Tour de France: Etixx – Quick-Step – protagonist on the last Alpine stage
Julian Alaphilippe finished fourth on the stage, after being in the escape, while Dan Martin secured his top 10 place in the general classification.
One of the most aggressive riders of the 103rd Tour de France, Julian Alaphilippe went again in the breakaway, this time in a huge group which counted 37 riders, including teammate and fellow Grande Boucle debutant Petr Vakoč. That move witnessed a slow birth, but once it finally took off, it became clear for everybody that it will go all the way to the finish line in Morzine, especially as the grim weather looming on the horizon made the peloton hold back and take a more conservative approach.
The tough slopes of the first-category Col de la Ramaz, the third ascent of the day, fragmented the leading group, only a handful of riders going over the top in the lead. On the fast descent, Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) powered away, but was quickly joined by Julian, and the two of them forged a gap of two minutes on the chasers by the time they hit the bottom of the ruthless Col de Joux Plane (11.6 km, 8.5%).
Less than six kilometers from the top of the ascent, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked and went in pursuit of the leading duo, who was 1:20 clear. Alaphilippe put in two accelerations in an attempt to distance his Colombian companion, but he came back each time, before being joined by Nibali and Ion Izagirre (Movistar), another one of the day-long escapees. The three surged clear from Julian and built a significant advantage before the start of the descent, where the Spaniard pulled away and soloed to the win in Morzine, ahead of Pantano and Nibali.
Although it wasn't easy and he suffered a great deal, Julian gritted his teeth and left everything on the road in order to arrive at the finish and notch up another top 10, his fourth in the race, a remarkable achievement for a Grand Tour debutant, who turned 24 just a few weeks ago. "Take it safe and don't risk anything" – this looked to be the main group's motto, and looking in hindsight, it probably was the best choice, as the dangerous Col de Joux Plane descent could have led to a brutal end of the GC ambitions and hard work of the past three weeks. The favourites rolled over the line around four minutes later, with Dan Martin finishing 9th on the stage, thus securing his position in the overall standings.
Completely empty and in pain after one of the toughest days he's ever experienced on the bike, Julian Alaphilippe found plenty of reasons to be happy for his fourth place on the last mountain stage of the Tour de France: "Today it was the final opportunity to do something nice and that's why I decided to jump in the break. On the Ramaz downhill, I attacked and went with Pantano, another good descender. We worked well together and on Joux Plane I attacked to test the water. On the 10% slopes, I suffered and couldn't keep up anymore, but I am satisfied with my day at the front and with the result I got."
Ninth in the general classification, just six seconds off seventh place, Dan Martin didn't have any regrets and saw the glass half-full at the end of the stage, as his ride in this year's Tour is more of a cornerstone on which he can continue to build on and improve for the next years: "The weather made the stage different; it was just about surviving out there. Julien Vermote and Tony Martin did a great job for me and I want to thank them for their help. I tried to stay as warm as possible and even though I didn't feel as good as yesterday, I managed to stay with the yellow jersey group and get safely to the finish. Looking on the GC, I am just six seconds off seventh place, but what really counts is that I am lying around 2:30 off the podium, something I would have never imagined last year. This gives me a lot of confidence for 2017."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele