Julian Alaphilippe has ridden the individual time trial of his life to extend his lead at the Tour de France, the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider winning Stage 13 in Pau by 14 seconds from defending champion Geraint Thomas of Team Ineos ahead of tomorrow’s summit finish on the Col du Tourmalet.
It was an astonishing ride by Alaphilippe, who was the fastest man through each of the three intermediate time checks by a handful of seconds before storming up a 17 per cent ramp in the final kilometre to clinch a stage win that no-one predicted.
While many anticipated that the Frenchman would hold onto the overall lead today, expectations were that Thomas would take time from him. Instead, Alaphilippe extended his lead over the Team Ineos rider to 1 minute 26 seconds.
The outcome of the stage will see France dare to dream of a first home triumph in the race since Bernard Hinault’s victory in 1985, although there’s a lot of racing left, and leading a Grand Tour as it heads towards its third week is uncharted territory for him.
To draw a sporting analogy from the UK, it’s Tim Henman reaching the quarter finals of Wimbledon for the first time a couple of decades ago, with all the expectations of a nation on his shoulders.
By the time the top riders in the overall standings set off on the 27.2 kilometre course, Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt was in the hot seat with a time of 35 minutes 36 seconds.
It would prove to be the third fastest time of the day, bettered only by Alaphilippe, who finished in 35 minutes dead, and Thomas, 14 seconds behind the stage winner.
The next four fastest riders were all GC men, including Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk, who leapfrogs Egan Bernal of Team Ineos into third place overall.
On a memorable day for Deceuninck-Quick Step, Enric Mas also moved above the Colombian, who drops to fifth place.
A reshuffling of the GC saw Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates drop from seventh to tenth, with Dan Martin of UAE Team Emirates one place below him.
Not for the first time, the discipline proved to be the Achilles’ heel of one of the big French hopes, Romain Bardet of AG2R-La Mondiale, who shipped 2 minutes 26 seconds and is now almost 6 minutes off the lead.
Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, by contrast, finished 49 seconds behind Alaphilippe and moves up three places to lie tenth in the overall standings.
It was a day marred by crashes, one of which ended the race for Belgian national time trial champion Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma.
The 24-year-old, making his debut in the race and winner of Monday’s Stage 10 in Albi, collided with a crash barrier, and suffered a flesh wound to his thigh.
Stage winner and race leader Julian Alaphilippe
It’s incredible. 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 till the line. I heard that even in my team car they all cried.
Defending champion Geraint Thomas
It wasn’t too bad it just felt like I was just overheating a bit so I was trying to deal with that. It’s not an excuse it’s the same for everyone. It was okay – just in that last bit I didn’t really feel it.
It was controlled, but in the last 8km or so I felt like when I really wanted to step on it I didn’t quite have that last five per cent. It’s still a decent ride but you always pick it apart a bit.
[Alaphilippe] is obviously going really well. He’s certainly the favourite and the one to watch at the minute. There’s a long way to go and a lot of hard stages to come now.
Points classification leader, Peter Sagan
I was doing wheelies because some people from the public were asking me to put some. I guess everyone was happy about them.
Of course, Julian Alaphilippe can try and win the Tour de France. The race it’s only starting, but I for one am crossing fingers for him. He is surprising everybody and can continue to do so.
Enric Mas, who takes over the best young rider’s classification from Egan Bernal
I’m very happy because of my result today, and also because of Julian’s. I’m pretty happy about the white jersey: from now on, it will be a war between Egan Bernal and me for the white jersey.
At Deceuninck-Quick Step, we can play different cards from now on. It is a big advantage to have two guys in the top 5 of the GC. As for the yellow jersey, our aim is to defend it for as long as possible. I think Julian can keep the yellow jersey until Paris.
He has lost it once and taken it back. That shows how good he is on this Tour de France.
It is a dream come true to wear the white jersey on my first Tour de France. Making it to the top 10 in Paris is my goal. For now we are in a very good position and I’m very happy about our race.
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.