Tour de France: Alaphilippe extends lead as Frenchmen shine in Pyrenees

Going into the Tour de France’s first big mountain climb in the Pyrenees, the question was: How much time would Geraint Thomas make up on Julian Alaphilippe?

At the end of the 14th stage, however, it was Alaphilippe who extended his overall lead over the defending champion to more than two minutes to give the host nation real hopes of producing its first race winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.

The race concludes July 28th in Paris.

“I’m happy to profit from this exceptional moment I’m having,” Alaphilippe, 33rd last year, was quoted as saying by the Tour’s website. “The hard work pays off.

“One more day in yellow, I couldn’t ask for anything better. The closer we’ll get to Paris, the more I’ll ask myself if I stay in the lead but firstly I need to recover from today’s hard stage.”

It turned out to be a superb day indeed for Frenchmen, since the grueling 14th stage from Tarbes to Tourmalet was won by Thibaut Pinot in three hours, 10 minutes and 20 seconds. He was the first to navigate the final, agonizing ascent of 19 kilometers and crossed the finish line some 2,000 meters above sea level for a third career stage victory in cycling’s most famous race.

Alaphilippe was a mere six seconds behind in second for the stage, while Thomas, of Wales, had to settle for eighth, 36 seconds adrift, after he was unable to match Alaphilippe’s late flourish.

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The length of this section of the race, 117.5 kilometers (73 miles), was shortened slightly after a demonstration by farmers that was likely noted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who took in Saturday’s racing.

Alaphilippe had solidified his hold on the yellow jersey with a time-trial win Friday that boosted his advantage to one minute, 36 seconds over Thomas. Now he leads by two minutes, two seconds.

“I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start really to be honest — just quite weak,” Thomas told his team’s website. “At the end I just knew I had to try to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked.

“I thought it was better just to try to ride my own pace and limit my losses that way, rather than stay with them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end.

“It was a tough day out there. There’s still a lot more to come and hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow.”

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Thomas is now looking behind him, since Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk — who had the same time as Alaphilippe Saturday — moved to within 12 seconds of the Welshman.

Sunday’s 15th stage from Limoux to Foix Prat d’Albis is another draining mountain climb and even longer at 185 kilometers (115 miles).