Alaphilippe animates Tour de France stage 15
A former white jersey at this edition, the 24-year-old spent the whole day in the escape, before notching up another top 5.
We are two weeks and more than 2500 kilometers into the Tour de France, and there's no single rider who can say he isn't tired after covering 14 stages which brought one hurdle after another: small and narrow roads, powerful crosswinds, scorching heat, the steep slopes of the Pyrenees and the punishing Mont Ventoux. Despite all these, Julian Alaphilippe was determined to make it into the breakaway and didn't back off not even when stage 15 (Bourg-en-Bresse – Culoz, 160 kilometers) witnessed a blistering pace from kilometer zero, as dozens of riders tried to slip away from the peloton on a day with 3700 climbing meters.
Eventually, following a few skirmishes, the elastic snapped and around 30 riders went clear, opening a 7-minute gap on the yellow jersey group, which was content with these escapees. Of the six categorized ascents, the last two were the most important, a fertile ground for attacks which could have gone all the way. Returning to the Tour de France for the first time in four years, the brutal Col du Grand Colombier (12.8 kilometers, 6.8%) shattered the leading group, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) taking off and building an advantage of 40 seconds. No one responded to this move, no one except Etixx – Quick-Step's Julian Alaphilippe that is, who powered away from the other escapees and crested the Hors Catégorie climb 25 seconds behind the duo.
On the descent of Grand Colombier, Julian was joined by the Colombian Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling), and together they went in pursuit of the leaders, bridging across before the flat section. Feeling very confident in his legs, Julian decided to speed up and by doing so he left the others behind, but unfortunately was struck by bad luck, as a mechanical took him out of contention. Despite this setback, the 24-year-old Tour de France rookie didn't give up and began a frantic chase, making the junction with the third group, which at that point was 1:20 behind Majka and Pantano.
Lacets du Grand Colombier (8.4 kilometers, 7.4%) brought Julian again at the front, who rode his heart out in order to reduce the deficit on the two leaders. In the end, Pantano won the stage ahead of his Polish breakaway companion, but Julian wasn't far behind, crossing the line in 5th place, just 22 seconds adrift, after flying on the final descent, a tricky and twisty one, which saw several riders overcook some corners. A few minutes later, Dan Martin came home with the yellow jersey group, at the end of a stage in which he cut most of the gap separating him off the 8th placed rider in the general classification.
"I was feeling strong today and was very motivated. Tactically, we did a perfect race. After surviving on the Grand Colombier, my confidence grew and I began to believe in a strong result. Unfortunately, luck wasn't on my side and on the descent I had that mechanical and my race was basically over", a disappointed Julian Alaphilippe said after this intense and arduous stage in which he displayed guts, resilience and panache. "My chain was stuck in the back gear, so I had to stop, because I couldn't pedal anymore, and wait for the team car. I'm not saying that I would have won, but I'm convinced I could have fought for victory today. I am very sad, but the only thing I can do now is recover, turn the page and focus on the next days", concluded Alaphilippe, who scored in Culoz his second top 5 at this edition, following the runner-up place he obtained in Cherbourg, in the opening week-end.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele