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 France's Julian Alaphilippe wears the overall leader's yellow jersey on the podium.
France's Julian Alaphilippe wears the overall leader's yellow jersey on the podium.
Image: Christophe Ena

France's Alaphilippe storms into Tour yellow for Bastille Day

The Frenchman has retaken the overall lead in the Tour de France while Thomas De Gendt won today’s eighth stage.
Jul 13th 2019, 8:02 PM 4,663 10

THOMAS DE GENDT won Saturday’s Tour de France eighth stage with a trademark solo breakaway as Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe thrillingly won back the yellow jersey on the eve of the Bastille Day national holiday.

The last French rider to be in yellow for 14 July fireworks was Tony Gallopin in 2014.

“Tomorrow is a very special day for the French people, and for me too,” said the 27-year-old former soldier Alaphilippe.

French duo Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot, from rival teams, appeared to work together on the closing section of the last of seven climbs, which will not have escaped the French public.

“I went for it on the last climb and then I saw Thibaut. We looked at each other and we just knew, we didn’t even have to speak,” said the overall leader.

Alaphilippe is a virtuoso downhill rider, and he led the nervy descender Pinot downhill to Saint-Etienne at breakneck speed.

“He had his interests and I had mine, but it was a moment of great beauty,” said Alaphilippe, who leads champion Geraint Thomas by 1min 12sec.

He laughed off an accusation that he had ridden behind a motorbike to pick up slipstream speed.

“I climbed on the back of the motorbike with my bike, it was very fast,” he scoffed. “No way,” he then said firmly.

Two hours later Alaphilippe, described by Welshman Thomas as “the darling of France” was still posing for selfies with an adoring public at the former mining town better known for the soccer club Saint Etienne, once led by French football great Michel Platini.

Thomas survived a spectacular fall with several of his team involved.

He now also trails title rival Pinot by 19 seconds in the overall standings.

Alaphilippe originally took the overall lead on stage three with a gun-slinging solo break.

But he lost it to Italy’s Giulio Ciccone at the Planche des Belles Filles mountain slog on Thursday.

But Saturday’s dash to Saint Etienne after crossing the ‘Way of the Cross’ category mountains will long be remembered too.

Doubly so because there is a growing belief in Pinot.

“I was on form today, and I didn’t hesitate a second when I saw Julian go,” said the smiley Pinot.

They could not catch De Gendt, who won by six seconds for his second Tour de France win after his first on Mont Ventoux on the day of the Nice terror attacks in 2016.

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“I’m happy they let me go, but that was very hard work, 200km out front, said the 32-year-old who says he intends to race on until 40.

The 24-year-old overnight leader Ciccone looked ashen-faced in his desperate pursuit of the French duo, but can console himself with the best young rider’s white jersey and second place overall.

Slovak superstar Peter Sagan, the best paid rider in the peloton at four million euros per season, kept the green jersey, which is the colour of the local soccer side outside whose stadium the stage finished. 

Sagan said he was delighted with fifth after the burly sprinter had exhausted himself keeping up over seven hills.

“We knew Julian had to go for it and he still looks really strong, I congratulate him,” said Sagan, who said Sunday’s stage would be no parade for the French riders or anyone else.

“That’s a very hard stage and we have all been riding full gas all the way already.”

Sunday’s ninth stage will doubtlessly see the French public roll out a yellow carpet for Alaphilippe as his popularity burgeons.

The national holiday test is a 170 kilometre ride from former mining town Saint Etienne to Brioude, French climber Romain Bardet’s hometown, and the AG2R man has sworn to fight back after dropping over two minutes so far in the overall.

- © AFP 2019

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