Tour de France
Stage 18) Pau – Luz-Ardiden
France Thursday 15 July 2021 130 km
Alaphilippe lights up the last mountain stage of Le Tour
Col du Tourmalet, tackled by the race for a record 88th time, and Luz Ardiden – making its comeback after a ten-year hiatus – were the last major difficulties of the Tour de France, and World Champion Julian Alaphilippe was keen as the bunch rolled out from Pau on delivering one of his trademark offensive rides and showcasing the rainbow jersey.
A trio went up the road soon after the start, and Julian kicked off a frantic and admirable chase on Côte de Notre-Dame de Piétat, which ended with him joining the leaders with 97 kilometers to go. As soon as he bridged across, the 29-year-old Frenchman moved to the front of the group to help it expand its margin over the field to a maximum of two minutes. First over the top of Côte de Loucrup and through the intermediate sprint in Pouzac, Alaphilippe continued to put in the same relentless pace in the breakaway even as the Col du Tourmalet started and the group began fragmenting.
An injection of pace at the front of the field reduced the yellow jersey group on the steepest part of the mythical climb, but at the same time reduced the escapees’ gap, who were then caught some three kilometers from the top. Despite missing out on the chance of fighting for the Souvenir Jacques Goddet, awarded to the first rider at the summit, and for the stage win, Alaphilippe was still content with the effort he put in at the end of the day.
“I knew it was one final chance for a proper breakaway, so I attacked and gave everything. I did my best while up the road, but the peloton had different plans today and rode full gas behind us. I missed a bit on the Tourmalet, but despite this and being reeled in with three kilometers left until the top, I have no regrets. I enjoyed being again in the break and showing this beautiful jersey”, explained the World Champion.
After getting involved at the intermediate sprint, where he increased his margin in the green jersey classification to 38 points, Mark Cavendish was surrounded by his Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates, who once again made sure of shepherding him up the last mountains of this edition and bringing him safely home and one step closer to Paris.
“I could feel the hard stage in the legs before the Tourmalet. We had some short but stinging classified climbs where the attacks made it quite difficult, then the intermediate sprint where I spent some energy. Tourmalet is the climb that I despise the most at the Tour, it’s just terrible. I’ve done it ten times at the Tour de France and every time it was the same. I am so grateful to the guys for being at my side on this tough day. At the finish I got a bit emotional because my teammates helped me through so much at this Tour de France. I can’t tell you how proud and happy I am to be on this team”, said the 36-year-old.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images