Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

Leave a comment

LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

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!

Julian Alaphilippe wins Tour de France time trial ahead of Geraint Thomas

2 Comments

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe won the lone individual time trial of the Tour de France to keep the yellow jersey after 13 stages before the three-week event hits the Pyrenees this weekend.

Alaphilippe, who was not a pre-race title contender, relegated 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas to second place by 14 seconds in Friday’s 17-mile race of truth, increasing his overall lead to 86 seconds.

“I can’t believe it,” Alaphilippe said. “OK, we don’t have the team to win the Tour de France. We don’t have a lot of climbers in [team] Deceuninck–Quick-Step for the Tour, but we ride really aggressive, and we try to win.”

Alaphilippe, 27, has a best Grand Tour finish of 33rd at last year’s Tour. Thomas said he was surprised to be beaten by the Frenchman on Friday.

“He’s certainly the favorite and the one to watch at the moment,” Thomas said of a man who would end France’s longest Tour title drought (since Bernard Hinault in 1985). “If he can keep that up, then he’ll win, but it’s a long way to go. A lot of hard stages to come.”

Thomas gained 82 seconds on perhaps his biggest rival for the title, Ineos teammate Egan Bernal. Bernal dropped from third place to fifth and out of the white jersey.

The Tour heads into the Pyrenees on Saturday with a summit finish on the famed Col du Tourmalet sure to shake up the top 10 in the overall standings.

Early in Friday’s time trial, Stage 10 winner Wout van Aert of Belgium abandoned after crashing and being taken away by ambulance with a leg injury.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

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!

Simon Yates wins Tour de France Stage 12 ahead of time trial

1 Comment

BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France (AP) — British rider Simon Yates posted his first Tour de France stage win on Thursday after a long breakaway in the Pyrenees mountains.

Yates, who won the Spanish Vuelta last year, launched a counterattack behind a group of fugitives in a technical downhill and was joined at the front by Gregor Mühlberger and Pello Bilbao.

The trio worked well together until the final sprint shaped up 200 meters from the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre. Yates launched the sprint, was first into the last turn and held off Bilbao for the victory.

“I wasn’t very confident in beating them,” said Yates. “I didn’t know how fast these two riders were but my sport director told me to take the last corner in first position and I’m glad it worked out well. To have a stage at all three Grand Tours makes me very proud.”

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

As the Tour hit high mountains with a stage featuring two first-category climbs, the main favorites closely watched each other and did not attack, saving strength for the super hard days still to come.

The main pack of contenders crossed the finish line 9 minutes, 35 seconds behind the winner, with no major change in the overall standings. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe kept the race leader’s yellow jersey ahead of Friday’s time trial in Pau, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of defending champion Geraint Thomas.

Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal, the Ineos co-leader, remained in third place, a further four seconds behind.

Yates is working in support of his brother Adam at the three-week race and had kept a low profile until now.

“This was probably a unique opportunity for me,” Yates said. “My main goal is to help Adam in the mountains and we thought that wouldn’t be needed today, that’s why I took the breakaway.”

The peloton rode at full speed in the first hour of racing and it took more than 40 kilometers before a group of 40 riders managed to move clear of the pack. Sonny Colbrelli and Lilian Calmejane attacked from that group at the foot of the Col de Peyresourde, a classic twisting ramp at the Tour through a picturesque valley.

Yates then made his move in the Peyresourde downhill, reaching a maximum speed of 94.3 kph (58.6 mph). He was as impressive in the day’s final ascent, the Hourquette d’Ancizan, and was joined at the front by Mühlberger before Bilbao jumped across to them on the descent to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.

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!