Tour de France: Pinot’s Prat d’Albis attack gains Frenchman more time

22 Jul

Amid the mania that accompanied Thibaut Pinot's victory on the Col du Tourmalet on Saturday, there was still one nagging doubt: could he have gone earlier?

So convincing was the Frenchman's acceleration in the final 250 metres, so efficiently did the Groupama-FDJ leader distance those left with him, that some wondered whether his acceleration might have have been best deployed a couple of kilometres further down the mountain.

Pinot explained that the stage victory was his priority – he was wrapped up in the atmosphere on one of the Tour de France's most famous climbs, and general classification calculations were far from his mind.

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Twenty-four hours later, it was a different story. Pinot went on the offensive more than six kilometres from the top of the Prat d'Albis on stage 15 on Sunday, and reaped the rewards. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) held on from the break, so there was no stage victory, but once again Pinot rode away from all his rivals in the hunt for the yellow jersey.

He put 18 seconds into Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) and Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), 49 into Bernal's teammate Geraint Thomas and Jumbo-Visma's Steven Kruijswijk, and 1:16 into race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep). As a result, Pinot is now up to fourth overall, with his hopes of the podium surely turning into hopes of overall victory.

"I knew the final part of the climb was gentler, so I thought if I attacked on the steep section, I wouldn't be taking too much of a risk by going into the red," Pinot explained. "Even if I was caught, I'd still be able to follow the wheels on that last part."

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Alaphilippe ‘starting to pay’ for Tour de France efforts

21 Jul

Finally, a crack in the armour. After 14 extraordinary days, Julian Alaphilippe showed he was human on the Prat d'Albis on Sunday.

For the first time in this sensational Tour de France, we saw Alaphilppe dropping from the back of a group rather than accelerating off the front of it. He was unable to live with the relentless forcing of pace from his compatriot Thibaut Pinot and even conceded ground to second-placed Geraint Thomas.

This, however, was no crashing back down to earth. Alaphilippe placed 11th on the stage with a cast of big-name GC riders in his wake and the yellow jersey still on his shoulders. The damage to Pinot was 1:16 but that to Thomas was a modest 27 seconds.

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The day after an hors-categorie summit finish on the Tourmalet, it was a performance that was arguably above and beyond what he and we might have predicted a fortnight ago. But then again, our expectations of Alaphilippe have been completely rewritten at this Tour.

Nevertheless, it's hard to escape the feeling that, 24 hours after his watershed second-place on the Tourmalet, Sunday's stage signified a new turning point. His extraordinary efforts over the past two weeks are beginning to add up and there are still three gruelling days in the Alps between here and Paris.

"I expected it to be difficult. I'm not disappointed, I'm just completely spent. It's not a surprise for me to crack against the best climbers, especially after yesterday's stage, where I really went deep into my reserves," Alaphilippe said at the top of the mountain.

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Thibaut Pinot lights up Tour de France as Simon Yates takes the stage – Video

21 Jul

The second stage in the Tour de France high mountains saw Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) take his second stage victory of the 2019 edition, with the Briton the last man standing from the day's large breakaway.

Behind Yates, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) once again lit up the race with an audacious attack on the final climb to claw his way up to fourth place overall.

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Pinot put 49 seconds into defending champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos), and now sits just 15 seconds behind the Welshman in the overall standings. In fact, Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Pinot, Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) all lie within 39 seconds of each other as the race heads into its second rest day.

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Bernal: Geraint Thomas told me to ride my own Tour de France

21 Jul

The final day in the Pyrenees at this year's Tour de France produced another blockbuster with Simon Yates winning the stage and Thibaut Pinot providing his best case yet as to why he will be France's next Tour winner and not Julian Alaphilippe.

However, behind the first round of headlines is the intriguing issue of leadership at Team Ineos after Egan Bernal outclimbed his teammate and last year's winner, Geraint Thomas, for the second day in succession.

Thomas remains second overall and cut Alaphilippe's lead to 1:35 but the Welshman was unable to respond when Pinot attacked with 6km to go. Bernal, on the other hand, followed and although he was dropped before the line and Thomas put time into several other riders, the Colombian closed the gap between himself and the Welshman to just 27 seconds.

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There are no more time trials between here and Paris and after Monday's rest day, the race heads towards the Alps. Team Ineos, who are normally in full control of the race at this point, will be working overtime behind the scenes in determining who to back. In the public arena they might roll out the old adage 'that the road will decide' but the defending champions do not have such a luxury in this year's race. Sooner or later, in order to crack their rivals, they must set a course and stick to it.

On stage 15, as Geraint Thomas stated, they were caught between a rock and hard place. When Bernal was able to follow Pinot, last year's winner was forced to ride at his own tempo. The Welshman attacked with 1.5km to go but by then Pinot's star was shining bright and Bernal's was flickering through the mist atop the summit finish above Foix.

"Pinot really had pace and then he attacked and I felt really good," he said. "On the second to last climb, Geraint told me I could do my own race so I was trying to follow Pinot and just stay on his wheel, because Geraint was behind. I think that was a good moment for us.

Co-leaders

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Landa regains Tour de France momentum with long-distance attack

21 Jul

Miguel Indurain once described Mikel Landa as "an old-school racer capable of the best and the worst of performances", but if he watched Sunday's stage of the Tour de France, Indurain might well have added "and the most unpredictable."

Landa was the only one of the GC favourites in the yellow jersey group willing to launch a long-distance attack on the Mur de Péguère, and at the finish 40 kilometres further on at the finish, only a climber of the calibre of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) proved able to regain contact with the fast-moving Basque.

Having attacked along on the Mur de Péguère's steepest slopes, chapter two of Landa's audacious challenge came when he managed to regain contact with two of Movistar's three men from the early break of the day, Marc Soler and Andrey Amador.

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After Soler and Amador had then given Landa an armchair ride to the foot of the Prat d'Albis, Landa then hammered off on a solo run on the final climb, overtaking the remnants of the early break in the process, including Movistar's third man from the break, Nairo Quintana.

Landa later revealed that Movistar's initial plan had been for Quintana, who gave up on his GC aspirations on Saturday, to go for the stage win. When that failed to materialise, he opted to go for his own chances again.

"We had a plan, which was to get somebody in the break and when we ended up with three riders in there, we thought about Nairo," Landa said. "Then when we saw that the stage win was impossible" – after the two Simons, Geschke (CCC) and Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) had attacked on the Mur de Péguère - "I decided to go for it from a long way out."

Podium ambitions

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Tour de France: Geraint Thomas rallies but Pinot and Bernal threats continue to escalate

21 Jul

Twenty-four hours after showing weakness on the Tourmalet, defending champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) fought back to provide a timely reminder that despite not having the form of twelve months ago he is still a contender for this year's Tour de France.

Thomas couldn't follow the very best but still managed to attack with just under two kilometers to go on stage 15. He put 27 seconds into race leader Julian Alaphilippe, who showed the first signs of weakness after two weeks of racing, but both Thibaut Pinot and Thomas's teammate Egan Bernal both put time into the Welshman for the second day in a row. Thomas leaves the Pyrenees in second place overall, 1:35 down on yellow, but with Pinot and Bernal both closing. Both riders pose very different but pertinent questions at this point in the race.

Although Pinot is the strongest rider in the race, on present form Team Ineos will be confident that they can turn the tables in the Alps. However, how Thomas deals with Bernal is a far more delicate proposition. He cannot climb with his Colombian teammate, and with no more time trial kilometers between here and Paris the 27-second gap between the two could easily be washed away once the race begins to climb again.

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For now, at least, those are questions are for another day and the stage finish at Foix-Prat d'Albis demonstrated that Thomas' difficulties on the Tourmalet had slightly subsided.

"I felt better than yesterday but I needed to just try and pace it when it all kicked off. Wout Poels was really good so I just stayed with him," Thomas said at the line.

When Pinot attacked with 6km to go, only Bernal, Alphilippe, and Emanuel Buchmann could follow. But the Groupama-FDJ rider was on a mission and before the finish, he had dropped his companions one-by-one and picked up Mikel Landa (Movistar) for good measure. The Frenchman took second on the line behind breakaway winner Simon Yates and after two weeks of racing, Pinot looks like France's best hope of winning the race.

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Tour de France: Stage 15 finish line quotes

21 Jul

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) – stage 15 winner

"I'm very proud of what I did today. It was an extremely hard day, really from the start to the finish. I raced the way I like to, try to be aggressive, and I managed to pull it off. I'm really happy.

"Today was the other day that I would have had a chance, so nothing really changed for me. I was just taking it with both hands. Adam was not really great yesterday, but he's a great rider and he'll be back. No worries about that.

"I was worried that they were catching me. I was trying at the bottom of the climb - I had Simon [Geschke] with me, he was a really good companion all the way through the valley and on the descent. He did a really good job, but I really needed to go at that point. I wasn't really confident of staying away. We needed to go early and make sure we had a big enough gap. That's what I did in the end.

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"I'm very tired now, that one took a lot of effort. There are some more chances, we'll see what it holds." (ASO)

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) – second on stage 15

"It was my weather, a beautiful stage as I like it. I had to enjoy it! I had good sensations. I knew that the final was flat so I could put myself in the red in the steep part. I wasn't taking too many risks. I took time on everyone again, that's the main thing.

"We must continue now – we're moving up the ranking and the toughest stages are coming. When you have good legs, you have to enjoy them. 

Mikel Landa (Movistar) – third on stage 15

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) - race leader

Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) – second on GC

Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) – third on GC

Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) – fifth on GC

Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) – 15th on GC

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Van Aert rues Tour de France TT crash: My goal was to reach Paris

21 Jul

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has been left disappointed at having had to leave his debut Tour de France early following his horrific crash during Friday's stage 13 time trial. Having managed to win a stage – stage 10 – against some of the world's best sprinters, heading home early due to injury is unfortunately foremost in the 24-year-old's mind right now.

"I'm feeling pretty good, given the circumstances," Van Aert said in a video posted on the Jumbo-Visma team's website on Saturday, the day after the crash that left him with a gaping wound on his right hip, which was operated on at a hospital in Pau on Friday evening.

"I had a good night's sleep, and am not in much pain, but that's also perhaps due to the medication. As long as I don't have to move too much, it's not too bad."

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While Van Aert explained how disappointing it was for him to have to leave the race in such a way, he said he'd also begun to come to terms with what had happened after he clipped a crowd barrier close to the end of the 27.2-kilometre course – a stage for which the Belgian time trial champion started as one of the favourites.

"When I see the Tour on TV today [Saturday], it'll hurt for a while," he said. "I wanted to get straight back on the bike after the crash, but then when I saw the wound, I panicked."

Asked to explain what he remembers of the crash, Van Aert's memory of what happened was relatively detailed.

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Tour de France: Fuglsang keeps hopes alive on Tourmalet

21 Jul

Astana's Jakob Fuglsang wasn't ready to rule out a top-five finish – or even a spot on the podium – at this year's Tour de France after finishing 10th on stage 14 to the Col du Tourmalet, ending the day in eighth overall, 5:22 down on race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

The Dane finished the stage alone, 53 seconds behind stage winner Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), after having dropped off the pace of the lead group with just 1.5km to go, with defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) also dropped shortly afterwards.

"Overall, it went quite well," Fuglsang told reporters at the finish. "I was feeling quite good today, but the hard accelerations in the last two kilometres killed me a bit, and I paid for that. In the end, I was suffering in the last 1.5-2km to the finish line, but I wasn't the only one.

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"It was the first big test, and the first time the GC guys really got to battle it out. All in all, I'm quite satisfied, as it could have been worse, but of course it could always be better – unless you win," he said.

That winner was Groupama-FDJ's Thibaut Pinot, who finished six seconds ahead of Alaphilippe, who in turn extended his overall race lead over Thomas by 36 seconds to now lead the race by 2:02.

Fuglsang pointed to Jumbo-Visma – the team of third-placed Steven Kruijswijk – as having had a good day on the 19-kilometre climb up the Tourmalet to the finish, but pointed out that the race is still wide open with another stage to come in the Pyrenees on Sunday before the race heads towards the Alps after Monday's rest day.

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Tour de France dream over for Adam Yates after Tourmalet stage

21 Jul

The writing was on the wall for Adam Yates and his Mitchelton-Scott team when the British climber was unceremoniously dropped on the first major ascent of the day – the Col du Soulour – on stage 14 of the Tour de France on Saturday. Although he rallied with the help of his team and came back before the foot of the Tourmalet, the same scenario unfolded on the lower slopes before Yates eventually crossed the line 6:42 down on stage winner Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).

As a result, Yates's hopes of a podium place are over, with the 27-year-old now down in 26th place overall and over ten minutes down on race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

"It wasn't the best day, that's for sure. Everyone comes out of a time trial [Friday's stage 13] differently, and usually I come out pretty well, but today was a different story," he told reporters at the finish.

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"I've got no excuses, really," he continued. "I just didn't have the legs on the day, and that's how it goes sometimes. I've been going well all season, and maybe today it caught up with me, but that's bike racing, I guess. More than anything, I'm just sorry to the guys who have kept me out the wind and looked after me for the past two weeks. They've sacrificed their own chances to help me out and, in the end, it didn't come off. Having said all that, tomorrow is another day and we'll continuing fighting like it's day one."

Coming into the mountains, Yates was relatively well placed on the GC. His time trial was poorer than expected, but he survived the opening-week battles and arrived at his favourite terrain in contention. The team was confident, too, having won two stages earlier in the race courtesy of Simon Yates and Daryl Impey. However after Adam Yates's time losses, the team have been forced to drop their hopes of a GC challenge, with the focus firmly turning towards stage-hunting.

"It's disappointing. We came here with high ambitions for the GC, and now the dream is over. That's bike racing," head sports director Matt White told Cyclingnews from the team's hotel on Saturday evening.
 
"Adam didn't have good feelings on the first climb of the day, and was dropped there. He came back with the help of Jack Haig and Simon. Sometimes you can be dropped at the start but come back later. It's not an ideal situation, but they came back on the descent. At that point, you just hope that your rider can recover, but that just didn't happen. The team has done an incredible job of protecting him."

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