Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won Stage 18 of the 2019 Tour de France, attacking from the day’s break but the real story happened behind him. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) cracked near the summit of the final climb but regrouped and caught back up to his GC rivals on the descent. It could end up being a race-defining moment.
The race didn’t so much hit the Alps as the Alps hit the race. Three climbs that go over 2000 metres, the first of three brutal days which will decide who’ll be wearing yellow on the Champs Elysees on Sunday.
An all-star breakaway finally went clear with too many potential stage winners in it to mention. Behind, the GC favourites sat together. The race brewed towards a proper thriller on the final slopes of the Col du Galibier.
First, we had a double dose of Columbian attacking. Nairo Quintana surged free of the breakaway remnants and went on to win the stage. Further down, Ineos’s Egan Bernal jumped out of the favourites group to catapult himself up to second on GC.
And, as expected by many, Julian Alaphilippe struggled to keep up with his nearest contenders. As they approached the summit of the mythical Galibier, he could hold on no longer and got gapped. But he fought, man, did he fight! The Frenchman caught his rivals on the descent and came home alongside them all. At the end of the day, his GC lead was cut by just five seconds. His confidence must be swelling while his rivals must be starting to think there’s no shaking him.
Rider of the Race
Julian Alaphilippe. He didn’t give up. When the others started to drop him towards the top of the Galibier, his shoulders didn’t droop, his tempo didn’t fall, his head stayed in the game. You could see him visibly gather himself at the top of the climb, grit his teeth and set off in pursuit of those he needed to catch.
Just to up his swashbuckling credentials a little more, when he caught the group he didn’t sit on the back and catch his breath. Oh no, he went straight to the front and then launched a little attack purely to show he was neither down nor out.
Alaphilippe has delivered many significant moments of the race but this may have been his finest yet. Whether he wins the whole thing, or just leaves his mark on the race, it’s been a pleasure to watch him. No hedging, no playing to percentages, he just lays it all out there every single day. Chapeau!
RamificationsEmbed from Getty Images
I’m sure we’ll spend a long time chewing over the ramifications of the stage. There are two things of significance we can agree on. First, Egan Bernal was the only real contender to gain time today. The Colombian is now second on GC, 1.30 behind Alaphilippe, besting his teammate Thomas by 5sec.
Second, bar Bernal, there was no difference between the rest of the top 6 on GC. Despite all today’s vertical Alpine climbing, Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-hansgrohe), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and Alaphilippe finished on the same time.
That could all change on stages 19 and 20 but we’re not going to know for sure who’s winning this Tour de France until the very last mountain climb is over.
All change at Ineos?Embed from Getty Images
Geraint Thomas is great at speaking post-stage, he’s honest and avoids cliches so I thought his quote to Eurosport after the race was very telling:
We wanted it to be hard but the pace wasn’t there, the call was made for Egan to go… I went to test and see where everyone was… we knew today wouldn’t make a huge difference
It wasn’t exactly the swagger of someone who thought they had this in the bag. It sounded more like some who was running out of answers. And it sounded like his team felt the answer was a little more Colombian than Welsh.
The French keep fightingEmbed from Getty Images
Alaphilippe wasn’t the only French rider showing spirit today. Romain Bardet (AG2R) put the disappointments of the race so far behind him and came out swinging. He made the breakaway, fought like a tiger for KOM points and has now taken the polka dot jersey off Tim Wellens.
Don’t believe he fought? Check out this sprint between Bardet and Damiano Caruso (Bahrain) for KOM points at the top of the Col d’Izoard.
However, I may not sleep tonight worrying about how well red polka dots go with brown shorts … [it looks fine! – ed]
What’s up for tomorrow, LouLou?Embed from Getty Images
Oh probably try not to lose any time and be a genuine, all-round nice guy…
Stage Results – Top 5
1 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 5:34:15
2 Romain Bardet (AG2R) +1:35
3 Alexey Lutsenko (Astana remember them?) +2:28
4 Lennard Kamna (Subweb) +2:58
5 Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Merida) +3:00
General Classification – Top 10
1 Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 75:18:49
2 Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) +1:30
3 Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) +1:35
4 Steven Kruijswijk (Team Jumbo-Visma) +1:47
5 Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) +1:50
6 Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-hansgrohe) +2:14
7 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +3:54
8 Mikel Landa (Movistar) +4:54
9 Rigoberto Uran (Education First) +5:33
10 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +5:58
All the Jerseys
Maillot Jaune: Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step)
Maillot Vert: Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe)
Maillot Blanc: Egan Bernal (Team Ineos)
King of the Mountains: Romain Bardet (AG2R)
Header image: GETTY/Velo/Chris Graythen