SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) – As their country prepares to celebrate Bastille Day, Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot were in the mood for fireworks a day in advance at the Tour de France.
Carrying the hopes of a country that has not seen a homegrown Tour winner in 34 years, the French pair emerged as the big winners last Saturday of the leg-punishing Stage Eight in the Massif Central which saw Geraint Thomas crash and lose ground in the defence of his title.
After five hours of exhaustion on the saddle across seven short but punishing climbs, Alaphilippe claimed back the yellow jersey with one of his trademarks attacks, while Pinot asserted himself as a strong contender for the final victory by gaining time on Thomas and co.
A spectacular rider with an aggressive style, Alaphilippe is, however, limited in mountains and has no real hope of keeping the jersey to the end. But Pinot is in the form of his life. He can compete with the best above 2,000 metres, an asset giving him hope he can succeed cycling great Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to win the Tour in 1985.
“They’ve got some real punch,” Thomas said. “They’re the ones to watch.”
Alaphilippe abandoned his yellow jersey for just six seconds to Giulio Ciccone last Thursday at the Planche des Belles Filles ski station. He knew he had a golden chance to get it back on rollercoaster terrain suiting his skills.
“I will wear the yellow jersey on Bastille Day, for a Frenchman there is nothing better,” Alaphilippe said after finishing the stage in third place, just behind Pinot.