Alaphilippe on the hunt in the Tour de France mountains
One of the toughest stages in recent memory concluded with the 26-year-old cementing his place at the top of the polka dot classification.
Bagnères-de-Luchon, the start and finish of the first two mountain stages in the history of the Tour de France, saw the 146 riders still left in the race roll out from the center of the "Queen of the Pyrenees" for an explosive day packing more than 3000 meters of elevation gain. Minutes after the start, Julian Alaphilippe burst clear of the pack – first together with a large group, then as part of a smaller one – and went for the KOM points in play on the first two climbs of stage 17, at just 65 kilometers in length, the fifth shortest in the history of the race.
Second at the top of Montée de Peyragudes, the double stage winner continued to push on the descent, joining lone leader Tanel Kangert (Astana). As the pace in the peloton was a steady one, the duo opened a three-minute advantage over the yellow jersey group on Col de Val Louron-Azet, which became the tenth classified climb won by Julian at this edition. On the descent, the Frenchman continued to put some big shifts in, before deciding to sit up on the early slopes of Col du Portet and try to help Bob Jungels, who was in the whittled down pack which numbered some 20-odd riders.
Racing the Tour de France for just the second time in his career, Bob struggled and suffered on the 16km climb averaging 8.7% – which made its debut at the Grande Boucle – channeled his his never-say-die attitude and continued to fight like a warrior, concluding in the top 20 the penultimate mountain stage of the race, won by Nairo Quintana (Movistar), a result that sees the Liège–Bastogne–Liège victor go into the last four days in 13th place overall.
"Despite coming off the back of a very hard stage, I still had good legs, so I decided to join the breakaway, especially as I knew this stage having reconnoitred it some time ago. It was a short and intense day, so I tried to do my best on the first two climbs. Getting some more points in the KOM standings and keeping the jersey gives me great joy. Hopefully, I will carry it all the way to Paris, but as there are still four stages to go, I will continue to take it day by day", the diminutive Julian said after putting 67 points between him and the nearest challenger for the polka dot jersey.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images