Julian Alaphilippe

Getty Images

Tour de France shortens decisive stage due to weather

Leave a comment

The violent weather that forced an early stoppage of Friday’s Stage 19 of the Tour de France has also forced organizers to re-route and shorten Stage 20, the last chance for anyone to shake up the standings.

Colombian rider Egan Bernal, who took the yellow jersey Friday in addition to his firm grip on the white jersey as the Tour’s best young rider, will have an easier-than-expected task Saturday, with only one climb on a route of 59.5 kilometers (37 miles). The day’s racing was originally scheduled to be more than twice that far at 130 kilometers (81 miles), with multiple opportunities for the rest of the tightly packed group at the top of the overall standings to attack.

The good news for France is that Julien Alaphilippe, who was in tears yesterday after losing his yellow jersey in the midst of a descent that played to his strengths as a technical rider, now has more of a chance to remain on the podium. Alaphilippe’s demotion was one of two sad events for the host nation on Friday — contender Thibaut Pinot withdrew with a thigh injury.

But the remaining climb is still a difficult beyond-category trek to Val Thorens. Cyclists will spend 33.4 kilometers on an average grade of 5.4% on the way to a height of 2,365 meters (7,759 feet).

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

And the top five riders all have a legitimate shot at the podium, if not the win. Alaphilippe, who was expected to give up the yellow jersey when the Tour hit the mountains but climbed better than expected, is 45 seconds behind Bernal. Defending champion Geraint Thomas (Great Britain) is next at 1:11 behind, with Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk and German rider Emanuel Buchman also within two minutes of the lead and 45 seconds of the podium.

Sunday’s final stage is traditionally a ceremonial ride to Paris in which no one attacks the yellow jersey.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Tour de France stage stopped mid-race, new leader

5 Comments

TIGNES, France (AP) — In an instant, and just as it was becoming even more thrilling, the most exciting Tour de France in decades became truly bizarre, and got a new leader — Egan Bernal of Colombia — who looks all but certain to hold the yellow jersey to Paris on Sunday.

A violent hailstorm threw cycling’s greatest race into chaos on Friday, forcing organizers to cut short a nail-biting stage in the high Alps because riders were speeding, unbeknownst to them, headlong toward a road that had suddenly become covered with ice and giant puddles and cut in half by a rockslide.

Concerned for riders’ safety on mountain roads that can be dangerous at the best of times, race organizers made an on-the-spot and extremely rare decision that the stage couldn’t continue.

The shockwave was immediate and heavy in repercussions. Unable to reach the planned finish at the ski station of Tignes, organizers decided that riders’ placings would instead be based on their time at the top of the highest mountain pass of this Tour — the Iseran, at 2,770 meters (9,090 feet) above sea level — which leading riders, but not all, had just scaled when the race was stopped.

And just like that, Bernal found himself in the yellow jersey.

He flew away from Julian Alaphilippe on the climb and reached the top 2 minutes, 10 seconds ahead of the Frenchman, who had held the race lead for a total of 14 days.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

Not only is Bernal the new leader, but he also now looks almost certain to stay in yellow all the way to Paris, because Stage 20 on Saturday will also be shortened, again because of expected storms and landslides. The now truncated route of just 59 kilometers (37 miles), shorn of two of its three planned climbs, is no longer likely to be hard enough for Bernal’s rivals to make him crack.

Still, from the way he stormed up the Iseran, few could argue that Bernal would be an undeserving winner. Having powered up the climb, Bernal was speeding down hairpins on the other side, with Alaphilippe hot on his trail, hoping to save his race lead, when they received the order to stop racing.

“I don’t really know what happened. I was speeding, attacking, and everything was going well and then they told me to stop. I didn’t want to stop,” Bernal said through a translator on French television. “When they told me that I was the race leader and I had the yellow jersey, I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t believe it.”

Organizers scrambled to deal with the disarray and riders clambered off their bikes, not immediately sure what was going on. Exceptionally, there was no winner of Stage 19, because no one had reached the finish.

“This Tour is crazy,” race director Christian Prudhomme said. “We would never have imagined a day like this.”

Having made France dream of having a first Tour winner since 1985, and having contributed more than anyone to make this Tour more memorable than most with his punchy riding, Alaphillipe lost the race lead as the Champs-Elysees in Paris was almost within touching distance.

Prudhomme said the hair-raising speeds of Bernal, Alaphilippe and other riders on the downhill from the Iseran in part prompted the decision to stop the race there and then.

“We could see that they were taking risks and we knew that they couldn’t go much further,” he said. “The only thing that counts is the riders’ health and safety. It was impossible.”

Bernal, who races on the Ineos team, was 1:30 behind Alaphilippe at the start of the stage. Now, the last obstacle for Bernal to negotiate is the long final climb to the Val Thorens ski station on Saturday in the shortened Stage 20, putting the 22-year-old in an ideal position to become the first Colombian to win cycling’s biggest race.

Prudhomme said riders’ timings at the top of the Iseran were taken the old-fashioned way, with a watch. Normally, organizers furnish riders’ placings almost immediately after each stage. On Friday, organizers first provided delayed provisional standings and then tweaked the results in official standings that took about three hours to finalize.

Bernal now leads Alaphilippe by 48 seconds. Defending champion Geraint Thomas is third, 1:16 behind Bernal — not 1:03 back as organizers first announced.

Alaphilippe said he’d been bracing to lose the lead on the tough Alpine stage, but no one had imagined it would happen in such dramatic circumstances.

“I gave it all, I don’t have any regret,” he said. “I’ve been beaten by stronger than me.”

The sudden storm turned summer into almost winter in just minutes, with a dusting of white covering what had been lush summer pastures of green. A snowplow driver tried to clear away the slush, throwing up waves of water, on the road flooded with torrents of water and ice.

It wasn’t the first time that Alpine weather had thrown Tour organizers’ plans into disarray. At the 1996 Tour, what had been planned as a 190-kilometer (118-mile) stage from Val d’Isère to Sestrières was slashed to just 46 kilometers because of snow, with both the Iseran and Galibier passes not climbed as planned.

Black storm clouds could be seen looming on the horizon as Bernal went over the top of the climb.

Although Bernal was all smiles as he stepped into an Ineos car, other contenders including Alaphlippe looked disappointed. The French rider waved his left arm in disdain and swerved back and forth across the road. Colombian rider Rigoberto Uran looked angry.

But Marc Madiot, the manager of the Groupama-FDJ team, applauded the stoppage.

“Safety is the first priority and the decision to stop the stage seemed to be the only decision to make,” he said. “Imagine that the race had a continued and a rider had plunged into a ravine.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Julian Alaphilippe, step closer to Tour de France title, gives yellow jersey to boy

Leave a comment

SAINT-MICHEL-DE-MAURIENNE, France (AP) — One big Alpine stage completed, just two more to go, and Julian Alaphilippe is still in yellow with France yet another step closer to having a first Tour winner since 1985.

Continuing to contribute more than anyone to making this the most exciting Tour de France in decades, the French rider recovered from a moment of weakness on the lunar-landscaped Galibier pass and sped down treacherous hairpin bends on the other side to preserve his race lead Thursday.

“It was a day of folly,” Alaphilippe said.

“I unplugged my brain and I was on the limit on each bend,” he said. “I did a crazy descent, where I took risks. I wanted to save my jersey.”

Job done.

But it wasn’t a perfect day for Alaphilippe. With a decisive, well-placed attack on the slopes of the Galibier — the last of three climbs to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) on Stage 18 — Colombian rider Egan Bernal got away from Alaphilippe and ate into his lead.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

Bernal vaulted from fifth to second in the overall standings. Having started the day 2 minutes, 2 seconds behind Alaphilippe, Bernal is now just 90 seconds behind him.

“It’s very good for the morale. But Julian demonstrated once again that he is very strong,” Bernal said. “For now, I’m still behind Julian. Everything is possible. I’m in the mix but to win the Tour is difficult.”

Bernal’s teammate, defending champion Geraint Thomas, tried to make it a one-two punch by also attacking on the last hairpins leading to the top of that climb, lined by excited crowds.

But with Alaphilippe starting to wobble on the ascent, Thomas couldn’t make the offensive stick. Alaphilippe caught him again on the downhill to the finish. Thomas is still 1:35 behind Alaphilippe, as he was at the start of Stage 18, but slipped back to third overall behind Ineos teammate Bernal.

Colombian rider Nairo Quintana won his first stage, flying away from everyone on the Galibier and putting some color back into what so far had been an underwhelming Tour for the former two-time runner-up. Quintana vaulted from 12th overall to seventh, now 3:54 behind Alaphilippe.

With Quintana and Spanish riders Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde, Movistar now has three riders in the top 10, a possible launching pad for the team to launch more attacks in the last two Alpine stages.

“If we find a favorable ground over the next two days, we will keep attacking,” Quintana said.

But Alaphilippe is proving tough to dislodge. He has now worn the yellow jersey for 13 stages at this Tour, the most by any French rider at a single edition since Bernard Hinault held it for 17 days in winning the race for a fifth time in 1985.

With opportunities running out for rivals aiming to unseat him, Alaphilippe knew he’d be in for a torrid time among the huge barren slopes of scree leading to the Galibier, rising to a lung-burning 2,642 meters (8,668 feet) above sea level and first climbed by the Tour in 1911.

“It was a big mouthful,” Alaphilippe said. “I had imagined the worst.”

But he continues to confound even his own expectations.

Although his lead has shrunk, with the duo of Bernal and Thomas breathing down his neck, Alaphilippe is closer than ever to the podium in Paris on Sunday.

Thomas suggested that the stage simply hadn’t been hard enough to make Alaphilippe crack.

“We wanted it to be hard but the pace wasn’t there,” he said. “The call was made for Egan to go and hopefully that would kick if off a bit, but it didn’t. That’s when I went as well, just to test. But at least Egan gained some time on everyone else.”

Two huge obstacles lie between Alaphilippe and Paris in the shape of two more Alpine stages, both with uphill finishes.

Few had expected him to hold his own in the Pyrenees and, now, on the first day in the Alps.

But he’s making believers with each extra step closer to the finish.

“No matter where I finish in Paris, this Tour will have left a mark on French people,” he said. “And I’ll have learned a lot about myself.”

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!