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July 22, 2019
Photography by Gruber Images
Julian Alaphilippe (Decueuninck-Quick-Step) remains in the yellow jersey heading into the second rest day at the Tour de France, but the Frenchman saw his lead shrink on Sunday’s challenging stage 15.
Most of the big GC contenders for this year’s race picked up time on Alaphilippe on the final climb of Prat d’Albis, with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) finishing more than a minute ahead of his compatriot. Alaphilippe made no attempt to hide his fatigue after two tough days in the Pyrenees.
“I’m not disappointed, I’m just exhausted,” he said after the stage. “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.”
As if it weren’t enough of an impressive performance to take yellow into the Tour’s second week, Alaphilippe defended his jersey with an incredible ride on Saturday’s stage 14 on the Tourmalet. Into the last 10 kilometers of stage 15, he appeared to be still going strong, hanging onto a select group of riders even after an attack from Pinot dropped several big names. Before long, however, Alaphilippe found himself unable to hold the rhythm and lost touch.
He drifted back to a handful of riders that included Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and held on for a little while before losing touch with that group as well.
Alaphilippe said at the finish that he didn’t think that trying to stick with Pinot’s pace had been an error, but that he was “starting to pay” for his efforts up to this point.
“I’m not used to defending the lead in a stage race and I’m learning from my mistakes, but I don’t think that today I made a mistake,” he said. “It’s not a surprise for me to have lost some time. I had stiff legs after yesterday’s stage.
“It’s mission accomplished for me. In the bus this morning, the goal was to retain the yellow jersey. I’m still here, the dream continues.”
Julian Alaphilippe on stage 15 of the Tour de France. Photo: Gruber Images
Indeed, Alaphilippe heads into the rest day still in possession of a healthy GC lead. However, several rivals drew closer after his first day of real struggles this whole Tour. Thomas sits in second overall, 1:35 back, with Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) in third, 1:47 down. Pinot’s big day saw him climb up to fourth overall, 1:50 down, with Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Egan Bernal (Ineos) also lurking.
After the stage, Alaphilippe bounced between both optimism and realism, saying he was going to keep fighting but also that he understood the very real challenges ahead as the Tour prepares for some very hard stages in the Alps.
“We have hope. I’m aware that it will be difficult,” he said. “It’s not a surprise I’m starting to struggle. I haven’t lost form today, I have just lost a bit of time.”
Even if Alaphilippe does ship more time in the coming days and ultimately lose yellow, French fans can be happy that Pinot is surging up the leaderboard. Alaphilippe said that if he fades in the final week, he will at least have a fellow Frenchman to root for in the GC battle.
“After what he did yesterday and today, this whole week really suits him,” Alaphilippe said of Pinot. “If I lose the yellow jersey, I would like Thibaut Pinot to be the next one to take it.”