Thomas De Gendt won Saturday’s Tour de France eighth stage with a solo breakaway as home hero 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 July 14 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 final climb, 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 1:12.
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.
– Ineos Scare –
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 stunning solo break. But he lost it to Italy’s Giulio Ciccone at the Planche des Belles Filles mountain slog on Thursday.
– French Star Rising –
Pinot has shown great form over the past season and there is a growing belief he could achieve something great this year.
“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, the Belgian who won by six seconds for his fourth Grand Tour stage win.
“I’m happy they let me go, but that was very hard work, over 200km out front, said the 32-year-old who eventually dropped his co-escapee Alessandro Di Marchi.
“If I always had Di Marchi with me I’d have won many more stages.”
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.
Slovak superstar Peter Sagan, the best payed rider in the peloton at four million euros per season, kept the green jersey after finishing fifth and said he was happy with his placing.
“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.
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini