Paris (AFP) — Double-stage winner Julian Alaphilippe finished the Tour de France with two wins and seeing dots while Arnaud Demare answered his critics with a superb sprint win on stage 18 of the Tour de France.
But when it came to challenging for the yellow jersey, the hosts were left empty-handed again as main hope Romain Bardet failed to launch a long-hoped-for challenge to a dominant Team Sky.
The last time a Frenchman won the yellow jersey was in 1985, when Bernard Hinault secured the last of the five wins that left him equal with Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx before him, and Miguel Indurain afterward. But Bardet, in what appeared to be a dig at his AG2R team’s inability to match the peloton’s pace-setters, was defiant in defeat.
“As the years go by, the higher the standards get and the more people expect of me,” he said on Saturday, a day before ending his race nearly seven minutes behind yellow jersey champion Geraint Thomas.
“But I still battle through it. I do my best possible with what I’m being given to do the job.”
Labeled a yellow jersey contender after finishing third in 2017 and runner-up to Chris Froome a year earlier, Bardet’s challenge suffered a series of blows before reaching the business end of the race.
Teammate Tony Gallopin, a key helper in the mountains, pulled out during the grueling 12th stage to Alpe d’Huez, following teammates Alexis Vuillermoz (injury) and Axel Domont (retired) in abandoning.
It left him with five riders, and comparatively scant support for the remaining mountain stages, although Bardet was not the only credible challenger to Thomas to concede defeat.
Movistar pair Nairo Quintana, of Colombia, and Spaniard Mikel Landa were also lacking when it came to loosening Sky’s grip on a race they approached with intensity in a bid to tire out their rivals.
After Australian Richie Porte, of BMC, crashed out before it got to the mountains, only Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) came close, before finishing the race in second at 1:51 behind Thomas.
Bardet tried, the Frenchman launching his last salvo in the 19th stage, which took the peloton from Lourdes over famous Cols like the Tourmalet, Aspin, and Aubisque, in a bid to save his increasingly unlikely bid for the podium.
But his effort, 100-kilometers from the finish, needed more than a blessing and a prayer against a relentless Sky team.
After the British outfit caught the early breakaway, Bardet was among a seven-man bunch that included Thomas to finish 19-seconds behind.
It left Quick Step rider Alaphilippe, who claimed the ‘King of the Mountains’ polka dot jersey and two stage wins, as the darling of the French peloton.
“It was incredible all the way,” said Alaphilippe after a 31 km time trial on Saturday in which he soaked up the applause over every inch.
“Slowly but surely, I realize what the polka dot jersey brings. It’s completely crazy. I thank the public.
“I’m looking forward to celebrating it with my team. But I don’t want to be carried away. I still have a lot more things to achieve in cycling.”