or so it goes.
When Chris Froome crashed out of the Dauphine and then Dumoulin pulled out this was seen as the most open Tour de France for some time, even with the reigning champion leading the now Team Ineos.
So far it’s worked out, though Pippa York might not have been impressed – before the weekend – others are looking at this as the best since the 8 second victory in 1989. That of course was the last time a local came so close to winning since their last victory in 1985.
Who have thought back then that Britain would have six victories in that time? Will it continue? The thing is if Chris Froome isn’t there at the end there hasn’t been a British winner – since he moved to the then Sky. Disqualified on his first Sky outing at the TdF, no British winner in their first season. He then helped Wiggins two years later. Won himself the following year. Crashed out the year after that, when Nibali took victory. Then taking three in a row followed up by helping Thomas last time out.
No Froome and Geraint Thomas has looked vulnerable over the weekend. Firstly not taking as much time out of others in the time trial, losing some to the yellow jersey of Julian Alaphilippe. Then losing time to Alaphilippe and Pinot on the first big climb of this Tour, up the Tourmalet.He took some back on the race leader, Alaphilippe, but again lost more to Pinot on the second summit finish in the Pyrenees.
Thomas said he didn’t have it on those first two stages. The legs weren’t there. Apparently back in that third stage but stuck in a situation of not wanting to drag Alaphilippe back to his teammate Bernal who was ahead with Pinot. He says he’s looking forward to the last week. He looked amongst the sharpest in the first week on stage 6 when coming in 4th on La Planche des Belles Filles, beating all the other GC contenders.
Apart from Froome another thing Thomas hasn’t had is support from elsewhere. Ineos have been whittled down like Sky never were, even though they haven’t been the team at the front controlling the race. As Sky they would be first in line, nose in the wind, but have a number left come the final climb who would provide help to near the end. But this year they’ve dropped off very early. Castroviejo and van Baarle offering very little, while Poels rested in the first half of the race, he was only just able to keep up for part of the final climb of Sunday’s stage. While Kwiatkowski’s dropping back early has been a major shock. They couldn’t be saving themselves… surely.
And with all that Thomas is still second in GC, one and a half minutes behind the surprise lead of Alaphilippe. The story of the Tour. The Frenchman taking yellow with a great stage win in Epernay. Losing it despite a heroic effort on La Planche des Belles Filles, regaining it two stages later and holding it until the second rest day. Through winning the individual time trial and then extending his lead with a second placed finished the following day up the Tourmalet. It has been reduced after he finally cracked, his first real sign of weakness on the final Pyrenaean climb.
The whole week has been can he, can’t he? Has a one day specialist got it in him to win the first French yellow jersey in 34 years? Every day he’s said he’s taking it one day at a time, enjoying the moment and he’s looked like it but after when picking up his yellow jersey after stage 15 it was a different Alaphilippe. He looked more tired, less happy and joking as if he can sense his own weakness.
It’s a shame. He’s livened up this Tour and is a joy to watch. He’s pure Tommy, the gurning, the tongue, the excitement. It’s like watching Thomas Voeckler in 2011, when he took the jersey on stage 9 and unfortunately lost it on stage 19. That whole time it was the same, could he. Hell, it takes a lot for me to back a Frenchman but like Tommy I wouldn’t be too unhappy if Alaphilippe did it. But he really isn’t helped by the fact he’s got no real support. Nothing really, especially when Mas cracked so early on the last stage. Having to go back to your team car yourself for gels and water does not help. Along with all the energy he has used up already in the race doing things like leading out Viviani for the sprints and you see him flitting back and forth up and down the peloton. When Sky had the yellow jersey it stuck at the front and barely moved.
But now the strongest French rider is Pinot. But for losing time in those crosswinds he’d be even closer to being that first home victor since The Badger. It’s funny, they made the course for Bardet. They put in the early climb up Belles Filles, the big climbs in the Pyrenees and Alps, they cut down on individual time trial kilometres, putting climbs into the only TT stage, they even had a finish into Bardet’s home town and there he sits just inside the top 20, just under half an hour down.
Almost as funny as seeing Quintana’s team ride away from him. Though some were questioning how Alaphilippe could be doing this in a Grand Tour I don’t suppose the hosts are questioning Pinot, in his return to the race – after not finishing in two and then not competing in the last of the previous three editions – the way they would if it was a British rider. Yes he’s had top ten finishes in this and other Grand Tours but he’s never managed to hold it all together to win…can he this time…