Nairo Quintana won his third-ever stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, taking Stage 18 in the high mountains of the Alps by over a minute-and-a-half and leapfrogging from 12th place overall into seventh. Romain Bardet finished second, salvaging his lousy Tour to move into the lead of the King of the Mountains classification.
Quintana started the day almost 10 minutes behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe and made it into a 34-man breakaway that also included Bardet, Adam Yates, Michael Woods and a host of other strong riders. The group summited the first-category Col de Vars and the beyond-category Col d’Izoard more or less together, but the Colombian (a former winner of both the Vuelta a España and the Giro d’Italia) went off alone on the final climb – the beyond-category Col du Galibier, a Tour classic – with 26 kilometers to go. That’s the last anyone would see of him until the finish. He would race the next hour alone, summiting the Galibier and then descending into the town of Valloire under a light rain shower, his jersey smeared with energy gel.
Meanwhile, the group containing Alaphilippe and the contenders for overall victory in the Tour took it relatively easy until the Galibier, where the pace increased and many of the team helpers were dropped.
Egan Bernal made the most decisive move of the day, in terms of the overall classification, sprinting off the front of the group with three or four kilometers to the summit of the Galibier. He started the day in fifth overall, and his unmatched speed both over the top of the mountain and on the descent moved him into second place overall, ahead of teammate Geraint Thomas.
Thomas reported after the stage that Bernal’s move had been meant as a carrot for their rivals, but their hopes that a fast chase would quickly wear out Alaphilippe were unfounded, as Alaphilippe’s teammate, Enric Mas, simply went to the front of the group and set his own pace.
That spurred Thomas to have his own go a few kilometers later. He set off in pursuit of his teammate, and now the rivals – led by Thibaut Pinot – began to ride hard in order to reel in the defending champion Thomas. This chase had the desired effect: They had unhitched Alaphilippe, who summited the Galibier around 12 seconds in arrears.
But Alaphilippe’s race wasn’t over yet. With his overall lead in jeopardy, the yellow jersey launched into an electrifying solo chase, in which he not only hitched back on to the group of his rivals but quickly picked his way through their ranks – in the downhill hairpins – and then left them behind!
Alaphilippe has become famous for a certain swashbuckling style of riding, and this move was pure bravado. Though he would eventually be brought back by Rigoberto Uran and would finish together with his rivals, his daring descent made it clear that with only two competitive stages left, he wasn’t done fighting.
Alaphilippe still leads the Tour de France by one minute and 30 seconds, having lost just five seconds overall.
|1||Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas||05:34:15|
|8||Egan Arley Bernal Gomez||+00:04:46|
|2||Egan Arley Bernal Gomez||+00:01:30|
|7||Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas||+00:03:54|
|8||Mikel Landa Meana||+00:04:54|
|9||Rigoberto Uran Uran||+00:05:33|