Julian Alaphilippe is irrepressible. All personality and panache, he’s contending through charisma.
Dropped by the main contenders on the final ramps of the Col du Galibier he fought a ragged battle to the summit, gathered himself, and then lit the race up once more. Descending like a TGV train he swept onto level terms with Thomas, Uran, Pinot, Porte, and Buchmann, before slicing through them like a 2005 Valentino Rossi on the charge.
Momentarily, it seemed, he would flip the script. Should he convert his cracking on the climb into an opportunistic counter-attacking time gain on Thomas it would all become clear. That would be a moral victory.
The sign that he was, indeed, the chosen one.
That his stars had aligned and certain Tour glory was but half a dozen alpine climbs away.
In the event, collective ears pricked to the danger and they reeled him back.
This left others up the road and clear; stragglers from the mammoth thirty-three man all-day breakaway, but attackers too, for redemption, glory, and polka dots.
Nairo Quintana, face like an Easter Island monolith, stock still and expressionless on the bike, had scorched clear on the Galibier; high altitude being home territory for the Colombian.
An attack so clinical that no response came.Embed from Getty Images
He would take a crushing solo win, propel himself well into the top ten, and throw a tiny Colombian cat in amongst a flock of cagey, serious looking Movistar pigeons. One sensed, in the post stage mutterings, a luke-warm internal response to this turn of events.
Closest challenger to Quintana was Romain Bardet, the fallen French hero, rising to the occasion of the highest Tour in history. Mountain points bagged over the Col d’Izoard, the previous summit, he knew that a strong Galibier would earn him the polka dot jersey and an invite to the huge, messy French party that this race promises to deliver.Embed from Getty Images
Behind him, Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas’ Ineos teammate, was clawing back time. Inching towards Alaphilippe, and edging clear of Thomas.
Truth was, Bernal had to attack.
As did Thomas.
Lacking the strength in depth of recent seasons the Ineos mountain train, and the group of favourites, was being driven by final domestique (rolling back from the days early break) Dylan van Baarle; not a climber, which meant a steady pace, evident in the bunching of mountain men behind him.
This played into Alaphilippe’s hands – he could cope with this – hence the move from Bernal, and late surge from Thomas. Thibaut Pinot, meanwhile, was steady. Neither losing nor gaining. As were Kruijswijk and Buchmann.
All of which confirmed this mammoth, high altitude stage, GC-wise, attained the status of softener. No great time gains, but a grim struggle and the accumulated fatigue of three high altitude summits.
Two more of these to go.
Something, somewhere, has got to give. Thomas, Bernal, Pinot, and Kruijswijk, need to make it happen. They need, dare I say, a dose of King Julian’s panache.
(Top Image: Thomas Bresson [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D)