The king of the breakaways claimed his second-ever Tour de France stage victory in Saint-Étienne today after 200 kilometers of marauding through the Rhone valley and 15 kilometers of an electrifying chase to the finish.
Thomas de Gendt was part of the early breakaway of the day, which also included Alessandro De Marchi, Ben King, and Niki Terpstra. The group held an advantage of around five minutes at one point, but as the stage neared the last few of the day’s seven categorized climbs, the peloton – pulled along by the Astana and EF teams – upped the pace, narrowing the margin to under three minutes with 40 kilometers to go.
It was widely expected that former race leader Julian Alaphilippe might make a move on the final climbs in order to take back the yellow jersey from Giulio Ciccone, who took it from Alaphilippe on Stage 6’s finish to La Planche des Belles Filles. The profile for the end of the stage was similar to that of Stage 3, when Alaphilippe attacked in the end and rode solo to victory. Plus, the first few riders to summit the final categorized climb would receive bonus seconds, and Alaphilippe started the day just six seconds behind Ciccone.
The tension mounted in the run-up to that final climb when almost the entirety of Team Ineos slipped on a corner, busting one carbon-framed bike in half and putting defending champion Geraint Thomas on the pavement. Thomas was able to quickly remount (on a teammate’s bike), though, and his team paced him back to the main bunch in relatively short order.
By that time, the ascent of the final, bonus-second climb was full-throttle. De Gendt had by this time dropped all of his breakaway colleagues, and he was holding a gap of around 30 seconds over the bunch. Near the top, Alaphilippe made his move, pulling overall contender Thibaut Pinot along with him. The two summited the Côte de la Jaillère together and that began 12 kilometers of a thrilling urban chase.
The finale was made all the more piquant by the multiple storylines that were playing out simultaneously on the road: Would a guy who’d been out on the breakaway for 200 kilometers be able to hold off two high-caliber riders who’d spent the day in the comfort of the peloton? Would Alaphilippe establish enough of a gap over Ciccone to retake the yellow jersey? How much of a gap would Pinot be able to establish over his general-classification rivals? Is this finally his year?
With a half-kilometer to go, it was clear that all three riders would be thrilled with their result. De Gendt held on for the win by about 200 meters, Alaphilippe did more than enough to go back into yellow, and Pinot had put his rivals on the back foot. The latter would jump from seventh to third place, almost 20 seconds ahead of defending champion Thomas.
“At seven kilometers to go, I started to believe in victory,” De Gendt told reporters afterwards. “But still, it hurts. It hurts so much.”
Tomorrow could bring more pain. Stage 9 is just 170 kilometers long, but it features a first-category climb early on, and then two more third-category ones – the last about 13 kilometers from the finish line. Another breakaway victory?
In Other News
• Tejay Van Garderen failed to start today’s stage, after breaking his hand in a crash yesterday.
• Cofidis sprinter Christophe Laporte abandoned the race mid-stage.
|1||Thomas De Gendt||05:00:17|
|8||Greg Van Avermaet||+00:00:26|
|9||Egan Arley Bernal Gomez||+00:00:26|
|6||Egan Arley Bernal Gomez||+00:01:16|
|8||Rigoberto Uran Uran||+00:01:38|