Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step is back in the lead of the Tour de France following a thrilling Stage 8 into Saint-Etienne this afternoon, finishing third just behind Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ, the pair just failing to hunt down Thomas De Gendt of Lotto-Soudal who managed to hang on to win from the break. A brutal day's racing saw high drama late on as defending champion Geraint Thomas of Team Ineos crashed ahead of the final of seven categorised climbs with 14 kilometres remaining, but he managed to make it back to the next group across the line, 14 seconds back.
Thomas came down on a corner ahead of the last climb as EF Education First’s Michael Woods crashed but was quickly back on his bike, team-mate Wout Poels burning himself out to try and pace his team leader back.
Speaking after the finish, Thomas said he was “fine” afterwards, adding that it was “annoying and frustrating” to have crashed.
Alaphilippe, 6 seconds off the race lead this morning behind Trek-Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone, took bonus seconds behind De Gendt over the final climb to put himself just 1 second away from getting back into the yellow jersey.
With him was Pinot, looking to make up time on Thomas, and who is emerging as one of the leading contenders for the overall victory in Paris.
Today’s 200 kilometre stage from Mâcon to Saint-Étienne was ridden at a fast pace throughout, and with seven categorised climbs was a tough day in the saddle for many.
On a day with that kind of profile, it was a surprisingly small escape group that eventually formed, comprising just four riders – serial escapee De Gendt, Total-Direct Energie’s Nike Terpstra, the Dimension Date rider Ben King, and CCC’s Alessandro De Marchi.
Behind them, Bora-Hansgrohe, working for Peter Sagan who is looking for a record seventh green jersey, and Team Sunweb, pulling on behalf of Michael Matthews – the only person to have broken the Slovakian’s sequence of wins since 2012 – were leading the chase.
By the time they came over the top of the Col du Part with 67 kilometres and two more climbs remaining, De Gendt – who had picked up points throughout the day for the mountains classification currently led by his team-mate Tim Wellens – and De Marchi were out front on their own.
Astana were by now leading the chase, with Team Ineos sat in behind them at the front of the main bunch, the incessantly high pace resulting in rider after rider being shelled out the back of the group.
De Gendt had dropped De Marchi by the time he headed up that final climb, while the drama in the overall battle was unfolding behind him.
Missing from the start today was the EF Education First rider Tejay van Garderen, who broke his thumb in a nasty crash early on in yesterday’s Stage 7 that also left him with facial and knee injuries.
Stage winner Thomas De Gendt
We really wanted to have someone in the breakaway today. The first attack in the peloton was the right one to form the break of the day and it was pretty easy to be part of it. Strange, because I was expecting a lot more fighting. Together with three other riders, I escaped, but the peloton never gave us much space. As for me, you don't need a lot of advantage on this parcours; you just need to ride smart.
After a while, I only had De Marchi by my side, so we had to give it our all to compete for the victory and we did. At 70 kilometres of the finish line, I decided to go solo, but as we got closer to the end, I was told that Alaphilippe and Pinot were in the chase. I know that especially Alaphilippe is a great descender, so I had to give everything I got. Because I was using almost the last energy I had left, I almost had to throw up, but luckily I didn’t break!”
Of course, I was hoping they wouldn’t come back, but even if that would have happened, I think I still would have had a chance. Possibly Pinot and Alaphilippe would just look at each other for the general classification and if so, I could take advantage of it.
I think this is my best performance ever. I prefer this victory even more than the one on the Mont Ventoux. I had a real great day and almost miraculous legs. If I need a massage later on? No, that’s not really my cup of tea.
Julian Alaphilippe, who reclaims the yellow jersey
It was the ideal scenario but I wasn’t sure if it could happen this way. I had nothing to lose. I knew my deficit on GC was only 6 seconds, but it was a big task at the same time.
It’s nice that breakaways get rewarded. I had to attack and go full gas. I didn’t know the finale.
I was just focused in the last kilometres and it went very fast. In the last 500 meters I thought it’s now or never, I just went full gas.
It was difficult to be in a better situation than with Thibaut Pinot. Had I been alone, I would have gone flat out anyway but with him, I could recover a bit sometimes. I couldn’t dream of anything better than riding in yellow jersey on Bastille Day tomorrow.
Defending champion Geraint Thomas
I’m fine, but it’s just frustrating as the crash happened at a key point in the race.
Woods crashed and took out Gianni and me and I just got tangled up in Gianni’s bike, it took a bit of time to get going, but the boys did a great job to get me back to the group.
I caught up for the final ascent, was moving up a bit and by the time I got to the top 15-20, that’s when Alaphilippe and Pinot attacked over the top to take the bonus seconds and I was gassed for a bit.
I didn’t want to ride on the front and tow everyone, Sunweb had numbers and there was a few other guys trying to ride and you’re sat there thinking ‘oh come on’.
It’s annoying and frustrating, but at the same time, to come back like I did shows the legs are good. You don’t want to give any unnecessary time away and if I hadn’t have crashed I could have followed them and it would have been a totally different story - but that’s the way it goes. There’s still a lot of racing to come.
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.