Tour de France stage 8: De Gendt takes thrilling breakaway victory
Late attack sees Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphilippe take second and third, with Alaphilippe regaining the yellow jersey.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) survived from a day-long breakaway to take the victory in a relentless day of racing on Saturday. The Belgian went away early with three others and was the last man standing, holding off a late chase by French duo Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
“I had a really good feeling all day so I believed in it all day,” said De Gendt. “In the morning I ate a good breakfast. This [from a break] is the only way I can win a race. I like to do it in this way. Once I get in a breakaway, that gives me energy.”
Alaphilippe gained vital bonus points with an attack over the final categorized climb of the day to do enough to see him back in the yellow jersey in time for Bastille Day, Sunday. Overnight GC leader Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) is now second overall, at 23 seconds, and Pinot moved up to third, a further 30 seconds back.
At 200-kilometers long and with nearly 4000m+ of elevation over a series of seven categorized climbs, the stage through the wild narrow roads of the Massif Central to Saint-Etienne boded well for a breakaway attempt.
EF Education First’s Mike Woods speculated “it’s going to play out like an Ardennes classic, and some guys could get caught out” on Friday, and the peloton was on high alert for the risk of ambushes and attacks in the tricky terrain.
De Gendt went clear with three strong rouleurs in the first 10km, with Ben King (Dimension Data), Niki Terpstra (Total-Direct Energie), and Alessandro De Marchi (CCC Team) forming the breakaway with him. The quartet quickly gained five minutes, though the peloton worked to keep the dangerous group at closer to three minutes after they initially forged the gap.
The racing picked up pace on 65km to go as the riders hit one of the toughest climbs of the day, the category 2 Col de la Croix de Part. As Astana took to the front and started upping the pace, several riders started falling out of the peloton, with stage six winner Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) among the notable riders to fall back.
Up the road, the breakaway also fractured on the steep slopes of the climb, with Terpstra and King losing touch, leaving just De Marchi and De Gendt out front.
When EF Education First joined Astana to drill a fierce pace on the front of the bunch, strongmen sprinters such as green jersey Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma), and Michael Matthews (Sunweb) yo-yoed on an off the back of the main group. With two teams leading the chase, the break to the lead pair started to tumble.
The narrow twisting roads of the Massif Central caught out Mike Woods (EF Education First) with 15km to go, going down on a tight right-hander, bringing several Team Ineos riders down with him, including Geraint Thomas. The 2018 Tour winner and three teammates chased back after the charging peloton, while Gianni Moscon was stranded with a bike left in two pieces.
Shortly after, the decisive action sparked on the final categorized climb. In the breakaway pair, De Marchi succumbed to the incessant pace of De Gendt, and dropped. 30 seconds later on the same slopes, Alaphilippe attacked from the peloton, looking to take the bonus points available at the summit and re-take his yellow jersey from the overnight leader Ciccone.
It was only Pinot that was able to respond and jumped on the Deceuninck-Quick-Step man’s wheel and the pair escaped over the descent, with Astana and Movistar leading the chase.
The French pair started a frantic chase of De Gendt, who was starting to fatigue. They held a 10-second gap over the disorganized lead group. With Ineos still chasing back with Thomas, no team took responsibility for the chase, and rode as individuals.
With 2km to go and De Gendt looking assured the victory, Pinot and Alaphilippe seemed to settle to work together to hold off the chase group and work for the GC positions rather than the stage win. The pair crossed the line together, six seconds behind De Gendt.
Having battled to stay in contact for the second half of the race, Matthews and Sagan took fourth and fifth respectively from a reduced bunch sprint. “I was okay, but it was a hard day,” admitted green jersey wearer Sagan.
Thomas did enough to regain contact with the main group in the final kilometers, with the Welshman finishing 10th on the day.
“It’s annoying, and frustrating [to be caught in a crash], but at the same time, to come back like I did shows I had good legs,” said Thomas. “You just don’t want to give any unnecessary time away. If I hadn’t have crashed I could have followed, and it’s a totally different story today. That’s how it goes.”
Sunday – Bastille Day – will see the peloton take on another tough lumpy day in the Massif Central with a Frenchman back in the yellow jersey.
Results will be available once stage has completed.