – he’s now 9 minutes 6 seconds ahead of the Pole.
Moreover, today’s attacking performance now puts him into a podium position on the General Classification.
Nairo Quintana of Movistar, third overall and looking likely to win the white jersey as best young rider of this year’s Tour.
As I was already tired this morning it was good to have a fresh stage, without really hot conditions – this suits me better because I didn't think I would have the legs to attack Froome at the finish.
The objective is still to finish on the podium. It's a dream for me to achieve that. As for getting both – the climbing classification and a place on the podium – it's not done yet but it would be unreal.
I've never been as happy as I am today: I've gone from sixth to third overall, I've taken one minute out of Froome's lead... I didn't realise that he had some problems but my timing was ideal. I had a bit of luck.
Tomorrow and the next day are very hard stages so have to recover quickly and get ready for the challenges that lie ahead... but I accept that winning this Tour is no longer an obtainable objective – the gap to Froome is too big.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.