Tour de France 2018: Geraint Thomas extends lead as Primoz Roglic zips to Stage 19 win
Geraint Thomas took a huge step closer to winning the Tour de France by strengthening his grip on the yellow jersey with an authoritative second place in Stage 19, won by the Slovenian Primoz Roglic after a daredevil descent from the final climb in the Pyrenees – the mythical Col d’Aubisque.
Welshman Thomas led home an elite chase group at the conclusion of the mountainous 200km stage from Lourdes to Laruns to pocket six bonus seconds after crossing the line 19 seconds down on the lone leader.
A bittersweet day for Team Sky saw the four-time Tour champion Chris Froome drop off the virtual podium following the late raid by Roglic, who pulled off a 29-second swing with a second career stage victory on the Tour.
Where the yellow jersey could respond to a string of uphill attacks from his rivals, Froome was unable to cope with a litany of sudden accelerations – and needed to be paced to the top of the Col du Soulor and the Aubisque by the youngest rider in the race, Sky’s impressive Colombian Egan Bernal.
On a final day in the mountains that featured the legendary climbs of the Col d’Aspin, the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aubisque, Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) secured the polka dot jersey after starring in the day’s break and pocketing the Souvenir Jacques Goddet prize for cresting the summit of the Tourmalet in pole position.
Compatriot Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale), the Spaniard Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) threw caution into the wind with a long-range attack on the Tourmalet more than 100km from the finish.
But it was the Dutch LottoNL-Jumbo team who most impressed on the final two-tiered climb with intermittent attacks from both Roglic and the persistent Steven Kruijswijk, before Roglic swept up Poland’s Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) – the final remnant of the break – before emerging from the mist with a hair-raising descent en route to a sweet victory.
It was LottoNL-Jumbo’s third win of the Tour following an earlier brace by Dutch sprinter Dylan Groenewegen, and saw Roglic add to his victory at Serre Chevalier in his debut Tour last summer.
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) survived a difficult day in the saddle to finish safely in the gruppetto and stay on course for a record-equalling sixth green jersey in Paris, while Frenchman Pierre Latour (Ag2R-La Mondiale) impressed with a gutsy ride to extend his lead in the white jersey youth classification.
MISSION POLKA DOT: While Friday’s Stage 19 was billed as a day of destiny for the GC pretenders, it started with the focus falling not so much on yellow as on green and polka dots.
Suffering badly from his high-speed crash on Wednesday, Sagan found himself off the back of the peloton on the first of two early fourth-category climbs – a taste of things to come for the embattled green jersey and triple stage winner.
But things were very different for Alaphilippe in his quest to secure the red spots. With compatriot Warren Barguil of Fortuneo-Samsic – the only man capable of overturning his lead – bridging over to an early move, Alaphilippe extricated himself form the peloton to ensure he would have a starring role in the gruelling day in the Pyrenees.
In only his second Tour, Alaphilippe led a 12-man break over the summit of the Col d’Aspin to establish an uncatchable lead in the KOM standings – before doubling up by cresting the summit of the Tourmalet at the head of a reduced six-man leading group.
By bagging the summit of a fourth HC climb in one Tour, Alaphilippe set a new race record – as well as landing the prestigious Souvenir Jacques Goddet.
At this point with 92km remaining, Alaphilippe rode alongside team-mate Bob Jungels, Barguil, Tanel Kangert (Astana), Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) and Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain Merida). A chase group of Landa, his Movistar team-mate Andrey Amador, Zakarin, Bardet, Majka and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) trailed by 35 seconds with the yellow jersey group at 2’50”.
Meanwhile, Sagan rode in a gruppetto some 15 minutes in arrears although alongside fellow sprinters Alexander Kristoff, Arnaud Demare and John Degenkolb. En masse, they kept their hopes of a Champs-Elysees win alive – although they still had to keep within the time cut.
THOMAS BRAVES THE STORM: With neither Dumoulin nor Roglic putting the yellow jersey under pressure on the Tourmalet, Thomas entered the final phase of the stage in a strong position with Sky team-mates Froome, Bernal, Wout Poels, Jonathan Castroviejo and Michal Kwiatkowski all present and correct.
The reduced pack hit the two-tiered final climb with a deficit of 3’30” over the regrouped leaders, who were down to 11 men following the capture of Yates on the long descent to Argeles-Gazost.
Dutch veteran Robert Gesink muscled in on the front to increase the tempo for LottoNL-Jumbo and reduce the advantage of the break – paving the way for a series of attacks from both Kruijswijk and Roglic. Dumoulin also got in on the act to distance Stage 18 winner Nairo Quintana and put Froome under serious pressure.
With Kruijswijk opening up a gap ahead, Roglic and Dumoulin traded blows to send both Froome and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) off the back as Thomas kept his cool and responded to all the threats.
Up with the leaders it was Landa, Bardet, Zakarin and Majka who went over the Col de Soulor with a small gap over the yellow jersey group, who had swept up Jungels and Izagirre. Behind, Bernal dragged a desperate Froome and Martin back into contention.
The chasing riders regrouped on the misty drop and false flat ahead of the final rise to the summit of the Aubisque, with Majka riding clear just as the remnants of the break were swept up. The Pole held a 10 second gap over the summit as Roglic zipped clear near the top to put more pressure on Froome at the back.
Roglic then showcased his daredevil descending skills by sweeping past Majka and never looking back. With a little help of a motorcycle slipstream, the former ski-jumper steadily increased his gap on the 20km descent while a frustrated Dumoulin led the chase behind in a bid to protect his place on the podium while trying to keep the pressure on Thomas.
But Thomas played his cards perfectly – and while the stage win went to the brilliant Roglic, it was Thomas who ensured he’ll sleep deeply by extending his lead over Dumoulin to above two minutes going into Saturday’s time trial.
After a troubled day following his victory on the Col du Portet, Quintana dropped from fifth to ninth on GC with the aggression of Kruijswijk rewarded with a spot in the provisional top five. Meanwhile, Zakarin also entered the top 10 at the expense of Jakob Fuglsang of Astana.
Sagan finished at the back of the gruppetto some 38 minutes back on Roglic to live to fight another day, while the last man to cross the line was the American Taylor Phinney, who came home with his face bloodied but just within the time limit. Phinney’s EF Education First-Drapac team later confirmed that he had a suspected broken nose after a heavy crash.
COMING UP: Stage 20: Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle to Espelette (31km) ITT
This undulating and highly technical race against the clock in the Basque Country is far from your routine ITT and could well see the battle for podium positions decided on the final climb of the race: the short (900m) but sharp (10.2%) ramp of the Col de Pinodieta, which summits just three kilometres from the finish.
Tour de France 2018 Stage 20 profileEurosport
With hardly a metre of flat road, riders will have to make big decisions on their equipment and gearing. With 2’05” to play with, Geraint Thomas should be able to breathe easily – as long as he avoids the kind of catastrophe we usually associate with him in a Grand Tour.