CYCLING: Alaphilippe flies down the Alps to keep the yellow jersey while Quintana steals stage 18

Colombia's star climber Nairo Quintana (Photo: Filip Bossuyt via Wikimedia Commons)

The experts predicted, yet again, that France’s Julian Alaphilippe would lose his lead on the brutal 18th stage of the 2019 Tour de France on the first day of climbing in the Alps.

In fact, the race did change on Thursday, but Alaphilippe is still in the yellow jersey after a brilliant tactical comeback on the final descent. But he and many of the other leaders were way back of Colombia’s brilliant Nairo Quintana.

Part of a big breakaway group going up the second peak, the Col d’Izoard, Quintana attacked hard at the start of the final climb up the Col du Galibier and ran away from the rest of the field, dominating the climb to the 2,622 m peak and then cruising home with an impressive win over France’s Romain Bardet in 5:34:15, some 1:35 ahead.

In fact, Quintana was so far in front at one point in the race that it looked possible that he could take the race lead, despite starting the day some 9:30 behind Alaphilippe. But the Frenchman had his own plan.

As expected, the climbs broke up the front of the race and while Quintana and Bardet raced for the stage win, Colombia’s Egan Bernal was part of a chase group of four riders in places 6-9. If Alaphilippe faded behind him, Bernal could easily take the lead, starting just 2:02 behind him.

Bernal finished eighth, 4:46 behind countryman Quintana, but the real drama was taking place behind him.

Another pack, with Alaphilippe and defending champion Geraint Thomas, was struggling up the Galibier, with Thomas attacking and trying to break the Frenchman. Thomas forged a solid lead over the top of the mountain, but there was still 19 km left on a hard descent … and Alaphilippe may be the best descender in the world.

Looking more like a motorcycle racer than a cyclist, Alaphilippe tore down the mountain towards the finish, flying through the racers ahead of him and came right back into contact with Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk (NED), France’s Thibaut Pinot and German Emanuel Buchmann. Amazing.

Alaphilippe lost nothing to the others in his group, but Bernal group gained 32 seconds on the leader and is now second, 1:30 behind. There are two more tough mountain stages in a row; Friday’s race is much shorter: 126.5 km compared to 208.0 km on Thursday. The course rises continuously from the start through the first 88.5 km to the highest point in the Tour de France this year, the 2,751 m Col de l’Iseran. There is a long descent, then an uphill finish on a fairly steep route to Tignes.

The current standings:

1. 75:18:49 Julian Alaphilippe (FRA)
2. +1:30 Egan Bernal (COL)
3. +1:35 Geraint Thomas (GBR)
4. +1:47 Steven Kruijswijk (NED)
5. +1:50 Thibaut Pinot (FRA)
6. +2:14 Emanuel Buchmann (GER)
7. +3:54 Nairo Quintana (COL)

Saturday’s stage is even more trying, with a major climb from the start, a short climb in the middle and a massive final climb over 36 km to Val Thorens. That last ascent might decide the Tour. Summaries so far:

UCI World Tour/Tour de France
France ~ 6-28 July 2019
(Full results here)

Stage 1 (194.5 km): 1. Mike Teunissen (NED), 4:22:47; 2. Peter Sagan (SVK), 4:22:47; 3. Caleb Ewan (AUS), 4:22:47; 4. Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA), 4:22:47; 5. Sonny Colbrelli (ITA), 4:22:47.

Stage 2 (27.6 km Team Time Trial): 1. Jumbo-Visma (NED), 28:57; 2. Team Ineos (GBR), 29:17; 3. Deceuninck-Quick Step (GER), 29:18; 4. Team Sunweb (GER), 29:23; 5. Team Katusha Alpecin (SUI), 29:23.

Stage 3 (215.0 km): 1. Julien Alaphilippe (FRA), 4:40:29; 2. Michael Matthews (AUS), 4:40:55; 3. Jasper Stuyven (BEL), 4:40:55; 4. Greg van Avermaet (BEL), 4:40:55; 5. Sagan (SVK), 4:40:55.

Stage 4 (213.5 km): 1. Elia Viviani (ITA), 5:09:20; 2. Alexander Kristoff (NOR), 5:09:20; 3. Ewan (AUS), 5:09:20; 4. Sagan (SVk), 5:09:20; 5. Dylan Groenewegen (NED), 5:09:20.

Stage 5 (175.5 km): 1. Sagan (SVK), 4:02:33; 2. Wout van Aert (BEL), 4:02:33; 3. Matteo Trentin (ITA), 4:02:33; 4. Colbrelli (ITA), 4:02:33; 5. van Avermaet (BEL), 4:02:33.

Stage 6 (160.5 km): 1. Dylan Teuns (BEL), 4:29:03; 2. Giulio Ciccone (ITA), 4:29:14; 3. Xandro Meurisse (BEL), 4:30:08; 4. Geraint Thomas (GBR), 4:30:47; 5. Thibaut Pinot (FRA), 4:30:49.

Stage 7 (230.0 km): 1. Groenewegen (NED), 6:02:44; 2. Ewan (AUS), 6:02:44; 3. Sagan (SVK), 6:02:44; 4. Colbrelli (ITA), 6:02:44; 5. Jasper Philipsen (BEL), 6:02:44.

Stage 8 (200.0 km): 1. Thomas de Gendt (BEL), 5:00:17; 2. Pinot (FRA), 5:00:23; 3. Alaphilippe (FRA), 5:00:23; 4. Matthews (AUS), 5:00:43; 5. Sagan (SVK), 5:00:43.

Stage 9 (170.5 km): 1. Daryl Impey (RSA), 4:03:12; 2. Tiesj Benoot (BEL), 4:03:12; 3. Jan Tratnik (SLO), 4:03:22; 4. Oliver Naesen (BEL), 4:03:22; 5. Stuyven (BEL), 4:03:22.

Stage 10 (217.5 km): 1. Wout van Aert (BEL), 4:49:39; 2. Viviani (ITA), 4:49:39; 3. Ewan (AUS), 4:49:39; 4. Matthews (AUS), 4:49:39; 5. Sagan (SVK), 4:49:39.

Stage 11 (167.0 km): 1. Ewan (AUS), 3:51:26; 2. Groenewegen (NED), 3:51:26; 3. Viviani (ITA), 3:51:26; 4. Sagan (SVK), 3:51:26; 5. Jens Debusschere (GER), 3:51:26.

Stage 12 (209.5 km): 1. Simon Yates (GBR), 4:57:53; 3. Pello Bilbao (ESP), 4:57:53; 3. Gregor Muhlberger (AUT), 4:57:53; 4. Tiesj Benott (BEL), 4:59:21; 5. Febio Felline (ITA), 4:59:21.

Stage 13 (27.2 km Indiv. Time Trial): 1. Alaphilippe (FRA), 35:00; 2. Thomas (GBR), 35:14; 3. De Gendt (BEL), 35:36; 4. Rigoberto Uran (COL), 35:36; 5. Richie Porte (AUS), 36:45. Also in the top 25: 9. Joey Rosskopf (USA), 36:01; … 17. Chad Haga (USA), 36:22.

Stage 14 (117.5 km): 1. Thibaut Pinot (FRA), 3:10:20; 2. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA), 3:10:26; 3. Steven Kruijswijk (NED), 3:10:26; 4. Emanuel Buchmann (GER), 3:10:28; 5. Egan Bernal (COL), 3:10:28.

Stage 15 (185.0 km): 1. S. Yates (GBR), 4:47:04; 2. Pinot (FRA), 4:47:37; 3. Mikel Landa (ESP), 4:47:37; 4. Buchmann (GER), 4:47:55; 5. Bernal (COL), 4:47:55.

Stage 16 (177.0 km): 1. Ewan (AUS), 3:57:08; 2. Viviani (ITA), 3:57:08; 3. Groenewegen (NED), 3:57:08; 4. Sagan (SVK), 3:57:08; 5. Niccolo Bonifazio (ITA), 3:57:08.

Stage 17 (200.0 km): 1. Matteo Trentin (ITA), 4:21.36; 2. Kasper Asgreen (DEN), 4:21:13; 3. Van Avermaet (BEL), 4:21:17; 4. Bauke Mollema (NED), 4:21:17; 5. Teuns (BEL), 4:21:17.

Stage 18 (208.0 km): 1. Nairo Quintana (COL), 5:34:15; 2. Romain Bardet (FRA), 5:35:50; 3. Alexey Lutsenko (KAZ), 5:36:53; 4. Lennard Kamna (GER), 5:37:23; 5. Damiano Caruso (ITA), 5:37:15.

26 July: Stage 19 (126.5 km): Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes (high mountains)
27 July: Stage 20 (130.0 km): Albertville to Val Thorens (high mountains)
28 July: Stage 21 (128.0 km): Rambouillet to Paris (flat)

Previous articleSWIMMING: Dressel wins 100 m Free in fastest race in 10 years, Ledecky returns, but Australia sets 4×2 WR
Next articleHEARD AFTER HALFTIME: Another 2012 gold medalist caught for doping; Katie Ledecky speaks and remembering the first “perfect 10″