Britain's Simon Yates won the 15th stage of the Tour de France, a 185-km mountain trek from Limoux, while Frenchman Thibaut Pinot emerged as the strongest main contender after the Pyrenean leg of the race on Sunday (July 21).
Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford had to deal with leadership issues in the old Team Sky squad with Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, then Froome and Thomas. "A hard one tactics-wise because I wanted to go, had the legs to go, but I wasn't going to chase down Egan with the guys on the wheel".
With back-to-back mountaintop results, including a win on Stage 14 and a runner-up to Yates on Sunday, Alaphilippe's compatriot Pinot has moved to within one spot of the podium at 1 minute 50 seconds off the maillot jaune thanks to a brutal attack seven kilometres from the finish in the final ascent to the Prat d'Albis.
A Pinot victory would trigger delirium across France, which has had no homegrown champion to celebrate since Bernard Hinault in 1985 and suffered the indignity of many years when Lance Armstrong and other dopers hijacked the race that is as much part of the French national identity as romance and the baguette. Although he managed to defend the Yellow Jersey, he lost more than half a minute to Thomas and showed to have trouble keeping up with the climbers, and he also has the problem of lacking good support by his team in the more challenging moments.
But he has the pedigree of five Grand Tour top 10 finishes, including a spot on the Paris podium in 2014, and at this moment he, rather than Alaphilippe, seems best equipped to become the first French Tour victor since 1985.
It was Pinot's FDJ team-mate, David Gaudu, who was first to step up the pace, burying himself to launch his dashing compatriot with the designer stubble.
"The climb up Val Thorens will be bad right up to the summit", said Alaphilippe.
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There is certainly more harmony among the French, despite representing different teams. "It was out of question to make a show", said Pinot, now sixth overall, three minutes and 12 seconds behind fellow French Alaphilippe.
He began the Tour de France with the goal of wearing the yellow jersey for a day and maybe taking a stage win.
"The big cheers just encourage me, they give me wings", Pinot explained today.
"I felt better than yesterday, for sure", Thomas said, on his team's website. "There are some uncertainties in the race as some big leaders cracked", said Alaphilippe, who has never previously raced for the general classification on a grand tour.
"We don't have the team to win the Tour", he said.
But the Frenchman, visibly tired as he slumped over a table, sounded like a man who knows his time in the spotlight is nearing an end.
"It's kind of a hard one, tactics-wise, because I wanted to go, I had the legs to go but I wasn't going to chase down Egan with the guys in the wheel", the Welshman said.