Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) took his second Alpine stage win in a row after the main contenders had duelled – and in some cases cracked – on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez. Thomas’s team-mate Chris Froome remains second overall after finishing in the same small front group that also contained Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Romain Bardet (AG2R) and Mikel Landa (Movistar).
The 175.5km stage took the riders over the Col de la Madeleine and the Col de la Croix de Fer on the way to Alpe d'Huez with the scenic Lacets de Montvernier thrown in for good measure.
Yet before it even began, last year’s runner-up, Rigoberto Uran abandoned, citing injuries sustained during Sunday’s cobbled stage to Roubaix.
Midway through the day, Andre Greipel and double stage winners Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen joined him. With Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel having failed to make the time cut the day before, the sprint field has thinned considerably.
A large break got away relatively early on, including sixth-placed Steven Kruijswijk, Alejandro Valverde (11th) and Ilnur Zakarin (13th).
Kruijswijk struck out alone with about 70km to go and halfway from there to the finish had a six minute advantage over the favourites group behind – 13.8 of those kilometres did however comprise Alpe d’Huez and the advantage ultimately proved insufficient.
Team Sky’s Egan Bernal led the yellow jersey group up the final climb. He swiftly brought back a Nairo Quintana move before almost immediately dropping his countryman who would go on to lose another 47s.
Dan Martin also lost touch and lost 1m45s.
With just under 4km to go, Vincenzo Nibali appeared to be brought down by either a race motorbike or a fan. The Sicilian’s fall meant the front group was down to four riders: Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet. As race leader Thomas rode conservatively, chasing down moves, the other three traded attacks before Mikel Landa rematerialised with a few hundred metres to go.
Those five riders contested a sprint and the Welshman was quick enough to open up time gaps to his rivals, increasing his advantage in the general classification.
“Not a chance in hell I thought I was going to win today,” he said afterwards. “Can we just go to Paris now?”
After that, he continued to toe the party line, maintaining that Froome is Sky’s team leader on the grounds that “he knows how to ride three-week races.”
Nevertheless, the gap between them is now 1m39s.
— Le Tour de France (@LeTour) July 19, 2018