Tour de France: Second for Alaphilippe in nail-biting finish
A huge breakaway stole the show on stage 14, which took the peloton to the now iconic Mende.
Julian Alaphilippe came close to a second career win at the Grande Boucle, missing out on the victory in stage 14 for just a handful of seconds, after spending the day as part of a 31-man group together with two other Quick-Step Floors teammates, Philippe Gilbert and Yves Lampaert, who featured among the escapees on Belgium's National Day.
As the race went across the Massif Central, the stage between Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux and Mende got off to an unusual start, with the bunch split in four different groups on the exposed roads of the Drôme department. Eventually, after some 15 kilometers of chaos and panic, the crosswinds abated and the race came back together, before a huge group went clear and opened an unreal maximum advantage of 20 minutes.
First Lampaert – until with 60 kilometers to go – then Gilbert took some monster pulls at the front, putting themselves in the service of Julian Alaphilippe as the front group got whittled down to 15 riders. When Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) went clear and opened a two-minute margin over the chasers, it was the same Philippe who did most of the work in the group, spending long stints at the front and reducing the deficit to 1:20 by the bottom of the leg-sapping and steep Côte de la Croix Neuve (3km, 10.2%).
Inside the last 2000 meters of the climb whose first Tour de France appearance was recorded in 1995, Omar Fraile (Astana) went after the sole leader, who he caught and distanced, with Julian making his move half a minute later, as the road kicked up to 10%. The powerful surge of the Quick-Step Floors rider – who beautifully danced on the double-digit gradients – saw him close the gap to Stuyven, but despite an explosive effort he couldn't bridge to the Spaniard, as the road flattened out with 1500 meters left, making any chase fruitless.
Alaphilippe concluded runner-up after an intense and thrilling finale, just six seconds behind the winner, for Quick-Step Floors' eighth podium at this Tour de France, a result that also confirmed his stint in the polka dot jersey will continue for at least a few more days. More than 15 minutes later, the GC contenders arrived and Bob Jungels rode again like a true warrior, despite the grueling ascent not being suited to his characteristics, thus cementing his 12th place in the overall rankings.
"We were motivated to do something nice today and I was happy to find myself in the breakaway with Philippe and Yves. Unfortunately, I didn't have the best legs in the final and I also didn't know the climb, which is I made my move perhaps a bit too late, but I don't have regrets, as Omar was the strongest", Julian explained at the end of stage 14. "However, I can look on the bright side of things, which is that I managed to add more points to my tally in the KOM standings, something encouraging ahead of next week."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images