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July 20, 2019
Photography by Cor Vos
Geraint Thomas (Ineos) was as impressed as anyone with the way Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) performed on Friday’s stage 13 time trial at the Tour de France. The defending Tour champ headed into the stage as a hot favorite to take the victory and pick up time in the GC battle, but it was Alaphilippe who won the day and extended his overall lead.
“I didn’t expect that. He’s obviously going incredibly well,” Thomas said of the flying Frenchman after the stage. “He’s certainly a favorite and one to watch at the minute.”
The battle for stage honors on the 27.2-kilometer course in Pau came down to the final two starters on the road, Thomas and Alaphilippe. Thomas delivered a strong ride to knock Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt out of the hot seat, but the Welshman only held the provisional lead for a few moments, as Alaphilippe crushed the hilly final few kilometers of his ride to set the day’s best time.
Thomas, by contrast, said he found himself wishing for slightly more out of the final stretch.
“I felt it was all under control, but in the last eight kilometers or so, when I wanted to step on it, I didn’t have that last five percent,” he said, adding that the heat compounded the challenge.
Alaphilippe’s victory, his second of this Tour, propelled him to a GC lead of 1:26 over second-placed Thomas.
Two very hard days in the Pyrenees await, with Saturday’s finish atop the Col du Tourmalet likely to see a major GC shakeup. Then there’s the brutal final week, with even more high-mountain climbs. Alaphilippe will have his work cut out for him matching Thomas and the rest of the yellow jersey hopefuls, but he will at least take a much bigger advantage into stage 14 than most expected he would.
How Alaphilippe fares on the higher-altitude climbs ahead remains to be seen, but Thomas sees him as a bona fide rival.
“The way he’s riding, if he can keep that up he’ll win,” Thomas said. “But there’s a lot of hard stages to come.”
Those hard stages in the high mountains can’t come soon enough for Thomas’s Ineos teammate Egan Bernal, who dropped down to fifth overall after the TT. Although the 22-year-old Colombian finished a respectable 22nd on the day, he gave up 1:22 to Thomas, and saw Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) both leapfrog him in the overall standings.
Just the same, Bernal will remain a dangerous second card for Ineos to play as the Tour finally reaches his favored terrain.
“Not the best day to have a bad day. I suffer[ed] a lot today, but we are still having the same big goal,” he wrote in an Instagram post after the TT.
“Still a lot of Tour in front and all the mountains so full focus and full motivation.”